Military Fiction

Jo Zebedee

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Abendau is part military fiction and I know nothing, absolutely nothing, about the military. But @Tywin does and he was pissed off at all of us writing military characters so badly that he offered to help out and I blagged and we’re still mates which is good :) anyhow, we collaborated on a blog about how the process worked:


see if it’s of any help :)
 

Toby Frost

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I can't remember the name of the site, but I once found a comment on a British Army forum that the Space Captain Smith books felt "right". I find this both flattering and slightly worrying.
 

Margaret Note Spelling

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All right, so I guess the best levels of research I can do right now would be in fictional/nonfiction military literature, specific targeted internet research, and best of all, talking to people who actually are military. I only know one or two, though, and their service wasn't recent...I may end up asking to take advantage of your generous offer, @Joshua Jones, thank you!

For instance, I have a scene early on where the characters are attending a debriefing, or an After Action Review. I have no idea what those normally look like, or even which people in the unit are generally included in one, and so far the internet has revealed nothing very distinct about that. If anybody knows, I'd be immensely grateful. I'm on the point of just taking a shot at that scene based on what I already know--or in other words, using trial-and-error, to be fixed in future drafts. Which might be the ultimate best way of doing it, as Jo's article illuminates!
 

JohnM

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I'd go with books. Why guess when you can find out? The internet does not contain everything. Speaking generally, an After Action debrief goes over what actually happened versus the expected results. A lot of info regarding casualties, surprises, and other issues are usually brought up. Again, being general, it usually includes selected officers, but may also briefly include other participants who offer certain details, and who answer specific questions, then leave, followed by the rest of the debrief. It usually gets written up as a report.
 

svalbard

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The Forgotten Soldier by Guy Sajer is a memoir of a German soldier in WWII. It is used(or was) in Westpoint as an example of how the stresses of war effects soldiers on the ground.

The Unknown Soldier by Vaino Lainna is an account of a Finnish machine gun battalion in WWII. Amongst it's many excellent parts there is a description of the collapse of the battalion during battle that is second to none.

Covenant With Death by John Harris is a fictional account of a Pals Battalion in WWI at the Battle of the Somme. A tremendous piece of work that should be better known than it is.

Whilst none of these are about the American military they are all known for present an accurate account of how people behave in war. That is a universal thing I believe.
 

Jo Zebedee

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See, for me, this is still missing the key point which is the characters and the way they think. You can research who is at a debrief easily enough (join a military sf forum on facebook and ask - there are several) but that doesn’t take you any further in understanding the character and writing them in a believable fashion. I mean, I could write an American character. I can research. I’ve watched Americam shows. Or I can write a really believable authentic northern Irish character (but I’d struggle with Irish). That’s what is more important, I think - making the character authentic.
 

Margaret Note Spelling

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That is a key point, Jo, and probably the most important one! The military culture is most of what I'm trying to learn more about here. But the fact is that researching who usually attends a debrief is actually harder for me right now than figuring out the way my characters would react to a given situation. I don't use facebook, I don't know anybody who's been actively in the military post-2000, and I'm much more familiar with the challenge of figuring out realistic characters than reaching out to strangers with dumb civilian questions! And I do think knowing the answer to that, and other questions about the way the military does things, will bring me to a greater understanding of what my characters experience and react to from day to day.

If anyone can suggest a way to find a similar forum or group of writers to the ones you describe, or even to get in touch with military people who wouldn't mind putting up with my pestering, that would be amazing. Right now I think my main roadblock lies in an entire way of life I don't fully understand--the traditions and culture and practices--much more than in any individual character.
 
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-K2-

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Simply make it up and claim it's a specialist unit with their own traditions and cultural norms.
Your doing a work of fiction, not a true life story.
Though I don't particularly agree with that, it is possible (to some degree) if this is a future-->50 year--or purely fictional world military. I say to 'some degree' in that certain aspects have refined over centuries for good reasons. Those reasons rarely change, so though the approach might refine further, the reasoning doesn't.

That said, in a distant enough future it's hard to say how things might change. The government might institute mandatory service...but their might be divisions of that which JUST focus upon disaster response, assisting civilians (foreign and domestic), something similar to the Peace Corps or CCC of old, whatever. It's also extremely flexible when you consider how society itself might change. Considering combat, though the reasons might not change, society might demand a change in methods which results in a whole different culture.

E.g.: As a tradition after a battle, everyone gathers round a campfire and sings Kumbaya (yeah, frightening I realize)>>>>>>>Other end of the spectrum they might instead devour the hearts of their enemies.

Who can say...only the world you develop will determine the whats and whys.

However, a historical or current military NOT in an alternative timeline, IMO you'll need to get spot on.

Just my opinion.

K2
 

JohnM

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Again, just guessing won't work. Take Star Wars. Where and when does it happen? A future earth civilization in a parallel universe? Bottom line: All of the characters have to behave in a way audiences can relate to. Even the aliens can't be too alien.

Even in 'the future,' inventing things, or put another way, building your own world, requires internal consistency. Again, the audience and their general experience and expectations need to be kept in mind.

So, you enter the military. What happens? You go through basic training and it's hard. You are toughened up, mentally and physically. You are shown and need to demonstrate all of the skills needed to keep you alive on the battlefield. And it's a team effort. No radical individualists. If you can't cut it, you're out. Sometimes I get the feeling that some are viewing the present as if the past never happened.

The basic foot soldier can't be an idiot. To help keep everyone in line, some soldiers end up in officer training. These men exhibit the necessary leadership qualities to keep going in rough circumstances and to lead their men. They have to be a cut above.
 

Joshua Jones

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All right, so I guess the best levels of research I can do right now would be in fictional/nonfiction military literature, specific targeted internet research, and best of all, talking to people who actually are military. I only know one or two, though, and their service wasn't recent...I may end up asking to take advantage of your generous offer, @Joshua Jones, thank you!

For instance, I have a scene early on where the characters are attending a debriefing, or an After Action Review. I have no idea what those normally look like, or even which people in the unit are generally included in one, and so far the internet has revealed nothing very distinct about that. If anybody knows, I'd be immensely grateful. I'm on the point of just taking a shot at that scene based on what I already know--or in other words, using trial-and-error, to be fixed in future drafts. Which might be the ultimate best way of doing it, as Jo's article illuminates!
Unfortunately, I don't think I could help you much for the example given. My knowledge is limited to culture, squad dynamics, duties and responsibilities of different positions, etc. I will ask about this and get back to you, though!
 

DLCroix

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For instance, I have a scene early on where the characters are attending a debriefing, or an After Action Review. I have no idea what those normally look like, or even which people in the unit are generally included in one, and so far the internet has revealed nothing very distinct about that. If anybody knows, I'd be immensely grateful. I'm on the point of just taking a shot at that scene based on what I already know--or in other words, using trial-and-error, to be fixed in future drafts. Which might be the ultimate best way of doing it, as Jo's article illuminates!
Hi! Well, for obvious reasons I can't say which army one of my brothers is an officer in, but if you're going to get your characters into action, and based on everything he's taught me, I can suggest you keep the following in mind:
1. The reason that they are made to fill their cartridges bullet by bullet responds to a mental count; because under fire they will be able to know exactly when to reload.

2. The carey material, a lead alloy with sweet aluminum that made it possible for automatic rifles from the current M1 Springfield onwards to weigh just between 500 grams and 870 grams for the sniper rifle with 30mm ammunition and a minimum effective range of two kilometers. Also, they can be fired underwater, and recoil is almost non-existent, unlike weapons from before. We invented the carey by the way; just like cluster bombs, graphite missiles, sarin gas ... Old story, all that. Graphite deploys a permanent magnetic mantle in the atmosphere with damage similar to PEM. What flies near is going to fall. Guaranteed.

3. The tanks currently self-recharge using an automatic hydraulic feed system, travel at an average speed of 50 miles per hour, and are so comfortable and spacious that they just need a Wurlitzer and a cooler for the beers. The UH-IH is still the smoothest and most preferred carry for the guys, fits seven per trip. By contrast, the Hercules C-104 is still used and in can winery conditions (those things bring even tanks inside) where the soldier is mere cattle. A C-104 can transport a hundred men (a company) where the newest ones urinate himselves or vomit, because those things creak and tremble as if they were going to disarm, while veterans like my brother take a nap and snore the most quiet. The only support is a long barbell that you carry at stomach level just like in amusement parks. That alone keeps you from bouncing like a ball inside that winged hold. When the veterans of the company came ashore they asked permission "to smoke a cigarette." Which is actually punching each other as happily as an Irishman at a wedding. It is a token of appreciation and friendship, indeed. "Oh, Martinez, how much I missed you!" Paf.

4. The azimuth.
One meter to the left and one finger of elevation for every 500 meters since the groove of the bullet (a 7.68, for example) will always deflect it to the right and of course, in falling. That in general lines, because there is an inverted azimuth, or it is not the same as shooting upwards, the wind influences, etc.

5. The trigger for violence.
White powder (the one used for artillery explosives, not bullets) with brandy. They are made to drink during their first instruction and when they do they are tied. In other words, it is not an initiation ceremony, but a savage act of programming that violates all humanitarian conventions, since it condemns them to be robotized if the stimulant is repeated. If that happens, my own brother will not be able to recognize that I am his sister; it'll just spend another bullet. An initiation, on the contrary, is something like to drink wine from the muzzle of a cannon, as in artillery units, for example. Well, in camaraderie meetings the commandos are allowed to take white powder, but always tied up or at most one hand untied so they can urinate. But it goes without saying that these guys are addicted and mentally fried, so they're just required to pass the devil course.

6. The test to earn the company beret.
You must dig a trench while a tank is coming towards you, and although at a reasonable speed (it is a test studied to pass the officer's course, in effect, which in theory means that it is possible to pass it), in its time the caterpillar will it's going to run over you, so either you obey the guy who tells you all the time to give up or you step aside. It is unknown how many applicants are crushed to death during these tests, although confidentiality is absolute as well as it is known that there is the correct way of doing things and the way of the army. Which includes by extension all branches of the armed forces. For example, during the 2010 earthquake, all the personnel of the navy's Asmar shipyard disappeared, 70 men swallowed up by the tsunami, and nothing was ever known. Regarding the beret, it is deep purple in color and obviously has a silver tank on the emblem. It is one of my mother's favorite chiches at home, and once my brother told me to try it on, to see how I looked, but I refused, because he was the one who earned it and with those things I do not kidding. He is the military man; I just write, and when I want to know something ask him.

7. Say no to get what you want.
Always. If you want a permit to leave, volunteer to stay at the base. You'll be the only one they'll let out while everyone who said yes will stay inside. Even in promotional opportunities or transfers to other units. For example, suppose you want to be a pilot or join an armored unit. So when they ask, say no. You will have earned the transfer.

8. The concept of women does not exist in the army.
When the company is punished, all the women get their part. This is in terms of the punches and kicks, the interrogation exercises with a towel on your face while they spray you with a hose to suffocate you, the container where they are thrown tear gas and there is a horrible chemical powder on the floor, or the “Courtyard of Tears ”: sharp gravel where you crawl on your elbows. In the army, women are just another soldier, and it's an old discussion that we have with my brother and the reason why I always end up saying: "Better God willing we never have a war." He just shakes his head but there is no way to make him understand. Because, indeed, they think otherwise and that includes women in all the armed forces.
It does not mean that they do not have feelings or cannot be solidarity or show tenderness, and everyone likes alcohol and sex; but they have an innate attachment to brutality that is always latent and unmistakable. The reason they sing arrogantly as they crawl through the terrible Courtyard of Tears or there are female pilots with battle names like "Bastard." Very tender.
But there is also solidarity: another officer, knowing that they were going to put them in the container with chemical powders, handed my brother eucalyptus leaves and told him that chewing them helped to withstand the effect of the tear gas. Naturally he tried to disappear as soon as he saw a superior. But in the same way this is extended to drugs: every time a major or colonel has called my brother to present, his welcome it is usually a generous white line. They understand this as camaraderie, and although the treatment is cordial, they will never ask you what you think about something, because that question of "How are you?" its only objective is to obtain a situation report, and what follows are the instructions, clear and precise language, no rambling, friendly, as I said, but with that always present veiled and elegant threat. In the army it doesn't matter what you think; just act.

9. Occultism and values, military ethics.
There is the so-called "Hour of the Devil", exactly sixty minutes in which you can spend in front of the most ferocious dog in the world and you will find him sleeping. It is the favorite time of the commandos, in fact. Which allowed my brother to collect a hundred rise veneers as a prank and mainly because "he was bored," as he later explained to his superiors. Without that you can't shoot, so imagine the scene: the guy in charge of waking them up has to do it with a shot; but an officer saw that he was walking around, humiliated, hitting a pot with his rifle. A command. One black beret ...
However, there are other aspects that are a little more sinister. There are special units that make a second Pledge of Allegiance, but with the flag reversed. I mean, that second oath is obviously to the other guy. My brother refused to take that oath and of course they punished him, this time with the “Secom”, a grave where you are forced to stand while a slow but constant drop of water falls on your head, a lovely torture where it is very easy to go crazy. Or he has also told me about an underground base where the chapel has the cross of the main altar explicitly inverted, so that there is no doubt.
In the same way, one should not be surprised to see a photo of Hitler in the office of a colonel or general, since the clearly Prussian orientation of our army has always been known to all (the Military School uses the Pickelhaube with plumes in its parades ), so the adoration of the mustache guy was only a logical consequence.
Although it is not an excuse, I would say.
But the diabolical sense is always present in the Army, such that my brother often says that "they go to hell to find reinforcements and regroup." I had another deceased brother who served in Las Malvinas, one of the main reasons why Argentines will always have some resentment against us (what had we lost there?), and although I don't know where he is now, he never spoke of that matter. Nor is it a topic of conversation in our family; although we were left with a feeling that we hurt people who did not deserve it without having an explicit reason to justify it.
But that throws up a value issue that is always present, and the clearest example occurred during the protests last year: my brother, that one who is still alive, of course, was court-martialed for refusing to take up arms against the protesters. But he brought to the table the discussion about what should be the true meaning of a soldier's oath, and he explained to the judge that he did not swear to shoot unarmed civilians, let alone compatriots. So, in a moving show of solidarity, the major of his company took off all of his rank patches, put them on the table, and told the judge that if my brother fell, he fell with him. I love that man. In this regard, the judge told my brother that “I wish there were more soldiers like him”, and after congratulating him in the warmest terms, he naturally acquitted him of the charges, and although he smiled it was evident that he expected that my brother fall off the bridge way home. In other words, there is a very fine line between good and evil and it is taken for granted, especially with regard to obedience, but when the time comes, precisely a military judge cannot ignore it. Of course, it is a discussion that the Army prefers not to have, and as for the few exceptions such as my brother when he refused and his major when he supported him, they usually give them the favor and don't bother them. They prefer to leave the discussion there and close it with the express purpose that, for the benefit of the army, that clear example of ethical disobedience is, in fact, forgotten. Because it is uncomfortable. I suppose that for the same reason there will never be a film that recounts the heroic act of those two American helicopter pilots who refused to bomb a civilian population in Vietnam such that they even ordered their gunners to point their M-60s at their own companions and they threatened to shoot if the bombardment continued. Those two men are considered heroes only in Vietnam. But in the United States they were treated as traitors and incarcerated, I think for a decade.
The problem is that no army is convenient a soldier who "thinks", who acts morally. Another button by my brother: prior to this situation of the civil uprising, he had been chosen to integrate a unit of special snipers. But he refused, because even he understood that it really meant becoming a government assassin, you know, missions where morals or right is never going to matter except pulling the trigger or cutting people's throats.

10. The nature of the soldier.
When you first arrive at a base, all recruits are checked out by a very old chef-like soldier who could almost be considered an emulate of Yoda, something ancient or something like that. He checks their clavicle. Because there happens to be a certain "shooter clavicle" the shape of the bone is designed to perfectly fit the stock of a rifle in a way that we could say congenital and is a clear natural selection. I shot a rifle for the first time when I was twelve years old, I belong to a military family, “it is draw with honor and it is kept with glory”, says the inscription in the saber that my great-grandfather used in the Pacific war, so I grew up giving all those things for obvious. But I did not know that it was something so, so specific, and that in fact not all people have that characteristic, that shape with which nature designated us "hunters" since we were born.

11. The underground army
In our own capital there are bases under hills where tourists take photos. There are cities that have been interconnected underground since colonial times. There are populations of drug traffickers that will never disappear because underneath there is precisely a silo. Or airborne units whose entrance is a hacienda, a peaceful stables in the forest with two old men sitting as if nothing; nothing makes it possible to think that there might be something there except that you see helicopters all the time. But underneath there are even F-16s. After all, they basically only need 90 meters of runway to take off. Nobody knows we have the F-117. Or that we have tactical weapons. Every time we say in the media that something did not work, it is the exact opposite. The Ray missile. The Fasat-Alfa. That's pretty much the military mentality. Say no when you're actually smiling. In fact, the regiment that my brother belongs to, as well as that airborne base, does not officially exist. Although everyone in the military knows which company they call "Los Perros." The reason why that major I told you about also refuses to continue ascending and preferred to stay with his dogs, of which he considers himself his father.

12. Think carefully about the questions you want me to ask my brother. Because you will not find that on the Internet. Let's see where a military man could recognize that many of them expressly worship the devil, admire a genocidal, have a chain of command affect to drugs or consider women more of a threat than a contribution. I have female friends who left the Military School deeply disappointed. But, still aware that these boys play with death all the time, they wanted to be part of that world. I considered it once, it was even logical; but I discovered that I also "think". It would have been too uncomfortable a woman for them.
 
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Margaret Note Spelling

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Unfortunately, I don't think I could help you much for the example given. My knowledge is limited to culture, squad dynamics, duties and responsibilities of different positions, etc. I will ask about this and get back to you, though!
Thanks so much! :p

@DLCroix, that sounds like a very...colorful kind of culture! It wouldn't be boring for a book, that's for sure. I'll definitely keep all that in mind, and I may end up using certain parts of it for one situation or another. Thank you. You guys have all been very helpful!
 

Joshua Jones

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Thanks so much! :p

@DLCroix, that sounds like a very...colorful kind of culture! It wouldn't be boring for a book, that's for sure. I'll definitely keep all that in mind, and I may end up using certain parts of it for one situation or another. Thank you. You guys have all been very helpful!
Sorry it's taken so long for me to get back to you!

I'm going to defer to Mike on this one... he will be a much more valuable source, as his knowledge base encompasses and surpasses mine.

That said, definitely let me know when you're looking for beta readers!
 

DLCroix

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Thanks so much! :p

@DLCroix, that sounds like a very...colorful kind of culture! It wouldn't be boring for a book, that's for sure. I'll definitely keep all that in mind, and I may end up using certain parts of it for one situation or another. Thank you. You guys have all been very helpful!
Yes, sign me up for that too. My brother has just told me, for example, that the sniper rifle is the only one whose barrel has the five grooves that make the bullet turn to the left as opposed to normal rifles, which have those grooves to the right, which allows you to cancel the azimuth effect and almost makes it easy to shoot straight. In addition, the ammunition is a 50 mm projectile, a chisel of almost 20 cm (it is anti-tank, in fact), it must be fired with the weapon mounted on a bipod and every three shots the barrel must be changed.
My brother, namely, has the courses of:
Paratrooper
Tactical diver
Sniper
Armored (tanks)
I think he handles a whole series of technical details that can be very useful to you.
 

Margaret Note Spelling

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You guys are great. I really, really appreciate this. And that's a really cool detail, @DLCroix--I hadn't even gotten to the whole issue of weapons and technology detail, and I know I'm going to have to! (Now I'm curious about why they don't have all rifles with grooves to the left, so I'm definitely going to look that up to see why.) @Joshua Jones, as always you are amazing. Between the three of you, I know I can have a lot more confidence about the things I'll be able to do with this book.
 

DLCroix

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(Now I'm curious about why they don't have all rifles with grooves to the left, so I'm definitely going to look that up to see why.)
Wow, it didn't even occur to me to ask him why, I'm going to have to find an appropriate time to probe that, usually after the second Jack. In fact that day he gave me a long lecture on personal mines and that our army developed one that is not deactivatable, how horrible. But they are like that, they are in love with weapons.
 
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