Write like a Gladiator

I’ll bet you didn’t know I took fencing in college. I wasn’t good, but I won a couple matches because my opponents didn’t expect me to attack like a bull.

Researching a book set in ancient Rome, I ran across this quote:

“The drill for weapon training was introduced to the soldiers by the consul P. Rutilius . . . for he did not follow the precedent of any commander before him, but instead he summoned the trainers of gladiators from the school of Aurelius Scaurus and created in the legions a more sophisticated system of avoiding and delivering blows. He united courage with craft and craft with courage: craft was made bolder by the vehemence of courage, courage more circumspect by the awareness of craft (emphasis added)” (The Roman Soldier, G.R. Watson).

Sounds like writing
I had an epiphany. Try looking outside what you’re doing for a “more sophisticated system” of writing. But don’t jump in unprepared—study first. Unite the vehemence of courage with an awareness of craft.

I’m not saying copy the world’s literature. “More like the world” is not the same as “more sophisticated.” More sophisticated is more skillful. It’s a more thoughtful attack.

Look for the higher good
Instead, study what the masses are reading, and discover what makes those books work. Then be courageous enough to write unique stories, tempering your ideas with careful craft.

When I started writing novels, I said to my publisher, “What’s selling now? What would you like me to write?” Many books later an editor said, “What do you want to write?”—and the heavens rolled back. The possibilities were endless.

God’s calling on your life
That was when I began to discover the writer I am today. That was my training camp. In those books I learned to run and leap, to parry and thrust.

In later books, I’ve had to call on reserves of courage to tackle difficult and even risky issues, and I’ve fortified my courage with craft to pull off controversial topics. Now I see that I’ve been learning to write like a gladiator.


React: What are you doing to polish your writing craft?

Photo: Angela HuntEn garde! Angela Hunt is writing what she wants to write and invites you to visit her online—if you’re courageous enough.


  1. Mary Kay says

    Polishing my writing craft seems like peeling the onion: Learning craft bits (like POV; show, don’t tell; character differentiation, plot skeleton)and applying them; then learning deeper layers, then deeper layers of the same (deeper POV, weaving more storylines, character development…) and applying it again. Always there is more to learn and apply…and that keeps it interesting. :-)

    I love the idea of learning to write like a gladiator. Yes, I’ve seen you pull off the controversial issues so well. you are a great mentor. As always–thank you.

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