One more step, and then another

After months of researching and consulting with subject matter experts, and weeks dithering about writing the battle for mumble days, I finally decided that I was more frustrated by not having it written than by launching into it badly and ill-prepared.

So I sat down and started to write, never mind that I’ve never been in a battle and don’t know what I’m doing. 509 words later, I’d gotten to the first 30 seconds of the battle and blocked hard. So I printed it out, and the topo map, and went to my in-house subject matter expert. “Love? Can you sit down with me in the living room and look over something?”

Calmer Half scrutinized the map after I fetched reading glasses, read what I had down so far, nodded, and then said, “This works fairly well. But have you thought about? And why did you use this instead of that? You know, we used that because we didn’t have air superiority; you should substitute this instead. And if you do it this way, then…. have you drawn a map of the camp’s layout? You should do that for your own peace of mind, and so you can coordinate your stop teams. And your overwatch is going to have to move to here from the original position to do covering fire quickly; they’ll have done that as soon as they knew the op was going down. And consider…”

4 pages of notes later, and after the second round of antihistamines kicked in, I had a lot of rewriting ahead with much better set of ideas. I started again, and stumbled and stuttered the words out over the next few days until I had made it to the first 2 minutes of the battle…

And then we went out to breakfast, because I was up at stupid-early and he was, too. And I asked him on which sorts of grenades would be thrown in the windows. As he was explaining where and when to use satchel charges and when not to, the waitress came up and eyed both of us with this little quirky smile. “More coffee, hons?”

Got to love Texas, and waitresses in a small town cafe. Nothing phases them, not even writers. Okay, maybe a heavy Saturday morning crowd. (Overheard this morning, “I got a family coming in, so I’m going to move you to a smaller table. Yep, moving you like U-haul, except this one is for free!”)

Calmer Half keeps telling me not to worry, just write. “Of course it’ll take a lot of editing when it’s done. But write it badly.” I know he means well, but I hate editing with a fiery passion. The thought of having to go over this again and again makes it even harder to get the words out.

Hopefully I’ll get it done sooner rather than later. Even more hopefully, when it’s been edited and I’ve declared I’m never reading this book again because I’m sick of criticizing the words in it, anyone else who reads it will never have a clue how much I hate this chapter.


  1. He’s right, ma’am. Get her drawn and on the page. Even if it is only a scribble. It cannot breathe and live until you do that.

    (I know it’s hard. Boy, howdee. But still.)

  2. A while back I was asked to do a beta read on a collaboration by two rather famous authors. Did not get out the quill with red ink as this work would eventually get handed to a traditional publishing house, but did vet it for several technical subjects in my wheelhouse.
    As one example I drew upon my experience with cryogenic storage to explain that with our current technology you simply cannot sustain cryogenic temperatures for long duration absent both a power source and a rather effective heat sink. Think a dewar of liquid nitrogen for months on end buried in a sub basement. What the authors did given the setting of the book was to add a payment to an elf for a magical solution.
    I also researched what the environment would feel like inside a rather decrepit diesel submarine, WWII vintage. Basically ozone and funk and dampness along with an assortment of fairly loud metal on metal sounds.
    Different author, different book, I failed to convince them that a handgun determined to be a revolver in chapter two could not then be definitively identified as a semi auto in chapter ten. So win some, lose some.
    All in good fun.

    1. Technically there have been “(Semi-)Automatic Revolver” guns designed, built, & sold…

      The only unenhanced Human in Section 9 of Ghost In The Shell used a Mateba in the animated works (& IIRC, Manga), I think (definitely in the first two Stand Alone Complex series [I gather I’ve missed a third]).

  3. The advantage of getting a battle down on paper is that you can add, subtract, multiply and otherwise change it. While it’s still only in your head it can get _very_ strange. Battles need to be pinned down quickly, in broad terms.

    Else you wind up with a “citizen’s militia” on gray-hair little old ladies and men driving around running down the Cyborgs. And you know you have to kill a few of them or it just wouldn’t be realistic.

  4. Maybe think of the revision as a different sort of task?

    I mean, editing can be doing a final sculpt on surface details.

    This is clearly something with design iterations. If you were laying out a bunch of complex circuits, you would not start by getting all the fiddly details down on the final paper. (You might populate the database in your layout software with the details of the bits you know you need to use, but you will probably be adding more later.) You would first have some simple decisions, or information about where power is coming from, what the major components are, what the thing is doing, codes and standards, etc. Some tasks will probably make things much more unpleasant, if you do them before other tasks. Like doing material research and selection, before you decide whether you are NVIDIA and make graphics cards, or NI and make data capture cards. There are many more composites that can be used for a PCB than there are composites you would want to use for a specific PCB application. Studying larger datasets before making the simple design choices that can drastically shrink them sounds like a masochistic option.

    Like working on a board layout before doing a schematic of the component layouts, or working on a PCB design by hand instead of using software that will let you move back and forth between the layout and schematic.

    Those choices are going to be fewer for a little baby EE than they are for an experienced designer of a type of device. Baby EEs, everything is new and difficult, and there is a lot to study, and one doesn’t even know of, or where to find, some of the stuff worth knowing. Experienced designers can simplify things amazingly with back of the envelope calculations, or instead with the reusable notes from prior projects. Some of what designers have is learned skills of perception.

    Peter is bringing forth his skills to do some things here that are not obvious to him or to you. Without being aware of that, it is difficult to break those skills down and teach them to you immediately.

    He is using his skills as a soldier and a reader to extrapolate what you have written to an implied scenario that is a sequence of battle events.

    Then, with his soldier mind and writer mind, he is doing engineering. He is iterating quickly through scenario designs, developing the ones more consistent with competent soldier characters. Because you have already shared with him details about the implied competence of the soldiers, the tech, the strategic situation, he is taking those as given. But because of his years of skill, he can always come up with a design that will be better than the last one you have done. Like with a circuit design, there is a stopping point, and since he can iterate faster, it makes since for him to go deeper into the weeded of moving capacitors by microns to fiddle with the capacitor-capacitor coupling.

    Then he uses your design choices about view point character, and his skill as a writer to export the scenario design data to what may be going on with the view point character.

    It sounds to me like you might be describing a problem that involves working in the data format that should be exported to. If you speak PCB design, like maybe doing the Gerber files in Paint, when you should be working it another way, and exporting to paint.

    It sounds to me that you could write out the battle event scenario, do an appropriate number of design iterations with Peter in that format, and then use that as a guide for writing it in story format.

    You’ve written technical documentation for iterated designs before, right? You can use the early design iterations to find out what information you need, and how you can present it, but you hit a point where you want the design and test engineers to finish before you worry about polishing a near final draft.

    My two cents, and I’m definitely talking about a bunch of things I do not understand.

  5. I have to sketch out major battles, if only so I can keep my description straight. “OK, so the the p-o-v character is standing facing, um, north, then he will see this and this on his right, but the cavalry will still be concealed by this little rise on his left that everyone swore was too low to hide anything. So then . . .” But of course, every plan goes out the window with the first enemy contact, or in the middle of a large battle.

  6. The battles in a story I’m typing up also gave me grief. And they involved superheroes and very few of them. . . .

  7. Fights are easy. I’ve been told I’m very good with those. One of my test readers said, “I’m pretty sure I can tell what breed of horse by the smell of their sweat from how you describe them. And you have a great sense of how battles work.”

    It’s all those bits in between that get me…

    …and, for me, computers have been a blessing. Less angst about it looking bad and I can cut and paste without guilt-and hold onto the things that I cut and paste so that I can maybe use them later or not.

  8. I suspect that in Real Life(tm), many battles are fought the way the are because the officers didn’t pay attention to the combat part of OCS, their NCOs weren’t adequately trained, or general inefficiency left them without proper intelligence and support. Sometimes plain old dumbass is a major factor.

    Reading the history of WWII, the Sandhurst crowd were fond of “engaging the enemy.” (to be fair, Churchill often issued specific orders to that effect) Which they often did successfully… but generally if you’re going to put forth the effort and take losses, you’re doing it for a reason – taking something from the enemy, denying something from the enemy, or destroying something the enemy has. Simply trading casualties is not usually a reasonable expenditure of resources.

    I’d bet whatever “errors” you made have happened in actual combat. Some probably many times.

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