MILITARY SCIENCE FICTION – Terrible Writing Advice

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and victory! Earth needs you to write military science
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replicating kill bots to insidious SUV sized insects bent on galactic domination. We need you to join the elite few writers
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the bravest military science fiction stories. So don your power armor as we write about
humanity’s heroic exploits as they journey through the stars. Service guarantees citizenship! Would you like to know more? Welcome to space boot camp fellow writers. It’s up to Terrible Writing Advice to help
turn aspiring military science fiction authors into hardened veterans willing to use any
cliché without thought. So remember, the enemy is gate is down and
the only good bug is a dead bug. Now where should we start with our military
scifi work? Now one of the distinctive features of military
sci-fi is its perspective is usually grounded with the soldier on the front lines rather
than that of a civilian. This allows for the story to take a humanistic
approach and dive deep into the horrors of war as well as explore the development of
a nuanced and interesting protagonist caught in the fires of conflict and carnage. So it’s only natural that we shove the main
character on the back burner and focus on power armor instead. My power armor is so cool that it renders
my story completely immune to even the most biting critiques from the audience. Oh, I guess it protects the characters as
well. My power armor is so amazing that it can generate
new abilities on the fly with zero drawbacks. Having power armor with consistent limitations
and an easy to understand ruleset that the audience can follow along with would add annoying
constraints to my creativity. I need my power armor to constantly generate
“get out of trouble free” cards for my characters. Never mind that real military equipment fails
all the time and often spends more time in maintenance than it does in use, but hey who
needs a high tension scene where the main characters are forced to think fast after
all of their gear fails? Or capture the desperation of a situation
as the characters must march off to battle in worn gear on the edge of breaking. Nah. I’m too busy going overboard will all of
the military tech to notice those story opportunities. Be sure to describe every weapon and piece
of machinery in an excruciatingly long info dump. I could introduce this tech through field
training mixed with characterization, or have two characters argue over which battlemech
is the best, but I think just blaring out all of this tech jargon, full auto, will work
best. Oh look, it’s my favorite tech info dumb,
long winded explanations about how faster than light travel works. Don’t you worry faster than light drive
info-dumps. I’m saving you for the hard sci-fi video. Now that we have pulled the Terrible Writing
Advice classic move of front loaded exposition, it’s time to move on to the least important
part of military sci-fi, the characters. It a writer really wants to save on effort,
then just rip off all of the characters from the film Aliens and make them hyper-competent
at the cost of their distinctive personalities. Nothing gets the audience invested quite like
a whole squad of people who all talk and act the exact same. We must distinguish our selves from the enemy
hive mind after all with its army of identical clones. These characters would normally be part of
a ridged chain of command. It most real militaries, chain of command
is everything! Modern militaries tend to be heavily structured,
requiring precision and discipline for even the most minor acts of daily routine. That sounds annoying so I’m just going to
ignore it, just like my characters. I’m sure the audience will buy these are
full space marines and not poorly disciplined conscripts or sit com characters. Also be sure to have the protagonist promoted
super fast, skipping several ranks in their climb to the top. Is there a wartime need for a lot of officers
to justify such rapid advancement? I don’t know. That would require me to actually do some
worldbuilding on the state of the war and I’m far too busy promoting my self-insert…
um I mean main character for being awesome. Now that my protagonist has went from private
to 5 star general in two days, I’m sure they’ll keep letting him go on missions
to the front lines. Using the chain of command as a way to generate
conflict isn’t worth all of the actual reading I would have to do in order to understand
how it all works! Never mind that for a lot of soldiers, they
fight the chain command more than their enemy. Since we are not going to fight with chain
of command, then who will our brave space troopers face on the battlefield? Well whoever it is, make sure they are a stand
in for COMMUNISM! That won’t be dated. We could also have them fight space fundamentalists
if we want to go with a post 9/11 feel. I guess since science fiction tends to represent
the fears and anxieties of the time in which it’s written so I suppose the next generation
of military scifi antagonists will probably be social media users and cancel culture. Whatever a writer goes with, just be sure
to ignore the weight and consequence of snuffing out another sapient being. Treat killing no differently than shooting
a video game enemy. This goes doubly so when the main antagonists
are humans. I mean why would military fiction explore
the ethics and morality of organized violence as well as the personal costs and psychological
toll soldiers must pay who endure these high stress decisions? No. We need to save that space for something far
more exciting like my political soapbox. That’s right. Everyone who disagrees with the author’s
perspective should be portrayed as a straw-man in the story’s lengthy political rants. Use scifi to explore competing ideologies? Since when has science fiction done that? No time for that because I have to portray
all civilians as weak, peace loving hippies who don’t have what it takes to make the
real hard decisions. They don’t know what we are fighting for! The only way to stop the evil hive mind from
forcing all humans think the same is to have everyone think the same as the author! I can always go to the other extreme with
an anti-war message that will in no way be undermined by all of the cool weapons and
high octane action drunk on power fantasy. Just be careful that these conflicts don’t
play out in a natural way that informs the audience on both the perspectives of the characters,
and culture of the setting. One would think that with all of this political
rambling that at least a writer could flesh out the actual politics of the war itself,
at least so the writer has an understanding of what’s going on the background even if
it never comes up directly in the story. But when has war had anything to do with politics? Could these long political and philosophical
discourses be done between characters instead, capturing the banter that fills the long,
malevolent boredom between combat missions? Could they at least be made really funny? Well no on both counts. I would rather the story be a messy vehicle
for my contradictory personal philosophy rather than chronicle the far more interesting space
war or explore the personal growth of the protagonist from soldier to officer. Next thing you know, people will be wanting
my soldiers to use actual tactics in combat or think in 3D during space battles. Small unit tactics? Organized fire teams? Flexible tactical doctrine to deal with a
variety of planet surfaces? Bah! My characters don’t need tactics. That’s what they have power armor for. All of my soldiers fight alone as individuals. Is this to contrast their heroic individualism
against the sinister collective nature of the enemy? Well no, mostly it’s just power fantasy. Who cares about capturing the anticipation,
stress, chaos, and confusion of combat? Nor does an author need to have the space
marines work as a team and show the bonds forged in combat between soldiers. I want to remove all adversity from combat
because its not like heroism can be found in the face of adversity. The greatest adversity in military science
fiction isn’t the political soap-boxing, the evil hive minds, or the lack of believable
tactics. No. It’s small niche market share. But hey, that’s okay. Military science fiction is all about sacrifice,
not for money, but for honor, courage, and country. It’s about the high calling of putting one’s
life on the line to protect humanity. To stand up for what’s right! To be a hero!… Besides, so long as the protagonist is still
young we can always rebrand to Yong Adult. MPERIAL TROOPER: All we have to do is to ship
this bomb to our rivals at the federation and send the sponsor back to the Emperor. We just shot all those rebels. We got this. IMPERIAL TROOPER 2: Perfect! 3 to 5 business days later GENERAL: What’s this? Ha! Those Imperial idiots have sent me this video’s
sponsor, Skillshare! SOLDIER: That’s good news, General. GENERAL: Finally. Now we can make up our budget shortfall and
take the fight to the enemy! At long last I’ll get my money’s worth
out of that giant robot. No more bowing to those penny pinching bureaucrats
in the Federation Senate who wouldn’t know a real war if it shot their conscientious
objector in the face! GENERAL: Hello? CEO: Hey. My money sense tells me the Federation Defense
Forces just got a budget boost. GENERAL: Yes, we just captured this video’s
sponsor, Skillshare, through a daring and clever raid on Imperial facilities and- CEO: They shipped it to wrong address again,
didn’t they? GENERAL: Well we are not giving it to you
regardless. Megacorp isn’t getting a single penny from
us! Not after that kill bot you sold us killed
all of my men when we turned it on and I still don’t know where that xenomorph’s wandered
off to. CEO: Megacorp is not liable for any damages
incurred by our products. GENERAL: Whatever. We are going to access Skillshare’s online
learning communities, and thousands of online classes in writing, technology, productivity,
and more with a premium membership. And with the sponsorship money, we’ll finally
be able to fund a full campaign. CEO: Well someone should have taken Skillshare’s
class on Bookkeeping for Freelancers: How to Handle Your Fiances because sponsorship
money isn’t going to cut it. GENERAL: What? CEO: Yeah. TWA fans can go to or click on
the link in the description below to get two months of Skillshare for free with a subscription
being only $10 a month after that. But even if they do it isn’t going to be
enough to make up the Federation’s plummeting defense spending. Not unless you want to be burning down blue
cat people world trees with generic brand napalm. GENERAL: Son of a war protester! This whole Sponsorship War is nothing but
a let down! I swear every time we almost have a real fight,
something stupid comes along and war crime blocks the whole thing! Everyone is fighting on twitter or over branding. Just once I would like a real stand up fight,
not a bunch of humanities major pencil pushers arguing over budget! KNIGHT COMMANDER: You must stop taking sponsorships. GENERAL: Oh great. Now the beatnik knights are here.

100 Replies to “MILITARY SCIENCE FICTION – Terrible Writing Advice

  1. "To fight for what is right"

    Well the character I think off is derivated from an AI and tend to still think like one, resulting in total xenocide of all civilization he encounter with he's fleet due to inevitable escalation of a giant combat fleet near their planets that doesn't say anything

    Kinda refreshing to use non human/organic protagonist for the possibilities that come although for plot reason too long to explain he become a cyborg based on a geneticaly designed shocktrooper

    Maybe one day il write that story down even if I can only manage to set the base and brics I just can't get to assemble into a coherent story line…

  2. well, you can always throw a pop idol in the middle of a space battle against millions of enemy ships, to sing a love song and show the aliens that theres is more than war in life….

  3. You know, I used to like critique videos. Then it sort of became a trend of pick out every plot point and explanation or introduction or usage or relationship or chat or inner dialogue or monologue or narration or action scene or love story or political pov or any idea or concept, slap on the label of cliche and proceed with the bitching.

    Why don't you say something worth saying or just admit you don't like military sci-fi? You aren't alone, lots of people don't. Maybe people should watch less tv and read less books pertaining to fiction in general since there's nothing new under the sun and you've all seen it before. I'm not listening to the last two minutes of this self aggrandizing bitch fest.

  4. Ammunition is a myth. Everything just overheats for a few seconds and then you're good to go. Just ignore the damage that repeatedly overheating a weapon can cause because that's dumb…

  5. Most military science fiction forgets the core concerns. Logistics like troop numbers, food, medical supplies, formations, ammo, terrain, vehicles, weapons available and politics are handwaved. Yes, a single hero team can be cool, but a lot more is needed to turn a war and high tech is no excuse to lift all fears of their mortality.

    For example, the Siege of Vraks is an excellent example of how complex war can be and how often you need to persist even as things go FUBAR.

  6. 5:20 Because the Military is just that swell, and it's not at all suspicious how Pro-militarists tend to rewrite their battlefield experiences to be all swell and patriotic, rather than say, a nightmare hellscape leaving you in the exact same hopeless position you were in beforehand, only now with the endless knowledge you've committed murder in the name of people you will never actually meet (see Ernst Junger's "Storm of Steel" for instance)

  7. Seems like bioware watched like and where like : let's not do this for mass effect 1 and 2
    But then watched this again and were like ,
    Let's do this for Andromeda

  8. To be fair on Ender's Game it came out before the YA boom and personally I prefer Speaker as the best of the Ender's Quartet

  9. Armor: an iron man exosuit with 4 varieties of laser canons, 15 different missiles ranging from anti air, anti mat, and small rockets that can lodge itself into crooks of any tech oriented thing and disable it. It's comprised of nano machines that can convert the dirt on the ground into machinery to repair any and all damage the suit experiences using quantum atoms. The suit also has a life support system that cam let the wearer never die and can survive anything, from the deepest ocean to the deepest of space. It also has a jetpack. Also since it's nano machines it's easy to move around in and enhances everything. Oh it can also let the wearer use magnets to basically be magneto. Oh and shields that protect from anything that isn't a planet ending super weapons.

    Weapons: Even if they don't need weapons since their armor is basically an armory, every marine will use an energy sword like a lightsaber, a plasma rifle, and a laser pistol. They'll also never need to reload since they all have a fusion reactor powering them or something like that. that's really it.

    Enemy: a hive mind bug race that's primitive in terms of pure tech but uses organic tech that only they can control. They also always need a human host to reproduce and despite not wearing armor, their exoskeletons are so strong, ordinary guns can't hurt them and only the super advanced plasma bolts can pierce their hides. Also despite the super power armor, these bugs can easily wound the marines with their acid venom that can somehow pierce the armor and the shields it has.

    Explaining anything tech related: just add quantum or hyperspace in there.

    Cast: the no nonsense captain, the quirky, female engineer, the silent and badass sniper, the crass and overconfident tank, the other guy that's there and is basically the comic relief that will end up dead by the end and everyone will be sad because the one thing that brought the team laughter is now gone very sad.

  10. Now, what I'm writing isn't exactly typical military sci-fi, but here's how I handle these tropes:

    1. No power armor!
    While it exists in the setting, none of my protagonists are equipped with it. Some of them have armor or shields, but there are limitations to the effectivenes of those. The one character who gets to use actual power armor is an antagonist.

    2. FTL travel has its downsides
    It works by tearing holes into the fabric of space and time, which is not only as unsafe and impercise as that sounds, but also exploitable by a particular enemy.
    And yes, I've taken inspiration from Warhammer 40k.

    3. The protagonists are no proper military
    The captain is a disgruntled ex-soldier, the rest a bunch of scoundrels and displaced civilians that need to learn fast how to be an efficient unit in order to survive.

    4. The enemy is a parody of overpowered space marines and poorly concieved warrior cultures
    Basically an alien super soldier program went horribly wrong and gave birth to raging space barbarians, who ended up destroying their own civilization and went on to threaten others because they were made mentally incapable of anything but barely coordinated violence – not unlike what humankind has since been working on in order to defend against them. Just as planned…

    5. The scenario is a survival situation rather than a political conflict
    Earth is not technically at war with anyone (yet) and the protagonists are simply lost in hostile territory and trying to make it back home alive. The message is that it's bad to incite conflict just for personal gain, as is fighting without thinking, and that while fighting may be necessary to survive, it otherwise doesn't really help solving long-term problems.

  11. I’m a veteran and I’m soo glad I have avoided most of these in my writing.

    Except the Communism part. Killing commies is always fun… lol

  12. And don't forget about the enormous mecha robots!
    I'm sure a big, slow and extremely expensive war vehicle wouldn't be an easy target for, let's say, enemy planes, missiles, and air strikes. Bonus points if you deploy them in the middle of a city where they have little to no space to move efficiently.

  13. You had me at the tech talk.
    I love my tech talks. Sorry. That's not going away. The rest thought? Glad i don't fall too much into the terrible writing

  14. Thanks for the tips, I wanna write a story about mech warfare on another planet and guess what? You're right, not only tanks and airstrike are definite threat to my mechs, but also maintenance and supplies are total nightmare.

  15. I've been working on a sci fi war story that actually focuses on the protagonist's mounting PTSD as he is forced to kill Martians… who are literally just humans who renounced their allegiance to their Earth-bound government. The story is full of violence, madness, and atrocity with characters who actually reflect these issues, often losing what grips on humanity they barely had to begin with.

  16. Jesus, it's hilarious how precise it can be to the Starship Troopers film, and how much better the book is (which actually involves all the background good advice. Awesome job!

  17. Now I'm wondering about a sci-fi story of a bunch of disorginized rookies with equipment that can berly stay inteact on a shelf trying to fight or flight from a supirior foe, any recomendations?

  18. Question: if I set my sci-fi some million years after humanity colonised the stars and split off into numerous subspecies, are there aliens or just humans?

  19. Don’t forget half of all space armies are a critique of fascism or militarism the imperium of man and the galactic empire come to mind along with the bug killing starship troopers

  20. War without real politics sounds like the original trilogy of Star Wars. You got rebels who want democracy (this isn’t what rebels usually want it’s hard to convince someone to die for the future ability to argue for the chance to get the policies you want so most rebels plan on implementing their vision regardless of the vote usually being an extremist movement similar to the dictatorship they abhor)

  21. When you add a realistic politics you get the prequels which I think shows the most realistic war. It’s a war over taxation largely fought by people who have much to gain if they are able to leave the republic

  22. Congratulations you are now a General of Minuteman/Paladin of Brotherhood/new Father of Institute. Sounds amazing isn't it?

  23. Different and flexible doctrines to adapt to different planetary surfaces?

    Why do that when you can just bombard it from space?

  24. I'm getting flashbacks to Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, perhaps the worst thing my book club has ever done.

  25. And this is why I love 40k….beocue power armor?? Is like a paper wrapping…. EVERYONE CAN FUCKING BREAKE IT!!! AND NOOOOOO, WE DON'T GO THROUGHT HYPERSPACE!!! We go though hell! Fuck yeah. And do not get me estarte on plana guns. And chain of command? So chaotic nobody truly understands it…. Except of course Gaunt ghosts. Beocuse there ther ir only a single one man that gives orders: Ibraum Fucking Gaun.
    And waaaaaait….. Communism? Fuck the tau. And the civilian. The jump at the tanks with explosive on their chest!!! Read gau t ghost, really. And politics? Either a faithful, or a heretic. So fuck politics. And tactics? MEN, FIX BAYONETS!!!!!! AND NO, I WILL NOT MENTION THE GREAT STRATEGIES OF THE FUCKING CODEX ASTARTES!!!

  26. imagine writing describing how not to write a military sci fi novel and not pointing out all of the problems with ender's game

  27. Lmao that Gundam take doe.

    Nothing like a bunch of cool robots, specifically made to market model kits, used as a vehicle to institute their anti-war message

  28. like how it is repeatedly shitting on one of the best science fiction novels ever written. Starship troopers popularized the idea of power armor, if not inventing it. It is commonly misunderstood as fascism because of the movie which failed to understand the source material. If you look at the actual ideology of fascism, the book is far from in line with it. The main character does not rapidly advance without earning his position and it shows his constant effort to advance in the ranks.

    The entierity of the book is documenting Rico's progression from a high schooler into an officer worthy and capable of holding the lives of his subordinates in his hands.

    Theres plenty of tactical development in starship troopers. They go from trying to fight the bugs head on to having specialized units to sniff out tunnels, gas and other specialized weapons that target specifically the bugs. The only time where they are fighting more as individuals is in the beginning when they are attacking the city. In this same scene there is a mobile infantryman who is incapacitated. Two other soldiers go out to save this one man even though it could result in the death of every trooper on the mission or in the three of them being left behind.

    The book contrasts the heroic altruism of the federation's tactics, with the uncaring utilitarian tactics of the bugs.

    Starship troopers addresses how combat can build bonds between characters. The first squad Rico is assigned to treats them as outsiders, until their first drop, when they finally become a part of the whole.

    Both Ender's game and Starship Troopers were pioneers in this genre. They look at the damage war can cause phycologicaly, physically, and politically. heigh parts of their stories may now be considered cliches, they were new and exciting when these books were written. Popular culture has had it's opinions on these books formed by the movies. Movies that do not have the ability to fully explore the main themes of the books. Even without the analysis of their deeper meanings, they still hold up as intriguing and original stories with well structured plot and tone.

  29. As a former soldier that bucked up against leadership for stupid things like how long their hair was, or how low their cold weather cap sat on their head….. thanks for throwing out that "they spend more time fighting their leadership than their enemies" bit. Because…. well it's TRUE.

  30. If you want a good book series I got one for you.

    March Upcountry
    March to the Sea
    March to the Stars
    We Few

    These four books are actually a really good sci-fi military that avoids those cliches and uses real tactics and military history.

  31. You know, I may just be imagining it, but once I filter out all the sarcasm I can't help but be left with the tiniest niggling impression that Beaubien isn't actually the world's biggest fan of Heinlein's original 'Starship Troopers' novel…

  32. Whoa….you're using a lot of actual, useful military terms there. Everyone knows you just rip off WW2 movies and call it good. If Star Wars can do it and make millions, you can too!

  33. There only way to defeat a military invasion of your planet is to unleash smallpo…eeerrr..I mean the love Triangle of course.

  34. Reading Cadian Honour as of now. And I love how modern the IG gets in 40k. I've known some soldiers that actually liked the Sci-Fi Military stuff…
    My father gave me a copy of the green cover Starship Troopers book that he found in his barracks decades ago. Then, I read The Forever War.
    Both were written by War Veterans, and they respectively display the insights of their writers as well. You should give them a read.

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