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Monday, October 20, 2014

GUEST POST: "Five Things I've Learned About War" by Erin Lindsey

They say you should write what you know. That’s always struck me as an awkward bit of advice for authors of speculative fiction. If we all followed it, SF/F would be a hell of a lot less interesting. Galactic cruisers would give way to minivans. Werewolves would be swapped out for Pomeranians. Shape shifting would consist of wriggling into last year’s skinny jeans. 

That being said, I’m lucky enough to have the kind of day job that I can draw on in my writing. My work has sent me to some pretty interesting places over the years, many of them affected by violent conflict. Often, it’s been my job to analyse that conflict – its history and causes, players and agendas. Doing so has taught me a lot about war, and politics in general. 

It isn’t that I’ve had any epiphanies, exactly. Most of the things I’ve come away with are instinctive on at least some level. But it’s safe to say that I’ve reflected on them, metabolised them, in ways I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. No surprise, then, that all of them feature to a greater or lesser extent in THE BLOODBOUND series

Here, in no particular order, are five things I’ve learned about war that have enriched my writing: 

 1) There is always someone who profits  Seems obvious, doesn’t it? But you’d be amazed how many well-meaning peacemaking efforts ignore this central fact. Wars generate their own economies. They shift the balance of power, presenting new opportunities to those clever and ruthless enough to capitalise on them. Some will seek to align themselves with a rising power. Others will find more advantage in keeping the war going for as long as possible. Oftentimes it’s these people, rather than the belligerents themselves, who define the course of the conflict, and pose the greatest threat to peace. 

 2) Knowing your enemy is more complicated than it seems –  There’s a tendency in fiction (as well as in modern journalism) to portray war as a clash between two sides with clear objectives. That’s rarely, if ever, the case. Wars are not fought between homogeneous actors with straightforward, static agendas. They’re fought between blocs, shifting confederations of stakeholders with differing, sometimes competing, interests, and those interests evolve over time. And I’m not just talking about alliances here – I mean within states as well, and within governments, cabinets, inner circles – to an almost infinitely reducible level, like a Russian nesting doll. That makes it difficult to interpret your enemy’s behaviour. What appears on the surface to be baffling inconsistencies may be the waxing and waning of influence between factions. The person you believe to be your arch-nemesis might actually be powerless, little more than a figurehead. By the same token, your allies – even your own closest confederates – might not be as firmly in your corner as you think. 

 3) The good guys never win  Where there is war, there will be war crimes. I can’t think of a single conflict that wasn’t full of them. And not just by the “bad guys”. Some of my greatest historical heroes are, by any modern definition, war criminals. I’ve struggled with that, but I’ve come to accept it, however uncomfortably. That’s because when it comes to the difficult questions, there are no good choices. Show me a victor, and I will show you someone who has waded hip deep into a moral quagmire. (Show me a political settlement, and I’ll ask you to get back to me in twenty years. Cynical, I know.)

 4) History matters forever –  A fleeting glance at the Middle East, the Balkans – hell, anywhere – is all it takes to recognise the pivotal, and often poisonous, role history can play in conflict. But it doesn’t always manifest itself in obvious ways. It’s not only about the major traumas – the massacres, the stolen land, the oppression. Historical narratives fundamentally orient our worldview. Should you strike first, or lie in wait for your enemy? Is compromise possible? When things are darkest, can you count on your neighbours, or are you in this alone? Are your leaders heroes, or parasites? Can peace and justice coexist? For those in the business of brokering peace, these attitudes, these beliefs that we carry in the very marrow of our bones, are often harder to deal with than any border demarcation. 

 5) Behind every epic struggle is an infinite number of individual dramas – This is perhaps the most obvious, and most consistently forgotten, aspect of conflict. It’s so easy – even necessary sometimes – to dehumanize, to jumble people together into numbers, into territory gained and lost. To classify and label: “refugees”, “separatists”, “victims”. But when you’re in the middle of it, with all these momentous events going on around you, they often don’t seem that momentous. History doesn’t always feel like history when it’s unfolding right in front of you. Instead, what inspires you, what breaks your heart, what overwhelms you, are the individual stories. So recognisable, so relatable, and yet so fundamentally beyond your ken, because they’re unfolding in the midst of a heaving shitstorm you can barely comprehend, let alone cope with. This is where you find your real heroes, and sometimes your real villains as well. Not symbols or labels, but actual human beings with fears and desires very much like your own. 

I could go on, but these are the five that have most directly affected my writing so far. I didn’t deliberately set out to reflect them in THE BLOODBOUND, but they somehow ended up there anyway. Next time around, I may well make it a more conscious effort, because I think keeping these things in mind while outlining – developing the plot, fleshing out the motivations of characters – will make for a textured, realistic portrayal of conflict. 

In the meantime, you can try to spot them in THE BLOODBOUND. Gold stars up for grabs!

Official Author Website 
Order the book HERE 

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Erin Lindsey is on a quest to write the perfect summer vacation novel, with just the right blend of action, heartbreak, and triumph. THE BLOODBOUND is her first effort. She lives and works in Bujumbura, Burundi, with her husband and a pair of half-domesticated cats. She also writes fantasy mysteries as E.L. Tettensor.

NOTE: Castle siege art courtesy of Grandlore Wiki. Author pic courtesy of the author herself.


Unknown said...

Shades of "The Art of War"? Haha.

If only more people saw war in this way. But, alas, they never will.

Nothing is as immutable as human nature.

—Vic S.—


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