What Makes a Great Prolonged War Story

Hello WFG,

I don't post on here much but I felt like the forums on here would be the best place to hopefully get an answer or insight to my problem. As the title says, what makes a great war story?

Being more specific, I'm at a place in my novel where a large war is brewing. Now, since this war can't be just skimmed over and likely to take at least a dozen chapters, how can one masterfully keep readers interested in a fantasy war?

Some articles I've read stated it is imperative to include both micro and macro views of the war--showing specific key battles where the protagonist can do his protagonistic stuff, while also incorporating war strategy.

Besides this little tidbit, I'm finding it hard to come up with a good outline of how things will progress. I know I haven't said much about my novel or where this war is coming from, but I was just hoping to inquire a more general form of advice.

Thank you!

The best advice is always to keep reading. Find other examples of war sequences in fiction - and don't just limit those examples to fantasy.

Also,there's absolutely no reason you need to include "micro and macro" views of the war. The balance should depend entirely on what story you're trying to tell.

Depends on which war story you're telling.

All Quiet on the Western Front didn't do any of those things. And it is deservedly considered one of the great classics everyone should read. Because it focused on the *human* element of war. The pain, the loss, the death, and the heartbreak. As well as the camaraderie, dark humor, and surprisingly simple yet profound human insights.

My favorite is and always will be

"Give 'em all the same grub and all the same pay. And the war would be over and done in a day."

You can chew on that line for *days* and still find new insights to gain from it.

So my advice is to examine the people- show them to us at their best and their worse- make us fall in love with them... or at least fall in love with hating them... and then kill them in unnecessary, random, meaningless ways. Just to prove you can. Preferably while leaving at least two or three unresolved plot issues that the readers wanted resolved, but now never will be.

Because that's exactly what war does.

If you're good, you can become the next Attack on Titan (well, the first part, at any rate... before it gets weird...). Or G.R.R. Martin.

Spoiler alert: Martin *really* likes killing characters. Like. I think it may be a fetish.


Now, if you want to treat war as anything other than hell? Yeah, go for high action, adventure, political intrigue, and the protagonists being awesome. It's popular, it is absolutely popular, and if you want to *be* popular, go for it.

But I've seen what war does to people, and to families, and so all fantasies my childhood may have held of "glory" to be found on the battlefield have long since died.

What they said. Suggestions to read for a good way to do a long war, and show both views, the small and large,

Fantasy, I'd highly suggest the Riftwar Cycle : Empire Trilogy by Raymond Feist and Janny Wurts. Daughter of the empire, servant of the empire, mistress of the empire. It has war, politics, tactics, its a brilliant set of three books.

More WWII with fantasy elements, There's an excellent serial novel called https://spiritsofeden.com Spirits of Eden. I am about six months behind on it, sadly, I need to catch up, but it got a bit... intense for me. Excellent depiction of large scale battles and individual skirmishes.

Good advice here, so I figured I'd also suggest looking into the podcast "Revolutions" which often deals with wars. It doesn't so much give the small view, but never have I been so fascinated by northern Europe having an unusually cold winter in the middle of the War of the First Coalition during the French Revolution. It was also nice seeing how a change by the legislative body of France to no longer supporting the army with pay and food motivated armies so much and allowed for regular soldiers to turn loyal to generals over patriotic ideals.

Aside from the good suggestion of All Quiet on the Western Front, perhaps also try And Quiet Flows the Don for multiple small views of World War I, the Russian Revolution, and the Russian Civil War. Or Generation Kill, which is about the members of the First Recon Marines who went into Iraq, and their much more forthright depiction of a modern war. They'd feel right at home with the Hound and Tormund, that's for sure.

The series Wheel of Time has some pretty big wars and I never felt bored. There's a lot of viewpoint switching, one chapter will focus on Mat leading his Band in some skirmish, then the next is from Elaine's point of view. The last book is practically one long war too, and I was hooked from start to finish. It's definitely not a realistic portrayal though -- death and gore and devastation are all glossed over. Not all the characters enjoy fighting, but nobody talks about how horrible and awful war (especially medieval war) is.

Thanks for the awesome advice, everyone! I'll take a look at some of the recommended readings. I planned on showing the hell of war, of course, but I also didn't want it to be TOO dark. I'll try to find a good middle ground.