Soldiering up Science Fiction

Getting the voice right is difficult if you’ve never worn a uniform, but it’s not impossible.

In sci-fi, you have wiggle room that you don’t have in most genres because your military is what you say it is.

To Army or not to Army

The first decision you have to make is whether you use today’s military for your model or go your own way. Both can be fun. So, first things first…. Ranking system. Chances are you’ll need a chain of command. My favorite source for this information is a kid’s website: Fact Monster. That’s what happens to us when we become moms, okay. We change and we grow.

World Domination Made Easy

As far as world building goes, you have to really think about how your military fits the world. What’s the conflict? Is your military the problem or the solution?

My Lancers were rebels and rogues, all. They didn’t really like the rules, and adhered only insomuch as they needed the chain of command in order to kill hostiles. Otherwise, they had pretty loose protocols. They were brothers and mercenaries, loyal only to each other. That changed the way they interacted. It had to.

Comm Chatter is A Killer

One of the only things that truly annoys me in military anything is “Copy that.” Copy that is a joke in the American military. It’s a sarcastic response or a way of saying someone is hamming it up. Yet, it’s in every movie, every book, every video game.

It’s good copy or bad copy. Meaning, I heard you or I didn’t. Simply saying copy tells the other guy you understand. My mom life gave me an… unexpected resource here; Call of Duty. You read that right. The video game from Activision has some of THE best comm chatter you will ever study. It was invaluable. You can actually search for it on YouTube, or try this channel from WrittenNotice. There are tons of these videos. Seriously, it’s a fantastic resource.

How your military interacts tells you something about the world. As an example, Joss Whedon’s Firefly series had two types of military characters, Captain Mal and then all the soldiers still loyal to the Alliance.

The Serenity, Mal’s ship, is nothing like a military ship. They keep to loose protocol because Malcolm Reynolds was, and always will be, a rebel. In sharp contrast, every encounter with Alliance forces paints an authoritarian, highly regimented fighting force that isn’t scared to go low when you go high. His Alliance is the enemy, and you know it from the moment you meet them, see their tactics and gauge the Captain’s reaction which is almost uniformly ranging from forced compliance to their rules to open disdain.

When you’ve seen a few things…

Writing military characters sounds so easy on paper. They’re tough, brusque, straight talkers, sometimes rude, shut down, stoic, arrogant, heroic, and the list goes on. Right?

The challenge would be to write a character who defies all those preconceived ideas and see where that leads you. It will usually take you directly to your conflict. You’re welcome.

PTSD is a thing

Here you have to exercise some caution. I’m begging you. This condition is real, and it has a stigma. You can choose to reinforce that stigma or confront it. Some of those characteristics we talked about earlier are actually symptoms, and it’s a good idea to express that with sensitivity.

So, as usual, this is all my opinion. It’s how I like to do things, and it might have no bearing on what anyone else finds appealing, but I’m guessing, since you read this to the end, that you have an opinion of your own. Feel free to drop it in the comments, but keep it clean.

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