Most writers end up writing fight scenes — be they verbal or physical. But some writers, especially if they’re writing historical novels, epic fantasy, or military fiction are going to be in the fight for the long haul. They’re going to writing a Military Campaign.
At Balticon 53, Eric Hardenbrook, Kim Headlee, John Appel, Mike McPhail, and Charles Gannon sat down to talk about the tricks to handling a campaign.
First off? A battle might be won by numbers or technology, but a campaign is run on logistics and tactics.
What Are Logistics?
Logistics are a way of providing whatever the soldier needs.
Be it physical things like beans, bullets, or boards. Or things like transportation, pay, and sleep.
Whatever it is that a soldier needs to do their job well, it’s up to the support staff to provide it. And? Logistics inform the tactics, just as much as terrain and enemy movement.
5 Ways To Portray The Effect Of Logistics When Writing
This is clearly not a comprehensive list, the panel wasn’t long enough for that. But here are some good concepts to consider when incorporating logistics into your writing.
- Living off the land. This is a traditional thing for armies to do. It sounds so hippy-dippy, maybe some hunting and trading. But, in reality? It was mostly stealing from farmers and merchants. Plus, plundering whatever cities and towns they conquered.
- Account for travel time. Horses need rest, rivers flow in one direction and oceans have tides. Mis-information can have you take 1 day to travel in the wrong direction, and 3 days to travel back. Plus? You still need to feed your army (and any animals or gas/etc your tanks/trucks)
- Scavenging. Just because something is broken beyond repair doesn’t mean it doesn’t have useful parts.
- Pay attention to carry weight.
- With historical inspired writing, armour and gear can weigh a lot.As you get more modern, the gear and protection keep getting lighter — so we keep adding more stuff to keep our troops safer. And more trucks of supplies and gadgets.In modern/futuristic setting, you might just think you can print out what you need on demand. Just know that real-life 3d printers are SLOW. And you still have to carry the component materials.
- In The Field. When not in outright battle, securing parameters, calming citizens in your occupied territory, etc — all these things are going to require actual people, on their feet, face-to-face with hopefully non-violent citizens, often mixed with enemies in disguise. No matter how high tech you get, there’s probably going to be people involved on the front lines. Unless you annihilate everything.
Writing Campaigns Versus Battles, 7 Things To Think About.
Once again, this is just a list of suggestions. Things that come up during campaigns that show up less during a battle. There are millions of differences, but here are a few.
- Logistics matter. A lot.
- Soldiering has a lot of down time. What sort of mischief do the soldiers get into in their off time?
- There are more support personnel than front line fighters.
- What to do with the ‘problem soldiers’, that haven’t gotten themselves kicked out yet.
- Great thing to do – if you’re a writer – give them a mission. You either get the mission accomplished, or you’ve got fewer mouths to feed.
- The modern Command and Control Center isn’t some guy standing there barking orders (typically). It’s more like 20 people staring at different screens with information coming in, and the guy ‘in charge’ standing around going “hmmmm…” and hopefully listening to his subject matter experts.
- Orders aren’t barked out last minute. Any halfway competent military is going to have multiple plans, and contingency plans. When it’s go time? The order’s more like: We’re good to go for Plan B, modification 3.
- Reverse engineering. Romans were huge into this! It’s been around for a while. Don’t assume just because one army has the technical advantage that they’re going to keep it for long.
- In fantasy, if you’ve got magic with verbal and physical components, people are going to be spying.
- My thought? Add some extra things, and hide some of the real requirements to throw them off!
A Few Closing Thoughts on War
Friendly fire. Is it?
Military intelligence. Is it?
Just-in-time supplies. Are they?
“War is entropy, not order.”
“If you would have peace, prepare for war”
Have you written any campaigns? Any tips that our panelists ran out of time to mention?
Thank you for tuning in, and I’ll be back again next week with more writing tips from my over-24-hours-of-Balticon53-programming to share!
If a writer is going to write military campaigns, I strongly suggest reading a lot of military history, to learn the territory. Language, tactics, movements, weapons. I’ve had a longtime fascination with such matters, and they are complex, and change from era to era. The movements of troops and the way battles played out in the American Civil War are vastly different from WWII, and both are different from the battles of the Napoleonic era, or the Roman era. A solid primer on how Civil War campaigns were fought by the ground soldiers can be found in my history of the 31st Virginia called “Hoffman’s Army” – but that would be promoting my book, and I don’t want to do that. 😉
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