I think a lot about writing action scenes. I don’t mean action scenes in the literary sense, but action scenes in the sense that probably attracted a lot of us to speculative fiction in the first place, the kinds of action scenes with flashing swords, sparking wands, roaring dragons, and pirouetting starships. They are, in a sense, one of the defining features of the genre (although it’s perfectly possible to write excellent speculative fiction that does not have these kinds of action scenes), and they are also where it is very easy, as an author, to go off course. I blame movies.
A fight scene that is all about the spectacle can be a lot of fun to watch in movie form, even if it doesn’t do a lot to advance the story or involve high stakes for the characters with a lot of tension. Even in movies, though, too much of this can quickly become boring – the most well-choreographed fight scenes will begin to bore the audience if overdone or if there is nothing else happening, no other reason to care about what’s happening on the screen. It’s even easier to make such fight scenes tedious in writing, which is why I spend so much time thinking about writing action scenes. I want to write action scenes – they’re fun to write, I hope they’re fun to read, and they’re one of the reasons that I enjoy genre fiction so much – but I want to write fight scenes that people will care about, that exist in the story to do more than just provide spectacle.
This could, and probably should, become a separate post dedicated to writing action scenes, but I’m talking about it in the context of Fallen Angel because this is one of the rare instances, especially in later episodes, where we get straight action in Blood Magic. There was a fair amount in the first season, but as Kiluron becomes Prime and grows into that role, there is less and less. Even the Pifechan invasion involved surprisingly few action scenes, and for the most part those tended to be relatively brief (this was in part because I didn’t decide to dedicate an entire season to the Pifechan war, and thus stretch Blood Magic into four seasons – I thought about it, but didn’t do it, and I think that everyone is better off for that). Especially in the context of a one-off episode about a meteor impact, I worried, especially in revisions, that the action scenes would drag.
Yes, the stakes are high. Vere and his guardsmen are fighting for their survival, and the People are fighting for their religion. I think the tension is there, and the danger feels real, because Vere’s side isn’t dominating in deus ex machina fashion, and I laid only a few hints that a rescue could come. It makes sense on paper that everyone in the story should care about the action that’s happening on the page, but what I fear might be missing is why the reader should care. Vere says it himself – it’s not worth anyone dying over this fallen star – and I worry that the reader will be sitting back and wondering why this fight matters. It’s one of the hazards of an episodic structure, I guess.
Nonetheless, I do think it works for what it is, which is why I decided not to change it. Instead, my changes were mostly focused on pacing – the description was very blocky in this episode, for some reason – and on cleaning up the People. As I mentioned in the original release post for this episode, I really like what I tried to do with the tribesmen from the Unclaimed Territories here, so in revisions I wanted to be sure that I was consistent and make them just that much more themselves (since before this episode I had not really defined them much at all).
I also mentioned before that I wasn’t sure that we would really have the opportunity to interact much more with the Unclaimed Territories. That seems like leaving a major writing opportunity on the table, and I was going to be disappointed even if my readers weren’t, so I am pleased to say that I am currently intended S3:E9 to feature the People. I don’t know that Andil will be making a reappearance, but I’ve begun to lay the groundwork for there to be conflict between the Union and the People. So you have that to look forward to, when we get towards the end of the year.
Will we ever come back to the fallen star? Probably not. It’s still there, buried somewhere in northern Dervate. I almost had the Progress camp there but decided against it. While you could argue that this episode is kind of irrelevant – there’s not a lot of character development, and it doesn’t do a lot of world-building or plot development, or much of anything else that will be built upon or become important later on in the series – I would argue that it is a good story in its own right, and a true example of episodic storytelling. I hope you give it a read soon.
Somewhere in the Unclaimed Territories, Andil scratched idly at the dirt with the charred end of a stick. He knew he was a little north of the Merolate border, but he wasn’t certain how far. As long as he stayed away from the guardposts and stations where soldiers kept watch, the precise boundary was of little importance to him. After all, these rugged steppes weren’t unclaimed, not to him. He claimed them, as had his mothers, and their foremothers. They were home, where he had been born and raised.
Even so, they felt alien on this night. Not dangerous, but sullen. There was a brooding sense about the landscape, no matter how familiar it might be. Although, if Andil were honest with himself, some of that sense might have been his own uncertainty. As did everyone in the tribe, he had studied the gods, learning their names and the stories and their positions in the heavens, but his heart had always belonged to the bow. How he longed that he had been allowed to bring his bow with him, but Wisers were forbidden any weapon save a small, stone knife, just as they were forbidden the taking of life, whether plant, animal, or human. In this way were the Wisers made subservient unto those who could take life, which was the greatest of powers.
His horse knickered softly beside him, and he rose to rub its nose. The animal showed no signs of anxiety, so whatever sense Andil was getting from the surroundings was not something that might set an animal on edge, and everyone knew to watch the animals for signs of danger; they would always know before the people.
He had lit no fire, so the crisp, cold night was pure, though it was summer. Even in the season of life it stayed cool in the Territories. To Andil it was comfortable beneath his furs; he could hardly imagine a place where it grew so warm and lush as it was said to in the southern parts of Merolate. Above him, the sky sparkled with gods, glittering and gleaming and casting their distant light to the eyes of those who knew to look upon their beauty. They seemed especially attentive this night, twinkling and pulsing in the distant heavens. Perhaps this night, finally, they would answer his prayers.
Holding out his arms and laying himself back, so that he was facing the distant dome of the dark sky, spreadeagled, that the gods might better perceive him, Andil widened his eyes as far as he could, and began to recite the same prayer he had said for the past four nights. “Mighty Gods, Lights of the Heavens, hear now the supplication of your humble servant. May you watch over my people in their journeys and guide them on their ways to paths most pleasing to your glory. May you bless the season of life, that it be bountiful and filled with growing, that my people may not know hunger nor want. May you bless the season of death to come, that it brings great cleaning of white across the land, and leave it refreshed for the life ahead, that my people may ever dwell in this land. May all that is evil be cast upon me, and not upon my people, that they may not suffer beyond their measure…”
He continued on, though his fingers were cold and his back uncomfortable against the ground, and his eyes itched so that he desperately wanted to blink them, and even more he wanted to finish his prayer that he might sleep, but he let none of these things interrupt the ritual, nor cloud the words which he cast up to the distant gods. All across the steppe, he knew, were other Wisers splayed out upon the ground in like manner, sending forth their own prayers on journeys to the gods, and knowing that gave Andil greater strength to continue in his prayer.
“Let the bows of the hunters ever be true, and may the eyes that see be keen, and the hands that wield them be sure. Let the hands of the gatherers be ever tough, and may the ears that hear the ripeness be attuned, and the backs that support them be strong…”
High above him, at the peak of his vision, something flared. At first Andil dismissed it as naught but a trick of his dry and itching eyes, but then another flare sparkled, and this time he was certain it belonged to the heavens high above. Against his will, his eyes blinked, and tears welled up, so that when another light flashed infinitely high above his forehead it seemed to scatter into the form of all the gods together. Then a new god appeared, vast and bright like a new moon, though much smaller and closer, and it left behind it a trail of fire across the sky. It arced across Andil’s vision, and he followed it with his eyes until it disappeared over the horizon to the south and was gone.
Naught else seemed to have even taken notice of the fallen god, but to Andil it was a clear message from the heavens. The gods above had cast this one of their number from the heavens down to the mortal lands far below them, and Andil’s part would be to see that their will was fulfilled. He remembered well the teachings of the older Wisers, who whispered of a time in the distant past when another god had been cast down from the heavens in exile and had scrawled flame across the steppes before the gods had sent a great blizzard to extinguish its light forever. That had been a dark time for the tribes, for they had suffered greatly for their ignorance of how they ought to treat the fallen god. This time, they would not make such a mistake, but would ensure that wherever it had fallen it lay undisturbed, until the gods could finish their punishment.
In haste he prepared his horse, extinguished his fire, and packed away his sparse camp. Thus readied, Andil mounted and rode off in haste through the night to find the main body of his tribe where they were camped not far distant from his own place of isolation. With the other Wisers, he would muster them, and then they would ride forth to find where the god had fallen to ensure that the gods’ will was fulfilled upon the exiled one.
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