The “Clever Hero” fight scene: This technique is less about the fighting and more about the clever trick that will defeat the enemy. The battle, therefore, is staged so that this can happen. The most well known book that uses this technique consistently throughout the story is probably Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. In Ender’s Game, battles effectively become puzzles that are won, and I am not speaking just about the gambit at the finale that wins the war, but the earlier battles in the war room. Numerous books use this technique in fight scenes to establish a clever hero.
Example: Prince of Thorns (2011) Mark Lawrence
“If I die, the succession will be clear,” I said. “Your Scorron whore will give you a new son, and you’ll be rid of me. Gone for good, like Mother and William. And you won’t have to send dear old Father Gomst trawling the mire to prove it.” I took a moment to bow toward the Queen. “No offence, your majesty.”
“Galen!” Father’s voice was a roar. “Kill this devil, for he’s no son of mine!”
I ran then, crunching emerald leaves under hard leather. Sir Galen charged from the centre star, trailing his black sword behind him, shouting for my blood. He came fast enough, but the fight with Makin had taken some of his wind. I knocked an old woman from my path, she went down spitting teeth, pearls spilling from her broken necklace.
I won free of the courtiers and kept on running, angled away from Galen. He’d given up the shouting but I could hear him behind me, the thud of his boots and the rasp of his breath. He must have been a hand above six foot, but lighter armour and fresher wind made up for my shorter legs. As we ran, I pulled out my sword. There were charms enough in its edge to put a notch in that Turkman blade. I threw it away. I didn’t need the weight.
Little space remained to me. The left wall loomed just yards ahead, Galen moments behind.
I’d been aiming for one guardsman in particular, a younger fellow with fair sideburns and an open mouth. By the time he realized I wasn’t veering away, it was too late. I hit him with the vambrace over my right forearm. The blow hammered his head back against the wall and he slid down it with no further interest in the proceedings. I caught the crossbow in my left hand, turned, and shot Galen through the bridge of the nose.
The bolt barely made it through his skull. It’s one of the drawbacks in keeping them loaded, but still it should have been tightened only hours before. In any event, most of the Teuton’s brain left by the back of his head and he fell down very dead.
What makes it work:
This technique is by far the best way to create tension in a fight scene. The reason for this is that it places the protagonist in combat situations the reader knows cannot be won through sheer prowess, heightening the belief that maybe the protagonist will not escape the danger.
The fight scene also works to show that the protagonist is smarter than those around him or her. Nobody likes to root for an average person. The ability to use both the brain and the brawn in combat makes the protagonist stand out and be admired.
Why it doesn’t always work:
This technique fails when the writer overuses it or creates an unbelievable solution to the fight. The key is to create a solution for the protagonist that is clever enough to win the fight, but not so clever as to seem staged or ridiculous. The writer also needs to make sure that the solution to winning the fight is not found by “pulling a rabbit out of a hat.” Anything used in the fight should be well established in previous chapters or at least early in the chapter well before the fight.
The trivial fact about crossbows losing their pull after sitting too long at the end of this fight scene ads authenticity to the story, and it is a great example of using well-researched and useful knowledge without info-dumping.