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mrwizard70

Thoughts on military travelogue?

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I’m a history guy, I want to write about grand battles and worldscapes, but I can’t actually write characters involved in these events because I know too much about history. 

My current project involves a solider in the army of an empire, but it’s kinda shaping up to be a workplace drama within a regiment where there are occasionally battles. 

 

Ideas for tying the world conflict to character conflict, or even more helpfully podcasts on the subject?

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I think the problem is that common soldiers don't make high-level decisions. They fight the battles, but they're disconnected from the war. I think you need to find a way to get your soldier closer to the power centers. For instance, if the soldier grew up in the area where his unit is presently campaigning, the general might call him in to consult on strategy. If he proves himself useful in that conversation, he might become the general's aide, or part of his personal guard. Then he'd be privy to all the important conversations, and he'd be exposed to the politics that generals have to deal with. Eventually the general will have to report to the emperor in person, and then your soldier gets to visit the imperial court and get drawn into the intrigues.

Another solution is to create a situation where the soldier has to take charge and start directing things himself. Maybe his unit gets cut off from reinforcements and their commander is killed, so someone from the ranks has to step up and become the leader. It really depends on the kind of story you want to tell.

As for podcasts, check out Hardcore History and The History of Rome. They're both great history podcasts, and they both focus a lot of the story on military history. Only the most recent Hardcore episodes are available for free, but the older ones are pretty cheap on itunes. I highly recommend them

Just out of curiosity, what kind of empire are you writing about? Is it inspired by any particular historical empire? (cultural contexts can be very helpful for building good character conflicts.)

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1 hour ago, Belzedar said:

I think the problem is that common soldiers don't make high-level decisions. They fight the battles, but they're disconnected from the war. I think you need to find a way to get your soldier closer to the power centers. For instance, if the soldier grew up in the area where his unit is presently campaigning, the general might call him in to consult on strategy. If he proves himself useful in that conversation, he might become the general's aide, or part of his personal guard. Then he'd be privy to all the important conversations, and he'd be exposed to the politics that generals have to deal with. Eventually the general will have to report to the emperor in person, and then your soldier gets to visit the imperial court and get drawn into the intrigues.

Another solution is to create a situation where the soldier has to take charge and start directing things himself. Maybe his unit gets cut off from reinforcements and their commander is killed, so someone from the ranks has to step up and become the leader. It really depends on the kind of story you want to tell.

As for podcasts, check out Hardcore History and The History of Rome. They're both great history podcasts, and they both focus a lot of the story on military history. Only the most recent Hardcore episodes are available for free, but the older ones are pretty cheap on itunes. I highly recommend them

Just out of curiosity, what kind of empire are you writing about? Is it inspired by any particular historical empire? (cultural contexts can be very helpful for building good character conflicts.)

I don’t want to write a commander novel; The idea I’m grappling with is how to introduce conflict and such without having the solider involved in any of the military decisions. I’ve been playing with the idea of cross dressing plot, but I fricken hate that trope.  

I’ve listened to every single HH, but I’ll look into History of Rome. Thank you!

The empire is a conglomeration of Prussia, Austria, and Great Britain in 1700. State religion, British government, naval superpower, with Prussian efficiency and military tradition and Austrian delusions of grandeur and willingness to annex people. 

The greater world is a planet approximately the size of Jupiter, created as a social experiment by an AI. The readers will never figure this out, but it gives me an excuse to have a planet so large the age of exploration just never ends. This nation has just locked down steam power and invented the train, so they’re going to start conquering neighbors, which is where this travelogue is coming from. The eventual plan is to come up against an empire with rifling and diesel punk and see where that goes. 

 

Original idea was what if Rome got steam power in the 300s, could they conquer everything with trains, etc. I took that and smashed it into my idea for a Britanniaesque travelogue, got this. If I have too I can include the Frog Mongols I’ve been thinking about, but that has to be a commander story, which tends to become a history book with no character. 

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Very interesting. Especially this part:

56 minutes ago, mrwizard70 said:

The greater world is a planet approximately the size of Jupiter, created as a social experiment by an AI. The readers will never figure this out, but it gives me an excuse to have a planet so large the age of exploration just never ends.

Neverending exploration. I love that. And I think it opens up a lot of good low-level conflicts.

  • Since you're doing colonialism, you can get a lot of drama out of soldiers who sympathize with the people they conquer, and start to question the doctrine of infinite imperialism. There are some unfortunate cliches down that road, but it's still a story worth telling.
  • You could also deal with the problems that come with an impossibly enormous empire. Even with steam power, a world that size is going to have problems. What happens when the empire is so vast that it takes years to travel from the homeland to the outer provinces? That will create a huge cultural gap between parts of the empire, and some horribly awkward inequalities. If it's impractical to send troops from the homeland to the frontier, then the empire's defense and expansion are handled exclusively by soldiers from the outer empire. They do all the fighting, but the nobles back in England/Prussia reap all the booty. That's a recipe for unrest. How does the empire deal with that?
  • Assuming this is an ocean world with tons and tons of continents, the widespread colonialism will invite piracy on an incredible scale. Pirates are always interesting.
  • If the government is really like 18th century Britain, then you've got a parliament of nobles holding as much power as the king, and a population that will soon be demanding real democracy. I'm not sure how that'll affect colonial soldiers, but I'm sure they'll have opinions about it.

History of Rome isn't quite as good as Hardcore History (nothing is), but it has a particular focus on the difficulties of managing and expanding a huge multicultural empire. (The early episodes are preoccupied with Rome's founding mythology, but the long saga of empire-building gets underway pretty quickly.)

Also, Frog Mongols?

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3 hours ago, Belzedar said:

Very interesting. Especially this part:

Neverending exploration. I love that. And I think it opens up a lot of good low-level conflicts.

  • Since you're doing colonialism, you can get a lot of drama out of soldiers who sympathize with the people they conquer, and start to question the doctrine of infinite imperialism. There are some unfortunate cliches down that road, but it's still a story worth telling.
  • You could also deal with the problems that come with an impossibly enormous empire. Even with steam power, a world that size is going to have problems. What happens when the empire is so vast that it takes years to travel from the homeland to the outer provinces? That will create a huge cultural gap between parts of the empire, and some horribly awkward inequalities. If it's impractical to send troops from the homeland to the frontier, then the empire's defense and expansion are handled exclusively by soldiers from the outer empire. They do all the fighting, but the nobles back in England/Prussia reap all the booty. That's a recipe for unrest. How does the empire deal with that?
  • Assuming this is an ocean world with tons and tons of continents, the widespread colonialism will invite piracy on an incredible scale. Pirates are always interesting.
  • If the government is really like 18th century Britain, then you've got a parliament of nobles holding as much power as the king, and a population that will soon be demanding real democracy. I'm not sure how that'll affect colonial soldiers, but I'm sure they'll have opinions about it.

History of Rome isn't quite as good as Hardcore History (nothing is), but it has a particular focus on the difficulties of managing and expanding a huge multicultural empire. (The early episodes are preoccupied with Rome's founding mythology, but the long saga of empire-building gets underway pretty quickly.)

Also, Frog Mongols?

Going to make an attempt. 

Frog Mongols was an idea I had when I slammed my steampunk Rome into my Jupiter planet: an area of deep mud the size of central Asia, with frog Mongols to fight. Story was going to follow the StarCraft plot arc, which brought me to military on this huge world, whereupon I scraped the frog Mongols in favor of travel. 

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Imagine this: The soldier wants to do a certain thing, but his superiors are oppressing him. That allows him to be a lower level character, but still have things he can do other than following orders, as no good character obeys commands going against what they want in books like that.

Edited by BooksBeforeDeath
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On 14/03/2018 at 3:33 PM, mrwizard70 said:

but I can’t actually write characters involved in these events because I know too much about history.

Hey MrWiz - hope you're well. This is a very interesting point. My first reaction was, surely this makes you even better equipped to write characters, because you know what the stress and strains on families and individuals would be at a given time, what the big issues were for society, etc?

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