Skip to main content


Showing posts from June, 2020

Speculative Fiction Writer's Guide to War, Part 8: How do War Injuries Feel?

This post is inspired by a specific question from one of the readers of this series. The nature of the question is worthy of a specific answer, yet this particular topic was not part of what I'd originally planned to cover. It finds it's places at number 8 in the series due to an earlier error that skipped that number. Let’s make a few things clear up front: 1. What is most  life threatening  and what is most painful are often not the same thing at all. 2. What is the  most gruesome to see  is not necessarily the most painful, either. 3.  Different people experience pain differently , so coming up with any absolute scale of painfulness is impossible. However, there are certain tendencies that have been noted in how people react to pain, allowing us to make some general observations. Let’s take the topic of how different people experience pain first. Note this discussion will become a bit gruesome, though I’m not going to show any graphic pictures. But if you’re of a very

Speculative Fiction Writer’s Guide to War, Part 7: The Fearless Elite

Last week we discussed factors that influence a person’s ability to take another person’s life. It’s hard. The closer you are and the more intimate the manner of killing, the harder it gets. We’ve discussed some of the psychological impacts that affect a person’s desire to engage in combat, those core fears that must be overcome to bring oneself into the arena, so to speak, to engage the enemy. Yet in speculative fiction across every genre we are exposed to characters who wade into battle without hesitation (or hesitation that is not fully developed), and perform the most miraculous of feats with nary a second thought. We love the fearless Aragorns and Legolas’, the intrepid space marines and underdog-turned-superhero who make up the large majority of our casts of characters. Back to our Grossman reference of  On Killing . The vast majority of people must overcome strong resistance to take a life in combat. Yet some people feel little fear of this kind of “up close and personal

Speculative Fiction Writer’s Guide to War, Part 6: Psychology of Warfare: The Act of Killing

Travis C. here, filling in a bit for Travis P. We both contributed to this article, and you probably remember we’re both warfighters of the U.S. military. This is a sobering topic, but it’s also part of our mission (at least being prepared for such times as we may need to). We’re also writers and this discussion is in the context of writing speculative fiction, especially fantasy and science fiction. There’s no short shrift here, only humility and honesty. As the Micah prophesied, we’ll eventually turn swords to plowshares and spears to pruning hooks. According to Dave Grossman’s book  On Killing , the biggest stressor human beings face in combat is killing other human beings. The sequel to  On Killing,  On Combat , actually puts more emphasis on the danger of  being  killed, but both things haunt the human mind, largely based on the human ability to feel empathy. Feeling the suffering of the humans we kill on the one hand–and to witness friends and colleagues being killed on the o

Speculative Fiction Writer’s Guide to War, part 5: Psychology of War: Essential Fears

Especially in epic fantasy stories, human beings or demi humans like elves or dwarves are often portrayed as fighting to the death with total disregard to fear. Creating larger-than-life struggles is part of the appeal of epic literature, but an author should be aware of what takes place behind the scenes in a warrior’s psychology, of what’s normal, to be able to better portray the abnormal. Because people don’t usually fight until the death–they fight until the flight or the surrender. Many people are familiar with the so-called “fight or flight” response, a state of stimulation caused by danger that can alternatively drive a person to fight or to run away. But as documented in the book  On Killing , when fighting members of their own species, not only human beings, but all social animals in creation have a third response–to surrender. Essential fears Who is the alpha here? (Credit: Living with Wolves) So wolves in a pack fighting to be the dominant member of the group–th