Yesterday was Memorial Day. This is one of those few holiday dates that isn’t country-specific, and it’s one of those dates that carries with it some melancholy.
Multiple members of my family have served in the Forces back home in the UK, and the family I married into Stateside are assuredly a military lot. It is my blessing that all of them I have known in my life growing up are still with us today, and likely to be so until old age turns up.
The same cannot be said for every single service person ever, which is what yesterday was all about.
And I think that means it’s a good time to talk about both how grateful I am for those who gave everything to protect fundamental rights like freedom, human decency and equality, and of course take a few minutes to talk about military, and writing.
First, I am not pro-war.
In general, I try to keep as much of my political, religious and personal opinions about things other than writing off this blog. While my opinion is valid in its own right, that doesn’t mean everyone else needs to think the same, or that I need to yell my thoughts into a megaphone and ram them down people’s throats.
But I am vehemently not pro-war. Death and destruction is all very well in video games and stories, but not against real people, if at all possible.
Which is why I’m pro-forces, oddly.
Wishing war away won’t stop things, and I am of the belief we as a species are not yet high minded enough to avoid war all the time, in all cases. And when a battle must be fought, there must people willing to fight it. Professional, trained, prepared people, with the correct support, especially once the fighting is over.
I don’t like the thought of anyone dying, but some things are worth dying for. The Second World War if nothing else is proof of that.
So. There’s my one polarising stance out in the open.
I have never been in a fight. Not a proper one. I once got into a massive punch up with my sister when I was young, but I don’t think that counts.
Like most people, my only experiences with the ground floor of fighting comes through games. And I think it is categorically fair to say the latest Call of Duty or whatever other shoot-em-up just came out has about as much in common with military life as an egg does to the concept of flight – there’s a vague connection there, but without prior context, good luck getting from A – B.
(Though you are excused, Arma, on account of having a due amount of waiting around doing nothing, and a compass/map system that made a Marine buddy of ours almost cry).
The core point of what I’m trying to say is, modern games with all their operators operating operationally on operations has no basis in real life, and the violence is art-ified to allow an audience to participate in shooting your buddies online for fun without any actual attachment or mental strain. (Ok, also excusing Spec-Ops: The Line, because DAMN. That game broke all the rules, and should have had ‘trauma’ as one of its list fo ingredients.)
Real-life, and real people, even with training, don’t shoot and laugh and slam down a beer while they are doing it. They get sent into fights, away from their families, at the behest of others, to do whatever has to be done.
Then. they do kind, sombre, amazing things, like come home, raise a family, and once a year, buy a drink that will not get drunk for a list of names.
And that deserves respect.
Respect for a hard job, a tough lifestyle, life events everyone wishes hadn’t happened, and genuine stories no game or novel will ever truly capture.
Only other service people will truly ‘get’ it. I am not one of those people.
Writing Experiences Un-had
I know this is a very serious and sober post for me (hence no images breaking it up for once). I know some of what I’m saying is polarizing, and not everyone will agree.
I know I am eminently unqualified to have a professional opinion on most of these matters.
So let’s bring this back to pure writing.
Every writer at some point will have to write about something they haven’t actually done themselves, and try to get it right.
The hardest stuff for me is military matters, and the reason my trilogy draft is on hiatus at present and other projects are at the forefront. For all my studying, my knowledge of medieval and early industrial war technology and tactics and my connection to real life veterans, I find it very hard to get into the right headspace to write all out war, because I am fighting against my lack of experience to try and simulate both depths of character, and due gravitas to a situation I have no experience for.
Not to mention, trying to turn off my own thoughts about such things to allow other characters to have other opinions.
Research, I think, is key. I mean, I’m well documented as loving me some research and documentaries, but the best research for an experience un-had is either to go out and have it (where possible) or find someone who has who is willing to talk about whatever it is.
Taking notes on the periphery for certain elements of realism can be a boon, too, but nothing beats a ground-view perspective, even if that means finding an alpha/beta reader who is willing to call you out when you are simply wrong.
The other option, of course, is to go completely the other way, and tell a deliberately unreal story. This works even better when you can make any reader as unfamiliar with the concepts as you yourself are, and thus has been a great bastion for sci-fi and fantasy writers for a long time.
To stick in the theatre of military matters, games like Destiny are a good example – there is no weight to death because your Ghost brings you back, and everyone else who has one too. The solemnity of the universe comes from the demise of Earth, not the demise of your buddies. Fantasy games can do this too, often by throwing in some spell or pact to allow for the same kind of resurrection.
The same can also be applied to non-military matters.
I’m going to reference my favorite author, Sir Terry Pratchett, for this one, and bring up Hex.
Hex is the Discworld’s’ first computer. And yes, a computer in a fantasy setting. Why not?
What makes Hex brilliant is that if you know nothing about computers, but have used one, you will relate the problems Hex throws out to annoy his users. And if you do know about computers, you will also relate to the arcane nonsense Hex runs on and says, even though your machine at work will never do quite the same.
To explain: Hex started out as a simple device, who has somehow accumulated paraphernalia over time… and stops working if you remove any of it, including the mouse that lives in its innards. It also answers exactly what you ask, nothing more and nothing less, and good luck with that.
It is also often personified by the Wizards as ‘he’.
Hex is at once familiar and strange, and a great way around having to know how actual computers work to justify having one in a fantasy setting. He is a wonderful experience un-had.
As a final note for today’s rambling, I have mostly mentioned video games in today’s posts.
So here is my second strong opinon of the day: Video games are as valid a medium for telling stories as any other and are 100% an art form in their own right.
Have a good day folks!