Trope of the Week: Mid-Battle Conversation

Around your characters are millions of people, all of them battling with pikes and swords, maybe even laser-guns, and covered in armor to delay their deaths. The din of war swallows the battlefield, filled with shrieks of rage and cries of death. In a small pocket, somehow protected from all of this, your characters have the chance to take a breather, stand, and survey the madness around them. They share a talk that lasts one minute, two, five — and then they dive back into battle, having never been in any real danger while they stood talking.

Why this can be bad: While discussing a whole host of cliched moments in the final Hobbit movie, Screen Junkies brought up this one, which really stood out to me. It’s something I’ve always vaguely noticed, but it took that video for me to realize that, yes, this is a crappy trope. Characters will spend several, long minutes discussing something in the midst of battle. Usually they’re in some kind of situation where they only need to barely pay attention to what’s happening around them, parrying the rare wayward blow that may come towards them, and they have plenty of breath left to stand around and discuss something important with their friends (or the Big Bad). While this can be effective to some extent, when used in excess, this trope challenges the reader’s belief. If the characters can kill so proficiently while distractedly battling, then why aren’t they exceptionally better when they’re focused? Why is there a thick wall of fighting around them, but they’re somehow the only people with a fifteen-foot radius of clear space around them? How are they not, at the very least, a little out of breath? The biggest issue with this trope is that sometimes it’s just not even a bit believable.

How you can fix it: Notice how earlier I said that it was unbelievable when used in excess? That’s the key phrase. While I still don’t buy that characters would be able to get away even briefly from battle while in the middle of a battle, it’s much easier to accept very short conversations than longer ones. If they hold a conversation that is only a few seconds long, an exchange of the only the most crucial information, not only does that seem more believable, but it makes the situation seem much more dire. But what if your characters have a lot to say? Use the battlefield to your advantage. If there’s some cover they can hide behind, let them use that to have a slightly longer, more relaxed conversation. You can even have them fall back behind their own lines and take shelter, allowing them a security they wouldn’t have been able to get on the other side. By doing this, you won’t inhibit the sense of danger that comes along with battle, and you also won’t make your characters look like they’re superhuman for being able to hold a casual conversation while parrying blows and murdering soldiers.

Bottom Line: Think logically about this trope, and use it sparingly to avoid your characters appearing superhuman.

4 comments on “Trope of the Week: Mid-Battle Conversation

  1. jbgarner58 says:

    Reblogged this on J. B. Garner – Musings of a Starving Author and commented:
    Trope of the Week time! As an action writer, this is always one I have to pay attention to.

  2. Thanks Paige, interesting now you point it out. If anything the trope at fault is the modern CGI generated battle with relentless swarms of algorithmically created combatants. Curiously, a lot of these modern filmic battles are heavily influenced by Cy Endfield’s 1964 production of Zulu. However the fighting and talking in this film is managed well and suspension of disbelief is accomplished with style.

    • Ah, I didn’t know that. I definitely agree CGI doesn’t help the issue, though, and it’s led to some writers getting really hyped over these battles, but at the same time wanting some kind of dialog in the midst of it.

  3. This trope may be a descendant of the ancient theatrical practice of “breaching the fourth wall.”

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