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Some Things You Just Can’t Fake… or Research

I’ve now read one book SHADOW OPS: CONTROL POINT by an Iraq veteran, Myke Cole and I am in the processing of reading a terrific novel in my crit group by an Afghanistan veteran, M.T. REITEN, (not sold yet, but that’s going to happen soon), and I’ve discovered something fascinating.    

Neither of these men have their heroes resort to redemptive violence.  Or use torture or even condone it.  They’ll fight when attacked, but they don’t glory in fighting and killing.  They look for another way, and they are thoughtful in their analysis of the use of violence to achieve ends.

Which sets an interesting contrast to the numbers of armchair warriors who frequent science fiction.  They seem to glory in the battle, they often use violence as a palliative.  These armchair warriors also get the night before the battle, or the aftermath wrong based on my reading of Myke and Matt’s books.  

Having read these two books by actual warriors there is a deep difference in how men who have actually seen combat deal with the emotions, acknowledge the fear, present the quiet preparation.  In both Myke and Matt’s books their preparation scenes were so powerful even though nothing was technically “happening”.  Of course their action sequences were great, and they both handled hand to hand combat really well, but what got to me were those quiet moments.

I don’t care how many military history books you read I just don’t think you can bring to the writing that sense of verisimilitude that these men managed without experiencing being a soldier.  Since I’ve never been in combat (and hopefully never will be) the most I can aspire to is to do my poor best to learn from their example, and hope my writing manages to be a pale approximation of the true emotions they have engendered.

8 Responses to Some Things You Just Can’t Fake… or Research

  • In my current job editing recent battle narratives, I have learned some about how soldiers conduct their operations, both in combat and during the “quiet” times. These are accounts from the soldiers themselves, recorded in interviews by the writer-historians. It’s as close as I’ll ever get to such situations, and I am amazed at what these guys must do. And it’s not just guys — there are women out there much closer to combat than politicians would have you believe.

  • melindas says:

    That must be fascinating, Terry. But you know what I’m talking about. It’s not that I’m saying it’s impossible to read first hand reports, and military histories, and not be able to produce a reasonable, viable fight/battle sequence in your novel. It’s that I think armchair warriors take away the wrong message. They assume violence works in all cases and at all times, and it was the reluctance of these actual combat vets to use redemptive violence, or torture, or to always charge into a fight that made such a contrast.

  • And I agree. I’m commenting education on [i]my[/i] education and how changing my view. I [i]must[/i] get Cole’s book and look forward to Reiten’s.

  • The Battle verisimilitude can’t be faked, and it feels real in Myke’s book.

  • I agree absolutely with you on the importance of not providing cartoonish visions of the military and the experiences of those in combat. But I believe it is possible to acquire some perspective on real fighting and the real military by finding good accounts of combat. The stand-out for me remains Marine At War by Russell Davis. It’s a plain, unvarnished account of an enlisted Marine fighting at Peleliu and Okinawa, and the downtime between those campaigns. Myke Cole did a very good job (hey, I blurbed him), but some very good jobs have also been done by those who never fired a shot. Case in point, Stephen Crane and The Red Badge of Courage. Crane talked to a lot of veterans and made sure he got it right. As you said in your essay, Myke’s work helped you grasp some things better. That’s one big reason why we write, right?

  • melindas says:

    Good points, John. I think I wasn’t as clear as I should have been when I wrote my post. I agree that reading first hand accounts, and talking with vets can help a writer achieve verisimilitude. What I’m talking about is the pernicious habit I see among armchair warriors to resort to redemptive violence in their books as a solution, to use torture, etc. What struck me about Myke’s book, and my friend Matt’s books is that they never go to this easy out. They eschew redemptive violence. It’s the torture that drives Myke’s hero to make the final break with the forces he’s been serving.

    Basically, I’m sick of redemptive violence. I had my hero in THE EDGE OF RUIN resort to such an act, and if I get to finish my series it’s going to prove to have been a terrible decision, and a huge mistake on his part. He broke his word he would never harm this person, and because her actions led to the death of someone very dear to my hero takes an action he will come to regret. He justifies it as “she’s too dangerous not to neutralize her”, but really he was engaging in redemptive violence, and I want it to bite him in the ass.

    I really should have been clearer in my post. Maybe I’ll try an amplification.

  • S.C. Butler says:

    Is Flags of Our Fathers. It also points out the difference between soldiers who have fought, and those who didn’t.

    Great post.

  • Georgino says:

    There is something easy about violence that many people who are new to writing find comfort in. I think it’s because violence weather rigt or wrong, based in high minded ideals or revenge or just plain old following orders from yur chain of command is simple. I don’t mean easy to write I mean simple as in basic actions and reactions. It’s also a concept that most people think they can understand. but my mind is wandering away from what I was thinking of when I started to write this. what I was thinking of is yur reference to armchair warriors using redemptive violence, what I’d like to know I’d a couple of examples or personal as well as future professional interest.

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