Night_Raider's (KaiserWinterfeldt's) Guide to Writing A Memorable War Story

by Night_Raider (KaiserWinterfeldt)

Needless to say, RTWH has some very, very talented writers. We read their stories and marvel at the intricate plots and lovable characters. Then we ask ourselves, "Could I write a story that well?" Yes, you can. Each and every single person has the potential to write the next war story that makes front page news. But how do we unlock that potential? The answer is closer than you think.

The Elements of a Story

These are just brief descriptions, I will go deeper into the elements as necessary later on.

To write a good story, we must first know all of the elements that go into a story, whether it is well written or not.

Essential Element: The Plot

The plot is the main sequence of events in a story. It is the general picture. While the plot itself is not what makes a story worthwhile, it provides what is needed for the elements of the story to fall into place.

The Setting

The setting of a story is very important. The setting is the time, place, and background information of the story itself. But why is this so important? One word: consistency. We can't have planes, trains, and cars in the year 500 B.C.E., now can we?

Essential Element: Characterization

Characterization is the process of making believable characters. This is one of the more essential elements of a story because it is the character's job to draw us into the story and keep up interested. Characters need to be well rounded; they need to be human. Just like humans, they have to have strengths and weaknesses. They have to think. Characters are three-dimensional.

Essential Element: The Central Conflict

Yet another one of the more essential elements, the conflict is the struggle between two or more opposing forces. Often times, it can be between two or more characters, but not always. A character can be locked in a battle of wits with mother nature, trying desperately to survive in the barren steppes of central Asia. Or, he can be fighting a force inside himself, such as his conscience.

The Climax

The highest point of action in the story, the climax is what every event in the story builds up to. It is the point of highest suspense.

Theme

This is the main point or central idea of a story. To put it in simpler terms, if this was a morality tale, the theme would be the lesson learned at the end. (Think: The Little Boy Who Cried 'Wolf!')

Tone

This is the general mood or moods created within the story itself. A tragedy is going to have more of a somber tone, whereas a story about a great generals many admirable victories for the glory of Rome is going to have more of a happy tone.

Point of View

The Point of View is the angle or perspective from which the story is told. It is important to keep this element consistent, don't write 'I said' one minute and then 'he said' the next.

Now that we know the basics, we can delve further into the essential elements.

The Essential Element of: Plot

Most plots follow the same, basic structure. In the beginning, you have the exposition, in which you introduce various characters, the setting, and the situation(s) they are involved in. Then you have a rising action. At this point, you introduce the main conflict. Throughout the rising action, the suspense continues to build until you reach the climax. The climax is the point of greatest action. Perhaps it is the final showdown between the protagonist and the antagonist in your story. Whatever it is, by the end of the climax, the conflict should be resolved. At this point, you have the falling action. This is where you tie up loose ends of the story, you may want to finish off unnecessary characters. Finally, you have the resolution. This is the ending of your story.

The Essential Element of: Characterization

This is a given, the characters are the center of your story. They are what moves the events of the story along. But most importantly your characters are human. Make them that way. The majority of your characters will go in and out of the story several times, so you need to make these characters round. Take the time to give them a personality. Is your character a cruel-hearted slave master, or a kind-hearted father? Also, take the time to describe your character not only mentally, but also physically. Describe the character's hair color, his or her body shape (are they rather large or pretty skinny?), etc. You can describe a character in one of two ways: directly, and indirectly. When describing a character directly, you tell the reader that a character is something e.g. "Marcus was a cruel man who loved shedding blood on the battlefield. " When describing a character indirectly, you tell the reader something about that character through the character's actions e.g. "Marcus crucified the Gauls, as he would do later to any barbarian that stood in his way. "

Feel free to go into the characters background. How did he get into the position he is in now? For example, say you're doing a Roman as your main character. Does he hold any senatorial offices? Is he a famous general who conquered the deserts of Judea? Perhaps also explain family history that might influence a characters behavior. For example, say your character was abused, beaten, and neglected as a child, that might be a reason why he is a murderous criminal as an adult.

The Essential Element of: Conflict

There are four main types of conflict: Man vs. Man, Man vs. Nature, Man vs. Himself, and Man vs. Society. In truth, there are two other types (Man vs. the Supernatural and Man vs. Technology), however they are so rarely used in my experience that I decided not to include them. Conflict is relatively self-explanatory, so I will just give an example of each.

Man vs. Man: Marcus Julius and Decius Brutus are locked in a battle at the end of which only one will walk away alive.

Man vs. Nature: Marcus Julius has accidently been separated from his unit, and now fights for his life in the bitter cold of the Germanian nights.

Man vs. Himself: Marcus questioned himself. On the one hand, he was given the order to kill this man by the Senate. On the other hand, his inner conscience told him it was wrong.

Man vs. Society: After killing his commander, Marcus Julius found life to be un-welcoming. Everywhere he travelled, peasants and noblemen alike booed him.

Now that we have covered the elements of a story, we can delve into other areas of writing.

Word Play and Description

"Marcus was tasked by the senate to take such and such settlement. Marcus led an army to the settlement. Marcus fought a battle before he got to the settlement. Marcus captured the settlement. Marcus was rewarded by the senate." These sentences get kind of boring and repetitive. That's where word play comes in. Instead of writing that, you could write, "Marcus was tasked by the senate to take such and such settlement. He led a massive army across the northern mountains, where he was ambushed by an enemy Gallic army. He defeated the Gauls as if they were nothing and marched on, capturing the settlement only days later. Upon his return, Marcus was greatly rewarded for completing the senate mission. " Granted, it is still boring, but the second sentence sounds much better than the first. Now let's take a look at the difference. Sentence two has a lot more detail in it, but it also lacked something sentence one did not. Sentence two used pronouns which renamed the noun 'Marcus.' So instead of having "Marcus did this. Marcus did that," you have "Marcus did this. He did that." It's a lot less repetitive, and already so much better.

The same thing goes for verbs. "Marcus ran to one end of the battlefield. Using his cavalry, Marcus ran down the routing enemy. He then ran to reinforce his units elsewhere." Similar to the examples above, this sentence sounds really repetitive. Instead of using ran all the time, how about using some synonyms (words that mean the same or almost the same)? "Marcus galloped to one end of the battlefield to survey the terrain. Once the enemy began to run, Marcus charged in a cut down the routers. Afterwards, he quickly ran to reinforce his units elsewhere." I still used 'ran', but I only used it once, so it's no longer repetitive.

Now, you might be saying, "Description, hm, couldn't this fall in with character development?" Well, in some cases, yes. But for this purpose, I chose to put it as a different section.

Aside from describing your characters physically, describe them mentally. What are they thinking in the heat of battle? What are their reactions to certain people?

But don't think description is limited to just character description, it is also about the scenery and events around them. Say you are writing about a general who rides up to a hill top to survey the land, so as to make the best use of it against his enemy. You might write something along the lines of "From atop the hill, only a man who knew where to look would be able to see my army hidden in the tall grass of the fields, and the dark, dense forests. To the north, from the direction our enemy would approach, rolling hills covered the landscape. An occasional pond or small lake dotted the landscape." There are numerous other ways to be descriptive, but they are too numerous to mention here. So I will end this little section with a small piece of advice: be as descriptive as possible, whenever possible!

Similes and Metaphors

Description, a lot of times, comes in the form of similes and metaphors. I think most of us already know what those are, but for those that don't, similes and metaphors describe and/or compare something in relation to another thing. A simile uses 'like' or 'as', for example: "Marcus was as ferocious as a lion," or "Marcus' dying soul seemed to leave him like a bird flying from the nest." Metaphors, on the other hand, basically say one object is another, for example "Marcus was a lion," or "His soul was a bird flying from the nest."

Dialogue

(Special thanks to littlelostboy for bringing this section to my attention!! Note: this section was written by littlelostboy, not myself)

Yes, dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, we all need dialogue in a story. Why? Because it keeps a story going. Long time ago in the 20th century, people chill out by plowing through tons and tons of monologue, (just try reading all the old novels).

For example: Mary lived in a house near the cliff by the sea, she was the happiest girl in the world. Her best friend was called Lucy and Mary had a dog called Spark. One day, she went walking along the cliff when suddenly, the cliff collapsed and Mary fell into the dark, stormy sea.

Blah, blah, blah, okay after reading this monologue, it gets boring in a while. Now let's add a dialogue.

"Mary!" Lucy screamed at the pile of stones that lay in the sea. "RUFF, RUFF!" barked Spark.

See? In this few sentences, we get the information that Lucy is Mary's friend and that Spark belongs to either Mary or Lucy and that Mary had fallen into the sea from a cliff because the cliff collapsed (phew.)

I know in war story, writers had the tendency to write tons of monologue (mono - 1) instead of dialogue (dia - 2). In fact, in the good old days of RTWF, famous journals of famous Romans and famous generals were constantly being posted on this section. I was never a great fan of those. Why? Because it gets boring after awhile. I know you need to describe the details and actions of a battle. But still, add some dialogue!

Stories with dialogue, as I said before, keeps the momentum going, even when you are describing a battle scene, you can insert dialogue like ARGHH! GOD SAVE ME! or OUCH! MY &^%$#@ P****! WHAT A LOUSY ARCHER! Okay, I'm just blowing things up, but you get the idea.

Dialogue can also add some information to a story that the reader never knew before. Dialogue can also show how a character speaks, for example:

"Ve are wery strong," whispered Sporty, "Ve have to most poverful army in the vorld, the gods can send wultures but ve vill newer be defeated. "

From above, you can see that Sporty have a lisp, he mix the 'v' and the 'w'. You see, you can show a reading how Sporty speak by using dialogue instead of Sporty have a lisp, he cannot pronounce 'v' and 'w' because when he was young.... blah blah blah, and you descend into 15 long paragraphs having to explain how Sporty got his lisp.

So there, dialogue, dialogue, dialogue, one of the most important things when writing a story. In fact, what I said above is just some of the basics, not all. But don't worry, dialogue is an art, the more you use it, the more you practice it, you will get a hang of it.

Final Thoughts

We read a story and wonder how the author could possibly have wrote it. Maybe (s)he had extraterrestrial help. Then again, maybe the answer is simpler than we think. All it takes is character development, synonyms and antonyms and word play, and descriptive writing. Maybe in the future, each one of you who read this guide will find yourselves writing bigger and better stories. The Sky's The Limit!

Now, I've collected a group of stories written by our very own RTWH authors which I think have been superbly written, and display each of the guidelines above very well.

Night_Raider's (KaiserWinterfeldt's) List O' Honorable Mention:

Empires by aznninjahitman.
Seven Warriors by Lorentius Vadis.
The Mechanisms of the Gods by Johndisp.
Best of luck to your future writings!

P.S. This guide will change every so often, as I add or take out sections as I think necessary, so you might want to keep your eyes peeled. Who knows, maybe your story could appear on the list O' honorable mention! By the way, if you feel there a story that should be put up for honorable mention, post it here and I'll check it out.

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