Help with Final Battle Scene

Forums Fiction Plotting Help with Final Battle Scene

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    Elisha Starquill

    So…I’m editing through my current WIP and I’ve reached the Final Battle. This WIP was written eons ago, so of course I have a very cliche, shallow final battle in which a lot of fighting happens and, miraculously, the good guys win. But I don’t have a strategy for them. They just…fight all day and eventually the good guys kill the enemy.

    How can I make a clever way for the good guys to win? How do I come up with ideas for an original ‘deal breaker’ move? For example, in the Battle of Pelennor Fields, Aragorn gets the help of the ghost army, which allows the good guys to win. Or in Prince Caspian, when Lucy goes to Aslan, who wakes up the trees, and allows the Narnians to win.

    Any help is much appreciated! Thanks in advance!


    INFJ ➳ Trinstamentalist ➳ Thalassophile ➳ Chocolate Hater ➳ Daughter of God

    Edmund Lloyd Fletcher

    Ideally it would be something already in your world that *seems* so insignificant that the reader writes it off, but in the end turns out to be the key.  You may already have something in the narrative that could work.  Or, if not, you’d have to go back and add it in.

    Of course, that is only one of many puzzle pieces you could mix+match to come up with a pleasing fight.

    For instance, in the course of things you could allow the good guys to come up with the “perfect plan”, which seems to be working, until all of a sudden there is a turnaround — the badguys saw it coming and used it to their advantage.

    And of course there’s the ever-wonderous”George McFly” moment:  All seems lost, and MC is on the verge of giving up, but remembers the price of failure and with a newfound determination, rallies, fighting back with an inner strength that he never knew he had.

    Homeschooling father of 10, writing Christian action/adventure novels from my home high in the Rockies.

    Rose Sheffler

    Another question to ask yourself is “What is at stake?”

    You have the outward battle, yes, but what  ELSE is at stake? What “moment” have you been building towards in your MC/the good guys?

    An example from Star Wars might help. The external “Final Battle” from The Return of the Jedi, is when Luke vs. Darth Vader. But the “real” internal battle is whether Darth Vader will chose loyalty to his family OR to his emperor.

    This is not my original idea. I watched an excellent YouTube video that goes into greater detail and uses the example above. Hope this helps.

    • This reply was modified 1 year, 10 months ago by Rose Sheffler.

    Writer | Reader | Pizza Eater | www.rjsheffler.wordpress.com

    Elisha Starquill

    @edmund-lloyd-fletcher and @rjsheffler – Those are some great ideas! Definitely gave me plenty of food for thought. Thank you so much!

    INFJ ➳ Trinstamentalist ➳ Thalassophile ➳ Chocolate Hater ➳ Daughter of God

    Rose Sheffler

    @elisha-starquill you are welcome. Let me know how the scene turns out. I’m curious.

    Writer | Reader | Pizza Eater | www.rjsheffler.wordpress.com

    Rusted Knight

    You could also try terrain or technical advantages. Bad guy has a tank, you don’t have anti tank weapons so drop a boulder off the cliff on it. Big boss’s energy shield block high speed lasers and bullets but not you walking through it and slugging his face. The spell he’s using prevents weapons from hurting him so throw him out the window (read the fine print in spells lol). Surprise the reader with a plan change that sounds stupid but in hindsight you see how it works.

    The Devil saw me with my head down and got excited. Then I said Amen

    The Inkspiller


    The others have already mentioned stakes and internal battles, and I definitely recommend listening to them. Based on the references you’ve made to other fantasy battles, my guess is that this is an epic scale military confrontation as well, not just a battle between our main characters and their nemesis.

    My suggestion is to build up the stakes in the battle in the anticipation of it. The night before battle, the minutes before the drop – these are the moments every soldier dreads. In battle there’s nothing to do but move and fight, but when you’re just waiting for the battle to start, there’s nothing to do but try and distract yourself from thoughts of home and death. Recommended literature is Henry V, both as the play and the Kenneth Branagh film, as well as the Ken Theriot song, Agincourt, and Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers for a more modern / sci-fi look at a soldier’s mindset. Also read up about General Eisenhower (WWII) and General McClellan (Civil War) – both were commanders whose souls were wracked with guilt by the deaths of the men under their command; Eisenhower was able to hold it together, but McClellan ultimately could not bring himself to send his boys to their deaths, and so failed to capitalize on key tactical victories early in the war, thus prolonging the Civil War.

    The sum of that – build up the characters’ fear of the upcoming battle. Play upon last minute doubts and fears, the little rituals they go through to try and steady their nerves and remind them why they’re fighting, clinging to hope of victory – to drive it home, perhaps even one of the most loyal companions throws in the hat and seemingly leaves, abandoning a hopeless cause. (Only to heroically return in the hour of darkest need.) Especially, especially dive into the commanders’ mind – how does a man or woman deal with knowing they are going to be responsible for the deaths of hundreds, even thousands of their loyal followers in the next few hours?


    On the descriptive side, I might offer this historical morsel. Medieval battles did not just rage on and on for hours and hours at a time. Human beings have limited stamina, and it was normal for a day-long battle to occur in successive pushes lasting five to ten minutes, broken up by periods of skirmishing, pushing and pushing until a break is achieved or a flanking maneuver rolls up one side of the battle line. The medieval / ancient battle resembles less a drunken brawl and more an extremely deadly shoving match broken up by the world’s riskiest game of dodgeball.



    On the tactical / strategic side, read up on military history. The Battle of Agincourt is a magnificent example of an overwhelming underdog victory brought about by spectacular courage, tactical brilliance, and stupendous luck of the victors, and astounding stupidity / arrogance on the losing side. The English, exhausted by two and a half weeks march on starvation rations, wracked by dysentery, were forced to fight their way through a fresh French host five times their size and better armed to a man – and not only won, but won with minimal losses, while the French were absolutely devastated. The English had no expectation of victory going into battle, but bravely they fought, and gallantly won against the very best the French could throw at them.

    And that was how 6,000 men, most of them longbow-wielding yeomen, stood up to 25,000 of France’s finest knights, men-at-arms, and the best Italian mercenaries that gold could buy.


    Or for more silly / ridiculous victories, look at Oda Nobunaga in the Battle of Okehazama. Confronted by a force ten times his size, his advisors counseled him to withdraw to a more defensible position. Realizing that he would be besieged and starved into submission anyway, he chose to launch a bold, daring, and completely suicidal frontal assault in the middle of the day. By blind stupid luck (or his tactical genius), his army’s movements were masked by the thunder and rain as they moved through the forest, while his enemies took off their armor to cool off during the afternoon sun. At that moment, his men attacked from the forest line, charging straight into the enemy camp and slaughtering everyone in their path. The enemy commander thought that a drunken brawl had broken out in his army until two of Nobunaga’s samurai confronted him and cut him down in a brief duel. The remainder of the enemy either surrendered or fled, as Nobunaga had killed all but two of their senior officers.

    And that was how 2,500 men defeated 25,000.


    Anyways, there’s plenty more than those to study. If you’d like more in-depth / personalized review, I wouldn’t mind taking a look at said scene and making recommendations. Or if you can tell me more about the battle (e.g., terrain, time-period / armaments, the forces of each side, etc.) I can make suggestions from those as well.


    Hope this helped.

    Non nobis Domine, sed nomini, Tuo da gloriam.





    …rapidly… scribbling…notes….

    You do not have a soul. You have a body.
    You are a soul. - C.S. Lewis

    Elisha Starquill

    @rusted-knight – Haha, that’s a really good idea! I just might be able to use it…thanks so much for the help!

    – Aaah, thank you, that was incredibly helpful!

    You’re right, my battle is more like an epic scale military confrontation. I confess I’m rather plot-orientated, so I hadn’t given much thought to what the characters (soldiers, generals) were thinking (especially the night before, as you mentioned.) Your reminder was perfect.

    That’s a great point. In movies and such, it’s hard to tell, but in real life battles go in relatively short spurts. Human stamina, especially in armor, is very important to consider.

    Yep, the strategy is what I’m primarily struggling with. Looking for inspiration from real historical battles is a great idea (especially since I am not a clever military general, lol.) Do you know of any specific sources, books or websites, about historical battles I could read up on?

    I’m still churning over a lot of things that need to happen before I can re-write this battle scene, but if you want, I’d love to send it to you when I’m finished!

    For now, I’ll give you the gist of the battle. It takes place in a dense forest, part of which is being burned down, and a clearing/valley in the center. The good guys have control of the valley, where they’re trying to protect a portal in its center. The bad guys are trying to prevent two individuals from entering the valley and gaining access to the portal, so they’ve locked a perimeter around the valley to prevent anyone from entering – or exiting, for that matter.

    The bad guys have far more forces. The forest is dense and hard to camp an army, but that’s why they’re chopping/burning it down, to make more space. They can get as many reinforcements as necessary, as long as space permits, so the good guys really have to act quickly. There is absolutely no way for the good guys to get any reinforcements, and the only way for them to win is if those two individuals make it to the portal.

    Any ideas as to how the two would be able to sneak in?

    Thank you so much for your help!

    INFJ ➳ Trinstamentalist ➳ Thalassophile ➳ Chocolate Hater ➳ Daughter of God

    The Inkspiller


    One of the most useful “general guides” on medieval military strategy and tactics has been Christine de Pizan’s The Book of Deeds and of Arms and of Chivalry – there’s a modern English translation of it available (it was originally a military manual written in French in the early 15th century). If you want to get REALLY old school, there’s always the De Rei Militari, which is a Latin military manual of strategy and tactics from the Roman period which medieval commanders then had copied and studied for the next thousand years. But Christine de Pizan is just as informative and the translation is very accessible and readable (and some of the shenanigans that ancient commanders pulled just make your eyes roll.) Machiavelli’s The Prince is also indispensable when considering medieval / renaissance realpolitik, and also contains some insights on broader strategy (though not as much in specific battle tactics; Machiavelli was an administrator, not a general).

    Wikipedia is also a GREAT place to read about battles if you don’t want to spend any money. Some of its articles feature extremely detailed breakdowns of the terrain, weather conditions, force compositions, background, phases and movements of battle, etc.

    Okay, my analysis of your battle set-up:

    The valley, forest, constrained battle space – there are many similarities to Agincourt here, down to the outnumbered defenders needing to achieve a break-through against superior opposition. However, it sounds like the bad guys also control the heights since the good guys have been surrounded, which is BAD. Look at Dien Bien Phu (1954) to see what happens when you cede control of the heights (granted, that was a battle with modern technology, but it applies in any setting featuring any amount of ranged weapons or artillery).

    What is the force composition of each side? What kind of troops, weapons, magic gizmos, etc. does each side possess?

    Do the bad guys have lots of cavalry, infantry, missile troops, artillery?

    What troops do the good guys have? Same question.

    Whichever side has superiority in missile fire has the ability to force battle by bombarding the other side; at that point, the other side must either withdraw to better defenses or engage their attackers. At Agincourt, the English harrassed the French with arrows until the French knights got tired of being shot at and mounted a hasty, disorganized cavalry charge, uphill through muddy terrain against prepared defensive positions (hedges of sharpened stakes) that negated their mounts, while enduring a hail of thousands upon thousands of arrow shafts.

    Now, if the bad guys are gathering reinforcements, your two heroes could potentially try to disguise themselves as soldiers and participate in a frontal charge – but they would need some way to identify themselves to the good guys before they, you know, get shot/stabbed/trampled underfoot.

    Alternatively, if the bad guys have a central “main camp” where the bulk of their forces are gathered and their command structure is centralized, the good guys could try to hit that point with all their might to force the enemy to gather their forces to defend their command, thus weakening the perimeter security enough that the heroes might be able to slip in or fight their way through.

    Another idea is that the good guys have an advantage in either cavalry or missile weapons with irregular crack troops (think merry men of Sherwood, poachers, raiders, etc.), they might skirmish with the enemy line under cover of night, launching multiple attacks to cause chaos and confusion amongst the enemy as each section commander of the perimeter receives conflicting reports about who, what, and how many are attacking. This would provide an opportunity for the heroes to sneak in, but they would need to be aware of the plan – or else they might just sleep through it.


    I know you said the good guys can’t receive reinforcements, but if they have any allied forces at all outside the perimeter and they have multiple layers of strong defensive positions around the portal, they might be able to pull off what William Marshal did in the Battle of Lincoln – crushing a superior force by catching it in the midst of an assault against a small garrison force, breaking their morale by attacking them from their undefended rear and cutting off their route of escape. Now, against vastly superior numbers, all that might do is buy time for the heroes to slip in amidst the confusion, but that might be all you need. Plus, you then get the dramatic sacrifice of some noble companions who gallantly go to their deaths in a heroic last charge! ( 😀 )



    The above ideas aren’t the only ones – I’m sure I could glean more with more time. But bear in mind that numbers are a huge advantage in battle – the good guys’ victory hangs on a gambit. All of these above ideas are gambits, and whatever plan you use in story should convey that it is risky and likely to result in heavy casualties. This final battle sounds like it is meant to be a last desperate bid for victory, and accordingly, should feel hard won – or at the very least, expect it to be a pyrrhic victory.

    And I would love to see your future draft(s) when they come out!

    Non nobis Domine, sed nomini, Tuo da gloriam.

    Rusted Knight

    Well for the situation here there are a few options. First, the good guys could start a fire of their own and the two ride through the smoke and confusion into their lines. Second, the main body uses artillery (if available) or similar long range, high damage attacks to plaster the forest and make the enemy duck. Then raiding groups cover the open ground and skirmish in different sectors to draw attention of the linemen away from the two. Third, the two simply kill two enemies of roughly the same height and take their uniform. as long as their are no real passwords, they could fake their way to the front gate so to say. Fourth, the two ninja their way through from treetop to treetop.

    Regardless of method, I believe the best defense for the good guys is defense in depth. Multiple layers and lines of men, each line with supporting bunkers or strongholds. The goal is to bleed the enemy, kill as many of his without losing too many of your own. Look at Peleliu and Vietnam and dig under the surface. Hundreds of linked foxholes, trenches, bunkers and firing positions. If one is overrun, new men retake or repair it from the tunnel system. The only way to break this defense is with flamethrowers, satchel charges and Tunnel Rats (men gutsy or crazy enough to hop into one of the tunnels). This defense will delay the enemy very well and give time for the two to make whatever move they chose.

    The Devil saw me with my head down and got excited. Then I said Amen

    Elisha Starquill

    @the-inkspiller and @rusted-knight – Thank you so much for your insights! You’ve given me a lot of thorough ideas and thoughts to brainstorm over, and I really appreciate it. 🙂

    (also, Rusted Knight, I love the quote in your signature.)

    INFJ ➳ Trinstamentalist ➳ Thalassophile ➳ Chocolate Hater ➳ Daughter of God


    On a less tactical note, one thing I look for when writing a final climatic scene is how it can mirror the beginning. The beginning scenes of a book often foreshadow the end, and can give you ideas.

    Since you’ve already decided that your ending will be a battle, you could look for emotional or character moments from the beginning that you can mirror in the final battle. If you start with a battle, you can put similar situations into the first and final battles. For example, in the first battle of one of my novels, the MC has to personally fight the enemy commander. In the final battle, she fights a general (albeit one more intimidating than the commander).

    I’m not really an expert on battle strategies, so that’s how I look at things like that. Hope it’s helpful.

    What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.
    -1 Corinthians 15:36b

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