Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Write what you know, Again

Some time ago I talked about the importance of knowing what you're writing about.  At the time it was to reference my trip to a gun range to fire a hand gun for the first time.  After all, if I'm going to write it, I should know what it's like so I can capture that for my character.

Which also reminds me that I probably should get back over there and squeeze off a few bursts out of AR-15 or so.

So, as I've mentioned my latest project is to write something that blends "Fighting back for our planet after the Alien devastation" and "We are all that is left of Humanity".  I want it to be para-military based but that means that in the backstory of my characters there will probably be some military experience.

And aside from having memorized FM22-5 (or what ever its new designation might be), I really don't know that much about the military.

I do have some liscense for procedures once the main "Project: Bastion" part of the story gets going.  "Project: Bastion" (working title) will represent the secret organization that began to prep for an alien attack decades ago and is now "In charge".  As it's not strictly military I get some room to do what I "think will work" rather than having to match to what ~does~ work with our armed services.

But, as I said, I need to have those back stories accurate.  So it's off to do research.

And to this end I am fracking blessed.

Blessed, I tell you, dear reader, blessed.

Fellow author Janine Spendlove just happens to be a Marine.  With experience in "flying really big things."  So I can triple dip my research.  I get a) Marine information, b) flight information, c) combat information.  And she gets semi random text messages at 6 am as I drive to work and dictate them to Siri.  I also get guest posts from her as well.

It's not quite an ideal Give/Take relationship.  See "Blessed, I am" above.

But this isn't all about bragging about who I know, nor is it about random name dropping, though that is kind of fun.  Here's my point.

One of the main characters that the story will follow (and I plan to go Game of Thrones here and have 3-4 threads going concurrently) is slated to be the Crew Chief on a KC-130J.  I picked that aircraft not because I wanted to tap into Spendlove's expertise but because I wanted a big plane that could stay airborne for a long time.  It just so happened that there was a convient overlap.

I've also been musing that at some point this character may find herself in a position where she has to stop people boarding the plane to escape the aliens.  It's a trope approaching cliche, but it's more or less expected.  It happens in World War Z, it happened in BSG, and I think it may have happened in Walking Dead.

In my notes to Spendlove I commented that to fire her sidearm, my main character would be under orders to actually shoot anyone who tried to board.

I got an email back that first talked a little about where, when and how a crew member would be up in the air with a side arm.  But then my phone rang.

After very brief pleasantries we had the following exchange.

Me:  I don't know if it's my civilian mindset, but I just imagine that having to fire a weapon at a fellow American, outside of a war zone, would be a challenging thing, the kind of thing that she'd need to hear someone say "Shoot him" before she did.

Spendlove:  That's not how it works. Say I, as the aircraft commander in an armed conflict situation,  gave the order to not allow anyone to board the plane, I will fully expect and trust that my crew would do what it took to carry out that order. So if I heard a gun shot, while it would definitely get my attention and be concerning, I would assume that my crew was doing whatever they had to do to execute my orders to keep anyone from boarding. I trust them and they trust me.

As someone out side of the military this was outside of my head space.  It's not how I would act.

But I'm not a Marine.  I don't naturally think like a Marine.

If I'm going write a Marine character, however, I need to think like one, at least enough, to write her convincingly.

And that's something that came up with more conversation on the "Marine Mindset" as I've talked to Spendlove about this.  She drew my attention to a key word in that phrase:  Think like a Marine.  That doesn't mean find the shortest path between A and B because you were ordered to B.  It doesn't mean to blindly follow an order because it's the easiest thing to do.  It means taking in the order, wading through the various ways to see it done and follow that order efficiently, confidently, and within the rule of law for the engagement.

"Keep those people off the plane" is a pretty open order and one with a lot of paths to completion.  The point that Spendlove was making and it's taken me a while to put to words was not that she would expect someone to get shot; the opposite- she'd not want someone to get shot.  But if it should happen that there was gunfire it was because her Marines had exhausted all other options and were doing what they had to because keeping people off the plane was important enough that their officer in command told them make it so.

And while I'm on the subject I also want to make a very very firm point:  I am grateful that we have Marines who think like Marines.  As I mused on this post, which has been a big part of my thoughts as I work on my first few sections of this project, I knew I could come off as judgmental   The mindset of orders  are orders is what makes our military function as well as it does to protect our interests at home and abroad.

I enjoy great freedoms due to the sacrifices of those willing to train, fight, and if need be die, for those freedoms.

Really, I'm just grateful to have friends to remind me of what those sacrifices are.

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