How Are Soldiers and Veterans Treated in Your Story?

How Are Soldiers and Veterans Treated in Your Story?If your story includes a war or other military conflict, then, there is one question that absolutely needs answered when you worldbuild: how are soldiers and veterans treated in your story?

Society’s Attitude Towards Soldiers and Veterans

With Veteran’s Day coming up quickly, I’ve found myself thinking about different examples of how soldiers and veterans are treated in books and movies, especially fiction genres like fantasy and science fiction.

Why those genres? Because they’re not as limited by reality.

With realistic fiction, the treatment tends to mirror real life (as it should for the genre and realism), so it’s not as interesting to consider as when the author has free rein to shape the societal views. Creating different societal rules for soldiers and veterans than the ones we live with is especially effective for making a world feel different and interesting.

Standard Views of Soldiers and Veterans

Like anything else, there are standard literary takes on how soldiers are viewed on either side of a conflict. Here are few common ones (although my names for them may be different than others you read).

  • Heroes and Politicians: When soldiers are revered, society gives them a great deal of power. Being people, they can use that power for good or bad, but in a state where fighting is respected, it would not be uncommon for successful soldiers to retire to positions of power within the government (national or local).
  • Unwitting Game Pieces: The soldiers are mere extensions of the person in power – in the story, they almost never have names or opinions. They do what they’re told and have no real mental contribution to the war being fought (Star Wars and the clones are a pretty good example.). You might also call them Faceless Fodder. As far as their leader is concerned, they have no value beyond achieving his/her goals, and society follows suit.
  • Monsters: In a society that hates violence, war, or its government, its own soldiers may be just as reviled. This leaves them with the options of staying in the army (where the government can protect them somewhat), trying to hide what they are (to avoid being ostracized), becoming the monsters the people portray them as (so that the fear gives them some power/protection), or living in isolation from society (in the wild, an asylum, or even the streets). It’s a pretty negative worldview, so it’s better used with darker stories.
Interesting Examples of Soldiers and Veterans in Worldbuilding

In many books, it’s common for soldiers to have no exceptional benefits when serving or once they retire – they do the job and then are simply released and go back to the family farm or wherever they came from before.

In other words, they’re left to make their way on their own.

Off hand, however, I can think of two examples that went further and gave veterans’ rights some added interest. Granted, some of those rights may not be useful for quite a while (if ever), but they’re there.

  1. Mountains of Mourning (a novella included in Young Miles) by Lois McMaster Bujold: A woman shows up on the count’s doorstep to demand that someone investigate a murder. In her arguments to be seen, she says that her father served in the military, and it is her right to bring her case to the count. The main character confirms that this is true. I would guess that this right has roots in historic feudal society (given the context of the world), but even so, it adds an interesting dimension to the worldbuilding (and is also a good example of how to integrate military practices from history or other cultures).
  2. Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein: This book takes the Heroes and Politicians concepts to another level by granting what we consider standard rights (full citizenship, the right to vote, and the right to run for/hold public office) only to people who have served in the military. It’s a pretty extreme situation that led to conflict within the book (and without amongst critics). I mention it because it gives useful insights for how to write a society that drastically varies from ours by reminding us that the standard rights don’t have to be the same in the story as in our lives (instead of adding rights for the soldiers, you can simply take them away from others).

Do I think you should use those specific rights in your books? Probably not. But you might consider the methods used to make the rights more interesting when deciding how to integrate soldiers and veterans into your worldbuilding.


Writing Fall: It’s More Than a Season

When building a world, we need to sprinkle in aspects of our world as well as new creations from reimagining our world. That includes seasons, and since Fall has finally arrived, it’s the perfect time to discuss why writing fall isn’t only leaves and cold breezes – it’s more than a season.

Worldbuilding Fall

What do I mean by “it’s more than a season”? Well, let’s just say that it’s not enough to throw some weather changes into your story. Maybe that works on rare occasions, but, come on, you and I both know that there’s more to fall than that (or any other season for that matter).

But, hey, we’ll start with the obvious bits.

Fall Weather and Climate Changes

That’s what everyone thinks of isn’t it? The physical aspects that affect our senses:

  • Cool, dry air on sunny days
  • Rain and thunderstorms (even tornadoes and hurricanes)
  • Golds, reds, oranges, and browns across the treetops and the ground
  • Yellow grasses and crops
  • Migrating birds

On the other hand, does everyone really think of that?

What about people in southern California? Or Arizona? Or areas even further south? Fall doesn’t mean the same things to them as far as temperature and changing colors.

There are, however, some aspects of Fall that people surrounded by cool breezes have in common with their friends in warmer climates – at least ones  that share parts of their culture.

Fall Products & Culture

Big marketing firms have made sure that people across the U.S.A. all associate Fall with specific colors, scents, holidays, and flavors. These should not be a surprise to anyone in the U.S.

  • Reds, oranges, browns, and golds (That sounds familiar…)
  • Bronze
  • Cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, and cardamom (Spices associated with pumpkin pies, apple pies, cider, mulling spices, and more)
  • Jack-o-lanterns
  • Turkeys
  • Scarecrows
  • Corn husks
  • Decorative Squashes (Did you know you can eat most of those?)
  • Pumpkin Spice

Sound familiar? It should. Srsly, the pumpkin spice trend alone has become so big that it’s become a running gag.

And, yes, even with the pumpkin spice thrown in, I can’t blame it entirely on marketing. Many of those ideas and symbols go back to traditions that have been associated with Fall ever since our culture was mainly agricultural, and it was harvest time.

And that’s actually my point.

The season change has other aspects that affect the culture besides strict weather changes: the growing season, decorations, activities, etc. Yes, they’re related to those weather changes, but that doesn’t mean that the weather is all you need to add to create the feel of the season.

It takes more than that.


Very Different Takes on Fairy Folklore

Very Different Takes on Fairy Folklore Red cap

Beware the red cap!

Maybe it’s all the commercials with not-so-bright Christmas elves (sometimes annoyingly so), but lately, I’ve had faeries on the brain. And, being me, that makes me think of how they’re used in books and how different authors have very different takes on fairy folklore.

Have you ever listed all the books you’ve read that used old fairy folklore as inspiration? Well, don’t start unless you have a lot of time on your hands. It’s kind of amazing, actually. So many authors have made the old stories their own, and so many of those  takes have become commonly used that it’s hard to recognize the inspiration anymore (like elves, for instance).

Of course, that’s one of the best parts of using fairy folklore as inspiration for writing. To quote myself (which feels a little weird, TBH – not being a narcissist):

“…there is simply so much fodder that 5 authors could use the same faeries as inspiration and get 5 very different worlds, characters, and stories out of it. Make that 5,000 authors…”

Well, I’m not listing 5,000 (I don’t have that kind of time), but here are 10 very different takes on fairy folklore.

10 versions of fairy folklore

Let’s start with the obvious.

 1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

While faeries as trouble-makers is well documented in the old Celtic and English tales (especially Robin Goodfellow), Shakespeare’s take humanizes the faeries and their court. They have petty squabbles (like the human court), honor human events, have pity on unrequited love, and make mistakes.

They’re not impossibly powerful beings with no souls who thrive on human suffering or are immune to the plights of their human victims (as they’re portrayed in many older works). Of course, they’re still fairly petty and impetuous, but that’s human, too.

2. Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie

Speaking of petty, impetuous faeries, Tinker Bell is perhaps one of the most famous fairies today thanks to the Disney version of Peter Pan. To me, Tinker Bell is a perfect example of the trend to make faeries slightly more capricious than the average human. They feel enough emotion for us to empathize with them, but they’re a bit flighty and easily angered.

Her Disney incarnation may also be the reason the image of fairies as being tiny, winged beings is so popular today.

3. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Speaking of popular images, let’s talk about elves, shall we?

The elves of early fantasy stories, including Tolkien’s, are widely accepted as coming from old Norse folklore. Tolkien made some adjustments to fit his storyline and world, emphasizing the knowledge that would come with longevity (we hope). His elves feel emotion, but they put higher stock in logic than the highly emotional Tink.

The popularity of his stories has made the long-lived, sometimes-too-obscurely knowledgeable elf a role in every “traditional” fantasy novel since. To the point where few could name the origin – or did you already know they came from Norse mythology? (I didn’t…)

4. Wee Free Men by Terry Pratchett

The fun thing about this Discworld book is that it combines traditional impressions of scary faeries (renamed, like Jenny Greenteeth) with a completely untraditional type of fae called a Nac Mac Feegle (If you haven’t read this, and you like silliness at all in fantasy, I highly recommend it!). The traditional faeries steal people, live forever, are very dangerous, and like illusions (the usual).

The Nac Mac Feegles drink, curse, fight, and get intimidated by books, lawyers, and witchy 9 year olds (srsly, read it).

If you’re familiar with stereotypes of Scottish Highlanders (see Braveheart), then you’ll realize that Pratchett more or less took that stereotype and applied it to the old idea of the brownies. By combining two very different things, he made something new and wildly entertaining.

5. Ile-Rien books by Martha Wells

In the Ile-Rien books like Element of Fire and The Wizard Hunters, Martha Wells combines elements of alchemy, magic, faeries, and technology. She uses many of the traditional fae ideas like the Seelie and Unseelie Courts, redcaps, elf-shot, and glamour, but the uniqueness of her world and the way the fae interact with it refreshes them, as well.

The elf-shot is a specific kind of attack that the fae are impervious to (rather than simply an elf’s arrow). Glamour is an innate magical ability that fae can use but that doesn’t work against other fae – or humans who’ve been given a gift to see through it. Red caps are dangerous but not very bright, and even faerie circles get a new lot on life.

By leaving aspects of the original folklore, Wells gives a feeling of realism and history to the books, but by interweaving them with specific differences, it’s more than enough to hold the reader’s interest and feel different from the traditional stories.

6. The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald

MacDonald’s interpretation of goblins suits the modern approach to children stories: scary but not too scary. While the original goblins were much more dangerous and impervious to human tricks (if not human gold and jewels), the weaknesses of MacDonald’s goblins make them much more manageable – even comical.

Here’s a hint: if you ever encounter goblins from this book, sing, get into the sun, and stomp on their feet. Not your typical grotesque and murderously greedy goblins, right?

7. Harry Potter & The Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

So we’ve confirmed that goblins have long been portrayed as grotesque little creatures that are greedy for gold and jewels – but bankers? I’d say that’s an interestingly modern twist on an old character.

Rowling also gives her own take on many other creatures from mythology and folklore. Like centaurs who are ruled by astrology and talk in riddles, a cerberus (A.K.A. Fluffy), and, of course, house elves.

Like Pratchett’s Nac Mac Feegles, the house elf idea traces back to brownies, but again, Rowling gives them some new characteristics. The original brownies would leave a house if mistreated or if the food they were given was called payment for their work. They didn’t take orders, and they only worked at night and unseen. Rowling’s house elves, on the other hand, served a person or family, took orders (to the point of being unable to do certain magic without permission), and could have clothing without being freed.

Those differences not only make them new and interesting characters but also lead to interesting plot conflicts (like freeing Dobby, Winky’s drunkenness, and Hermione’s liberation movement).

8. The Five Hundred Kingdoms series by Mercedes Lackey

The entire Five Hundred Kingdoms series is about new versions of old fairy tales and folklore. In fact, the kingdoms are ruled by a magical power called the Tradition that tries to forces characters into established roles (a creative idea that makes myriad opportunities for conflict). So a seventh son or a young girl with a stepmother and two stepsisters might have to struggle to get out of a predictable pattern.

But what’s that got to do with faeries? Well, other than the typical fairy tale types (like witches, fairy godmothers, etc.), there are brownies who work for the fairy godmother. They do all the domestic magic like their predecessors, but they’re rather vocal and full-fledged characters rather than shadowy beings that only come work at night.

As the characters travel or the book changes, they also encounter faeries from many different cultures such as Russian rusalkas and bannik as well as the more traditional fantasy elves. The overtness of the world’s use of fairy tales is extremely interesting from a writing perspective since it uses the fairytales as stereotypes established by the Tradition and then explores how more realistic characters react to being stuck in those roles. I’ve never read any approach that’s quite like it (although I’m always ready to learn…).

9. Elemental Masters series by Mercedes Lackey

Even though Lackey’s Elemental Masters series uses many of the same types of fae and folklore, the tone and world is vastly different. This series is set in historic England (usually) but the historic aspects are overlaid with a magical world where humans can control specific elements – and the creatures attached to that element.

Here, different beings from folklore are assignment elemental affiliations (like red caps and Robin Goodfellow), but we most often see ones that were always considered more one element than another. Gnomes are from the earth, salamanders are from fire, undines are from water, and Sylphs are from air.

These stories are also loosely based off the framework from old fairytales, but the modern settings, stronger female leads, and addition of elemental magic make them vastly different form the originals.

10. Elves on the Road series by Mercedes Lackey

Last but not least, we have elves racing cars in the U.S. of A. The main fae link is the Seelie and Unseelie Courts and how they have survived and adapted to modern times. Parts of the old stories like sensitivity to cold iron and underhill remain, but they have evolved rather like old traditions evolve in a new setting.

Other areas’ folklore and elemental creatures occasionally pop up here, as well; however, with storylines more like a modern mystery/crime story, there’s a very different flavor than her stories based deliberately off of fairytales.

In other words, it’s by the same author, but the take on fairy folklore is different.

That’s really why I threw in the last 3 – not to push 1 author, but to emphasize how 1 author can use the same inspiration in many different ways (in fact, that author has several other series that could be thrown in, as well.). I easily could’ve done 2 more authors instead – or 20 more authors. Or 200. There are that many variations on faeries (not even counting the spelling!).

Like I said before, folklore is so rich with opportunity that any author could pick up the same old tale and turn it into a different novel. It’s Changeling versus Tinker Bell. Seriously, use life as inspiration, and the opportunities are endless – you just have to look for them.


How Crimes Change over Time

how crimes change birth control pills illegal

Speaking of how crimes change, what was banned in 1873 and remained illegal in many states until 1965?

If you read “Crime, Punishment, & Worldbuilding,” then you already know my thoughts on how useful it is to think about legal systems when it comes to realistic worldbuilding. I also briefly mentioned that crimes change over time, but in your story, that really only matters in one of three cases: 1. the story is set in a period of unrest (A.K.A. social change), 2. the book series encompasses centuries, or 3. no one remembered to change the stupid law in the official books.

How Crimes Change over Time

What was illegal 100 years ago and what is illegal now in the U.S. has some overlap, but it’s not all the same. There are also plenty of laws that make no sense today – just Google “weird U.S. laws,” and you’ll find plenty of articles on that (for example, “The United States of Crazy Laws“) that include things like whether or not you can let a donkey sleep in the bathtub or knit during fishing season (You think I’m joking.).

As a more serious example, consider the year 1872. At that time, Susan B. Anthony was arrested because she voted. The next year at her trial, the judge

  • refused to let her take the stand
  • declared her guilty of voting illegally before the jury could vote
  • fined her $100

All for voting.

Compare that to today when women vote regularly. That’s a dramatic change for a culture to make in about 144 years, especially considering it’s only been 96 years since women got the right to vote here (not even a century).

While this is a pretty dramatic example of how social norms and what is considered a crime can change, it’s important to remember that the change didn’t happen quickly, and that the length of time between the two situations would’ve included varying degrees of both attitudes.

Setting a Book When the Definition of Crime Is Changing

If you set your book during the period when the definition of a crime is changing, it may not be the happiest book, but, on the bright side, there’ll be plenty of conflict to choose from. After all, whenever there’s a movement for change, there’s generally a movement against change.

Research previous (and existing) movements for social change, and you’ll have plenty of fodder. Progress tends to be very slow at first. Then, there’s a sort of tug-o-war where the balance shifts from one side to the other, and some factions may change their support as time goes one.

Now that I think of it, it’s like the study of war: each side winning different battles, employing different strategies, making use of different technology, and trying to convince others to join or at least stay neutral. Who appears to be winning and how close the conflict is to being resolved depends entirely on when you set the story (A story set at the beginning of WWII would give a very different impression than one set at the very end.).

To be realistic, avoid making social changes quick, clean, or bloodless. The struggle and even the ugliness of it is what makes us believe.

Setting Books Before & After the Crime Changed

When a book series covers an extended period of time (say, centuries), the world has to change. One way to give the new time period a different feeling from the previous books is to include social changes like new laws. You could change who is considered a citizen, what types of behaviors are taboo, or even the amount of regulation (For example, there didn’t use to be speed limits, driver’s licenses, illegal substances, or legal drinking ages…).

Be warned, however: unless the books are a millennium or more apart, there should be hints of change.

In the book that comes first (in the chronology of the world), drop some hints of social unrest. More or less, depending on how close the story is to the actual period of change. For the book that comes after the laws have changed, you can slip in some characters who long for “the good old days,” a movement that’s trying to change it back or living true to the old laws in a separate society, or simply some old books/ads/propaganda.

Really, the options are endless, and you need look no farther than real life to get inspiration.

A Crime in Name Only

So what about when they forgot to ever undo the law? When is that useful? Well, other than the comedic-style unexpected twist, a “crime in name only” is most likely to turn up if

  • There’s a regime change – especially one that puts a scrupulous rule-follower in charge (permanently or temporarily).
  • The society agrees. If everyone thinks the law is silly or dumb, then, there may be little motivation to change it at first (it’s so obvious), and later, the next point might apply.
  • They forgot it’s there. Unless the town/country has a plethora of studious lawyers, this is surprisingly easy. If it doesn’t come up in court, why teach it?
  • Two words: recovered records. This is more common with post-apocalyptic cultures or people who had to flee some danger quickly. Then, some intrepid explorer discovers the old records, revealing the ancient law.

And so on, and so forth. You get the idea. Clearly, it takes the right series of circumstances not only to reveal the law but also to make it relevant to the situation as well as enforced by whatever group is in power.

While there can easily be a good amount of comedy with this kind of technicality, it really depends on how seriously you treat it. If you emphasize the main character’s frustration and rage at being restrained/confined/stopped/whatever by such a ridiculous and antiquated law, then it may hit close enough to home to feel rather realistic (and not funny at all).

Well, there you go. How crimes change over time, and 3 main ways that can apply to your worldbuilding. What laws will your characters break – or make?