Thursday, June 4, 2009

In the Mind of a Medieval Warrior

Greetings unto the readers of The Naughty Girls Next Door!

When I began to write Seeking Truth, I knew there would be at least one sword fight and that fight would take place between an honorable knight and baron (my hero, Eaduin) who is in service to King Stephen and a rogue knight with no honor and everything to lose – in short – a villain.

I fretted and worried about this. How could a man of honor fight someone treacherous and not get himself killed due to his sense of chivalry. As I grew closer to the end of the book, I still had no clue how to make this a realistic fight where my villain fights dirty but my hero survives - which is as it should be. This is a romance novel after all.

In order to figure out how to handle this, I went to a group of people I was sure could help me – fighters in the SCA. What’s the SCA you ask? Let me explain.

The acronym SCA stands for Society for Creative Anachronism. The organization has been around since the 1960s and I’ve been a member for about twelve years. I am not a fighter, but I know quite a few. Some are men-at-arms, some are members of fighting orders, while some are knights. Granted these gentles are modern “knights” but part of their fascination with the Middle Ages is their interest in historical fighting styles, fealty, and the rules of chivalry. I decided if anyone could help me with this dilemma, it was them. So I sent out a call to the group email list of my local barony (a group within the SCA) and I asked them this:

“I'm writing a critical wager of battel/trial by combat between my hero and the villain. The setting is England in 1146 during the reign of King Stephen. I'd like to write this pivotal scene at the climax of the book from the point of view of my hero. This means being inside his helm, but I've never put on armor in my life. I can write this scene from my imagination, but I'd prefer to have insights from fighters.

In the midst of a fight, do you focus only on the other fighter? Do stray thoughts about why you're fighting float through? Are you conscious of the weight of your armor and weapons, or is the adrenaline rush so high you don't notice? Is there anything I haven't asked about that I should know?

This is a fight to the death between a man with nothing to lose (the villain) and everything to lose (the hero). The villain has no honor and will be fighting dirty. My hero must counter the dirty fighting and survive."

With no more information than this, I began to receive private emails from fighters. I can never thank them enough for the wisdom they shared. I appreciate their aid so very much. To get into specifics, they told me how they viewed their opponents, dealt with their armor and so on. I received some very useful information. I learned that a trained fighter doesn’t feel the weight of his armor and weapons. It is a part of him and he’s trained to the weight.

I also learned that if a fighter is tired or wounded you see it in his shield, not his sword. His shield drops below the “proper” location. The more tired he is or the more blood he loses, the more the shield falls, leaving an opening for his opponent to kill him. Blocks get slower and footwork gets sloppy. Fine motor skills for throwing controlled shots is lost and fighters begin to try for powerful simple shots to end things quickly. I read all of this and thought…WOW. I can use this! Until it was explained to me, I didn’t really get it or understand how combat worked. Because of these sage words, I was able to use this in the fight scene I wrote to make it more authentic.

Absolutely everything I learned from the fighters helped me write a stronger scene, but most of the responses addressed the logistics of the fighting. I was still stymied about how a man of honor could face a man without honor. Other than the typical, kill or be killed thing, I didn’t know how to handle this. I needed to hear about a knight’s “world view,” so I genuinely understood how Eaduin would behave. One SCA gentle, Sir Angus, addressed exactly what I needed to hear in a way that I could really understand in his missive to me. He said:

“A knight swears to defend the innocent and protect the defenseless. We do not swear to be kind and merciful to our foe. At least during the fight when he is armed and dangerous. When he is helpless and injured that would be different. The sword has two edges. One delivers the kings justice, one edge cuts to the truth of the matter. The scabbard counsels mercy. Counsels, not requires or demands, or even promises. In other words, if the dog must be killed, a knight is the man to put it down. So when the fighting gets dirty, your hero should feel free to end the fight as quickly and as deadly as possible. Depending on what you are planning on having as a dirty technique, my responses might differ. If you want to run some of the techniques by me, I would love to ponder how I would honorably deal with them.”

I thanked him for his words of wisdom via email and when I next had the chance to see him in person I thanked him again. Finally I got it. I understood how Eaduin would view this critical fight. I felt my mind fit with his. It’s the knight’s job to put down a rabid animal and Eaduin was the knight for the job. Sir Angus, your words made such a difference. I was able to employ what I learned from your fellows to make the fight feel “real” but what I learned from YOU allowed me to make my hero real, not only to me but to my readers. In modern parlance, you totally rock!

So if you, my fellow writers, need to get into the mind of your hero then look for others who can help get you there. Books are great, but talking to real people is even better.

If you write historical romance set during the Middle Ages or Renaissance, seek out your local SCA. They can help you get inside the time period. But for those of you who focus your work on other time periods, you aren’t out of luck. By all means, use books but there are many groups of real people out there who re-create the past. Civil War re-enactors are enthusiastic about their time period and devoted to detail. To learn about living on the prairie, find a group known as The Buckskinners who can help you bring the Prairie to life. Visit “Living History” museums like Colonial Williamsburg. Visit battlefields like Gettysburg. Want to bring the World War I or World War II era to life in your books? There are re-enactors for those time periods too.

Anything you can do to make your characters more real to you will make your writing stronger. If your characters are real to you, they’ll live for your readers too.

Useful Links:

Society for Creative Anachronism: – a clearinghouse of information – all time periods:


I'm running a contest today. All commenters will be put into a drawing to win a copy of my book, Seeking Truth. To titillate all of you to encourage you to comment, here's a blurb...

Baron Eaduin Kempe, a man of intense passions, seeks a healer at a nearby abbey. When the abbess introduces convent-raised Lady Vérité de Sauigni, he knows he’s hellbound for desiring her. He wants to tie her to his bed until she sobs with the pleasure of his touch.

Eaduin offers Vérité marriage in exchange for easing the pain of his dying foster mother. Years ago, Vérité secretly watched Baron Eaduin arouse a lover and has dreamed of his touch ever since. She desires him enough to risk exchanging the imprisonment of convent life for that of marriage. On their wedding night, Eaduin craves dominance and Vérité submits with enthusiasm. Each heated encounter thereafter binds them closer together.

When Vérité’s father accuses her of witchcraft because she won’t use her psychic gift of seeing truth to aid him, she begs Eaduin to kill her so she doesn’t suffer. Instead, Eaduin challenges her father to trial by combat, determined to save the woman who owns both his passion and his heart.


Paris said...

What great advice! I'm so glad there are organizations who keep history alive and are willing to explain things in detail. Seeking Truth is a wonderful novel full of passion and a hero who is truly heroic! Wonderful post;-)

Minx Malone said...

I'm reading Seeking Truth now and I'm simply blown away by the level of historical detail.

And I just love Eaduin. Chivalry is NOT dead ladies!


Francesca Hawley said...

Paris - thanks for stopping by to comment. I highly recommend visiting local history re-enactors. They are so into their era sometimes you can't get them to shut up - but most times that's a good thing. :-)

Minx - I'm so glad you're enjoying my book. I took a few historical liberties, but I tried to stay as true to the era as possible. Thanks for commenting!

Gwynlyn MacKenzie said...

Loved the post, Francesca. While not a member of SCA, I've dealt with them numerous times (Ren Faire Geek) and they are, as you say, a font of good information.

Seeking Truth sounds like a great read. It'll be added to my TBR list.

Francesca Hawley said...

I should have mentioned Ren Faire folk as an excellent resource, too. Thanks for the reminder. I hope you enjoy the book!

Barbara Monajem said...

Thanks for a great post! I really appreciate the info on all the resources out there.

Maggie Rivers said...

Hi Francesca, I love your writing. The extent you go to in your historical detail accuracy is wonderful. I'm familiar with the SCA and love to watch their re-enactments.

Writing historicals has to be really hard work with all the painstaking details to which you must pay attention.

Your writing not only encompases those details but it is so chocked full of passion, too.

Seeking Truth is a great read. Can't wait for your next book.

Regencyresearcher said...

Sir Angus's insight into the mind of the knight is applicable to all time periods and all weapons.. While not using a dishonourable move, the honourable knight does fight all out.
A man need not be literal knight to be a protector. I like the books in which the man is more protector than aggressor, particularly in the battle of the sexes.

Beth Caudill said...

Great post. In college I had several friends who were members of the SCA. I never joined myself but know who to make contact with. :)

I hope you have many sales.

Beth Caudill

Crystal Kauffman said...

Francesca, kudos to you to having the courage to approach them with questions. I'm incredibly shy in that area!

Francesca Hawley said...

Barbara - thanks for visiting the blog today to leave a comment. It's my pleasure to help with resources. :-)

Maggie - thanks for the compliments about my research. I try really hard to make things as accurate as possible without losing the "glow" of the romance novel.

Francesca Hawley said...

Regencyresearcher - you are so right. What Sir Angus had to say would fit for a hero in almost any time period. It fits a military, police, or firefighter now and it fits throughout history. I value all the input I received from the fighters I was in contact with. They were wonderful and helpful.

Francesca Hawley said...

Beth - if I had found the SCA when I was younger I'd have been in a lot longer than twelve years. There are a great bunch of people in my kingdom and I value the friendships I've made very much. Thanks for commenting!

Francesca Hawley said...

Crystal - they might wear armor but they're not nearly as scary if you get them to talk about medieval fighting. They are totally animated and a lot of fun. Those that don't fight are just as enthusiastic and talkative about their favorite activities. I've eaten some fantastic SCA feasts, marvelled at beautiful dresses, and been impressed with incredible works of art. If you can get yourself to ask just one question, you'll soon be caught in a very cool conversation.

Savanna Kougar said...

Francesca, fantastic informative bloggie. I used to attend the Renn festivals whenever I could just for the chance to live in that other world. To get a 'feel' for what that might be like.

Hey, if any paranormal beings want to offer me their personal insights and mindsets well, you probably know where to find me.

Serena Shay said...

Excellent blog, Francesca! What a wonderful resource to have at your fingertips!

Francesca Hawley said...

And the winner is...

Crystal Kauffman! You win a copy of Seeking Truth. Congrats. Email me with preferred format!