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!