Military in Fiction

For a little bit of insight into who I am:  Aside from being a writer, I’m also an officer in the US Military and have served in uniform for just under ten years now.  I won’t bore you with the details.

In all of my writing efforts over the last two years, I’ve come to realize the importance of research.  Whether you’re writing about horses, seafaring vessels, black holes, or just how to use a carpet-weaving loom, it’s something that all writers need to do but a lot of writers forget about.  Putting an incorrect fact in your writing, even if it’s a piece of fiction, is one of the quickest ways to throw readers out of the story.  Treating a horse like a motorcycle, for example – simply parking it outside a saloon for three days and expecting it to be there when you get back – detracts from the realism of your fiction and negates much of the hard work you may have done in other areas of your writing.

One of the major areas where writers slip up these days is writing military in their fiction.  Hollywood is the worst offender, of course, but all forms of storytelling apply.  And it’s no wonder; less than 8% of the American population has served in the military, and that number is rapidly shrinking.  By some estimates, when the World War II and Vietnam generations fade away, that number will fall below 1%.  Yet people still want to read and write about it.  Stuff blows up in the military, and for a lot of readers that’s pretty cool.  There’s a drama that comes with warfare that you just don’t get in Pride and Prejudice, but with it comes a host of pitfalls that are easy to miss.

As a rare member of the military who is also a speculative fiction writer, I’ve been asked to speak at WORLDCON this year on this very topic.  In preparation – and so that I have something to refer people to after the conference – I’m going to be starting a series of articles that talk about creating a realistic military environment in fiction.  These articles are going to focus on examples of how media is doing it properly or improperly and break down the elements of how to follow (or avoid) those examples.

I’ve been talking with Howard Tayler, author of the successful Schlock Mercenary comics, who is consistently lauded for creating a realistic military environment in his tongue-in-cheek comic strip.  He’s agreed to let me do the first article on his comic strip, and offered a small interview to augment the process.  The great thing about Howard is that he has absolutely no military experience, so it will serve as a good example to authors everywhere that such realism is possible even without wearing a uniform.

I hope these articles help authors understand not only how to portray military organizations in their fiction but also how to do research and ask the right questions when they’re feeling stuck.  For non-writers, I hope they serve as an interesting series of essays that anyone can enjoy, a small window into an increasingly small microcosm of the population.

The first article will be released in the coming weeks.  I invite you to follow me on Twitter, Facebook, and subscribe to  my blog (the links should be on the top right of the page).  Any comments on the blog will undoubtedly help contribute to the discussion.

See you there!




Leave a Comment

  1. Awesome! I’m looking forward to it.

    I’ll mention one topic up front that I’ve often thought about. I’ve been to a few panels at LTUE on writing about the military. The first one surprised me because it was all about modern military. I thought they would at least try to address historical military organizations. After all, LTUE is a conference that focuses on speculative fiction. Only a certain subset of spec-fic deals with modern military organizations. So, what about all of us fantasy writers who are basing our stories on historical or ancient cultures, or even making up cultures from whole cloth? That’s something I’d like to see addressed: how modern military concepts might differ from historical or even future military concepts. Maybe it’s not something you can really address without being a historian or doing tons of research, but I think it’s definitely something to consider.

  2. I’ll second Daeruin’s observation about interest in historical and speculative deviations from modern military concepts. 90% or more of my interest in military representation in my speculative fiction would be of non-modern militaries. (Info on modern militaries is still useful, but though I didn’t serve I’m a military brat, so I have at least some insight into the conditions of military service, particularly from an NCO’s perspective.)

    • That brings up a very good point. I’d considered it, and do plan to talk about it in whatever limited way I can. I’m not a historian, but I do make a living off studying the military organizations of other countries and am a great fan of historical warfare. As you might expect, however, many of the principles of ancient warfare – and the organizations that executed them – apply today.

      But that’s for another article 🙂 Thanks for the feedback, guys.

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