Military action is important to the nation—it is the ground of death and life, the path of survival and destruction, so it is imperative to examine it. –Master Sun
We’ve talked before about how when you write in a fantasy world it’s your job as the writer to literally re-create the real world, from the smallest details to the most imposing forces at work. Understanding the geography, the political situation, the people in any given district, and latest string of illness spreading through the city are all important, but so is understanding the military and peacekeeping forces.
There’s a difference between peacekeeping forces, like police, and military forces. Peacekeepers protect the people and the equilibrium of power at home, whereas military focuses on defending against the enemies of the state. As Admiral Adama (Battlestar Galactica) pointed out, when the military is used as peacekeepers, the enemy of the state tends to become the people. In a later post, we’ll look at developing police forces in a fantasy realm, but today let’s focus on the gist of constructing a military force.
- Geography, geography
You’re probably sick of hearing me harp on this one, but it’s one of those things that really can’t be overstated. A nation that has even one front on an ocean is going to have a navy force, whereas a land-locked, plains nation will want fast, land-based forces.
- What kind of army?
Do they have recruitment policies in place? Are there young kids (boys and/or girls is another choice to make) who go into the military at a young age and spend a certain number of years there? Are the soldiers just farmers and gatherers who spend a couple months of the year in a rotating service? The kind of force in any given location will depend on the nation’s position in relation to neighbors. This will also determine how swiftly they respond to crises and how effective they are.
In my in-progress trilogy, Alkaia, Tiglan and Rouxara are all very military conscious, so as a result being trained as a warrior is considered a good career, and you have to have a certain amount of potential before you’re accepted. This is the opposite of the way things are in the south, where the people fancy themselves more civilized. They have a standing army, but it’s more like an honor guard than an actual force to be reckoned with.
- Rank and order
Even if the military force is going to play a minimum role within your story, it’s a good idea to identify at least one important character within the structure, even if your protagonist never meets him/her. If you’re going to flirt more with the powerhouse, decide if you’re going to follow the real-world rankings or create your own. If there are non-human creatures, they might very well have their own rank, and skilled mages might be placed with each battalion.
Just because military and peacekeeping should be separate doesn’t mean that they always are. Determine the military force’s purpose at any given point in the story. Are they occupying a village that’s under quarantine? Are they enforcing a new empire’s order? Are they there because this particular city is likely the next to be attacked?
- Unanticipated purposes
Now look at the consequences of their current endeavor. If they’re occupying a place for protection, the people are likely to either be terrified of attack or annoyed at the intrusion. If they’re enforcing new laws, especially those that the local populace isn’t fond of, their presence would create extra tension and problems.
- Are they occupying another nation?
Even if all you do is make a one-sentence note, it’s a good idea to sum up the situation as a whole. A force that’s divided between defending the homeland and attacking another nation is going to create an overbearing air of struggle.
- What is common opinion of them?
How do the peasants view them? What about the wealthy? Military forces are en extension of government, and governments are always partial to one group or another. This can be used to your advantage—draw those lines in the sand and create conflict.
These broad overviews of military should remain fluid. Look at our own world and how things change literally every day. Even if you’re only touching on the military and peacekeeping forces at work within your world, make a couple of different references and then read back through it. You’ll be amazed what a difference such small details make.