It’s the Little Things
We’ve all picked up the books that weren’t quite right. The wooden dialogue, the bits of research the author didn’t get right – and I’m being charitable, as I’ve picked up some that made me want to fly them across the room whilst I shouted uncomplimentary things about the author’s ideas of what worked in real life. Let’s just say this: If you have a super-powered microwave death-ray, and use it, what emerges from nearby Maple trees will NOT be maple syrup. And if you try to ‘break’ a mustang while you are all alone on the ranch, you deserve what you get, and it won’t be pretty. But this is why I no longer read romances…
Ahem. Yes, where was I?
While I was at LTUE I went to 3 or 4 panels on incorporating military and guns into your fiction. While I’ve been hunting and trapping since I was a girl, it’s not the same thing as the way the military uses guns, and I know this. Although you will likely note in my fiction I’m just as likely to have my hero with a bolt-action rifle – because that’s what I’m familiar with. But on the panels, which were full of useful information, the common threads that emerged were: If you’re going to write about guns, at least get out and shoot some, a few times. Go to a local range, with a good instructor. Take a safety class if you can, but before you add in things like ‘cordite’ and irritate anyone who actually knows that is no longer a thing, have an idea of what you’re talking about. A friend sent me this, which is great if you want to know what is happening inside a gun, and what could go wrong.
Mike Kupari, who wrote the excellent Dead Six along with Larry Correia while he was deployed in Afghanistan (In other words, the man has the cred), pointed out several times that if you want to know how the military works in real life, ask a vet. As he said, if you’re polite, asking nicely and finding someone who’s passionate about a topic, will likely net you far more information than you could have hoped for. Larry Correia pointed out that he’d been known to send 8 pages of gun info when asked a simple question. So find someone who knows, and ask. The internet is terribly useful, yes, but talking to a real person lets you garner real-life examples and anecdotes, as well.
One of the things that also got repeated across more than one panel was to know your character. If they are a suburban housemom who had never touched a gun in her life, or done martial arts (and yes, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one in the audience flashing to reading John Ringo’s Princess of Wands. I need to re-read that soon!) then you can’t have her shooting two-gun or knowing right where the solar-plexus is and hitting the guy in it hard enough to make him lose his breakfast… but on the other hand, if she’s an expert in something, you need to be, too, and don’t make her do stupid things. If she has super powers, apply them consistently. Actually, I really like the movie Incredibles for this… shows the super-powered trying to rein themselves in, and not always succeeding. That, and I love the themes in it.
One of the most-asked audience questions was about chain of command in a military structure. First of all, it’s important to know there is one, and that in any decent military, it will be adhered to. If a private jumps the chain of command and talks to the captain before he talks to his sergeant, he’s going to get in trouble. But if all you want is a table of organization, you can look that up. Keep in mind it’s different for each branch of service, and that it does change. Also, if you are writing a not-American military, you won’t be looking at the same titles or roles. Again, doing your research will pay off in happier readers.
Oh… fraternization. There are good and sufficient reasons your everyday joe enlisted man is not supposed to get buddy-buddy with his officer and vice-versa. There are also – and I have one mil-SF author I just can’t read any more because of this – very good reasons to not have your characters indulging in sex while on duty. At his duty station. Do you want me to come yell at you? Just don’t do it! And for an excellent exploration of the ramifications of women in combat, I highly recommend Col. Tom Kratman’s Amazon Legion.
I will leave you with something different: the insertion of humor into a story. I do this, particularly during very dark/tense scenes, as it’s what real people do. I grew up with Dad being military, then EMS and a firefighter. I know the kinds of jokes those men tell, to shut out the scenes of blood and chaos (and when they think the little blonde girl isn’t listening). Blacker than Black humor. Which explains a lot about why I’m so fond of my First Reader’s sense of what’s funny. So when Kate Paulk shared this into a chat, I spent quite some time doubled over in laughter as I read through. Go look at #520 if you want to see Kate’s favorite, I won’t copy it here. If you need more, the classic Skippy’s List is also an excellent resource.
2. A one man band is not an appropriate bard instrument.
14. Ogres are not kosher.
28. The Goddess’ of Marriage chosen weapon is not the whip.
55. Before facing the dragon, not allowed to glaze the elf.
89. The elf’s name is not Legolam.
111. I did not pick the garrote skill last week from my grandmother.
154. I am not allowed to rub the monk’s head for luck.
155. I am not allowed to rub any part of the elf chick for any reason.
193. Not allowed to kill vampires with seismic charges.
There are so many… and I would challenge any of you to go through this and not come up with a sick, warped story idea!