Terrible Writing Advice – Chapter 15: War Stories

When writing a war story, an author needs to keep low because you never know when you are going to get hit with a cliché! Let’s get down in the trenches to write a war story. We just need a few good men and we can march to victory, or at least good box office sales.

My Honest Thoughts on War Stories

I love old war movies. The Big Red One, The Longest Day, The Dirty Dozen, Patton and many more. Those old war movies were hokey and way too clean, but I still loved them as a kid. Too bad they always got the weapons wrong. Even as a kid I always got upset when both sides used the same tanks, but the German tanks were painted gray to tell them apart. Old war films represented the stylistic preferences of the time. Gritty was out and some films tried to replicate the look and feel of the old Hollywood epics like Moses, to capture the scale of the conflicts rather than the grim reality of warfare.

Then the 80s came. Gritty was in, but realism and historical accuracy was still considered secondary. The United States was still recovering from the Vietnam War. Films were either power fantasies like Rambo or somber and artsy like the Deer Hunter. Films like Full Metal Jacket captured some aspects of the Vietnam era like the boot camp, but failed in other areas. Then in the early 90s the genre stagnated as the Greatest Generation grew older and began passing.

Then came Saving Private Ryan.

If you hate shaky cam, then blame Steven Spielberg and that movie. Saving Private Ryan led to a bit of a Renaissance for war films and was followed by other successful films like Black Hawk Down. It also led to the zenith of the genre; Band of Brothers. To be honest, I don’t think anyone will ever top that miniseries. If you want a good model to follow, Band of Brothers would be it. It covers so many aspects of that war, even touching on things most other war movies skip like the occupation of Germany.

To be honest, I can’t really offer much advice when it comes to writing a new war story. War stories are never about the wars they are set in, but rather a reaction of the current cultural climate. Even the resurgence of World War II movies in the late 90s was about the passing of the Greatest Generation and of an entire nation looking back to a simpler time with nostalgia. Who knows what trend will crop up next.