Writing Excuses 7.35: Brainstorming with Dan

Dan needs to write a military thriller. It’s just a short story, but still, it’s a bit outside his area of expertise, and he needs help. So in this episode Brandon, Mary, and Howard will endeavor to help him.

The working title? “I.E.Demon”

You can’t read this story yet, but we’ll let you know when you can.


Google military three-letter-acronyms (IED and RPG are off-limits.) Swap out one of the words for a supernatural descriptor beginning with the same letter. That’s your story seed.

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas, by John Scalzi, narrated by Wil Wheaton

22 thoughts on “Writing Excuses 7.35: Brainstorming with Dan”

  1. This. Is. Awesome.

    I laughed out loud several times during this ‘cast. Good job, guys! Wish I had y’all around when I need fresh ideas! … oh wait.

  2. So, just listened to 7.35. Great idea(s) for the military anthology short story, and thought of something that could help with the “realism” of your demon/gremlin.

    Hopefully this comment doesn’t violate any of the rules here.

    Having been in the military for a while (16+ years) nothing irks me more than when someone is writing military stuff that misses the tiny details that just throw me out of the story. Case in point, “7th Son” had a line that said something like “He jumped in the HMMWV, thankfully the keys were in it, and he started it up”. The problem is that there AREN’T keys to start a HMMWV, or any “ordinary” military vehicle. There might be a steering wheel lock (a cable with a padlock), but that is it. They are designed on purpose to NOT have an ignition key, because, sometimes those get lost/destroyed. A cable isn’t that bad, they are easy to cut through with a multitool or to shoot if you really need the lock gone.

    Anyway, I digress.

    In the podcast you mentioned finding something in your MRE that would be of use when you read the -10 (pronounced “dash 1o” (that means operator level)) TM (Technical Manual) on your gremlin powered device/armor. There just really DOES happen to be something in an MRE that mythological creatures will probably hate. Salt. Every MRE has a packet of salt.

    You could have that be what caused this device to fail – the roads were salted because of ice/snow and the demon’s aversion to the salt kept it from working properly/caused it to escape.

    Something you didn’t really cover was the fact that if the demon is loose, it is going to make ALL of the stuff stop working. Good guy guns too. How to make them work again? Easy, mix the salt with water and pour it on your guns, or pour directly on the weapon, or tape the packet to the gun. They might get rusty if you don’t clean off the salt water later (although salt water is one of the environments they are tested against).

    Just something to think about. Also, a “call back” to the gremlins of WWII (think of the old Bugs Bunny cartoon) would be a nice source for the corporation to discover the gremlins and their military application.

    Anyway, food for thought, feel free to use/abuse.

  3. Really awesome episode, guys — what I’d have given for this one a month ago! If possible, I’d love to see more discussion on short stories or novellas. I’m typically a novel and series reader, but I’ve been getting into a lot of anthologies lately and even tried my hand at writing in a short format. Most of the advice for novels applies to shorter projects, but there are subtle differences, and I’d love to hear what more seasoned writers have to say on the topic.

  4. Well if it is a HMMWV, it should have a crew of three: driver, radio operator/lookout, gunner (on top). You can put more people in, but, if this is suppose to be a safe run, dash between bases and not a regular patrol, you know the type that tempts fate just by mentioning it (and the rear seat is full or MREs) then 3 man crew will suffice, without killing anyone.

    And as Raoul pointed out, most military ground vehicles don’t have keys, which makes for the perfect joke to play on the new recruit when you ask him to get the mythical keys to the base commander’s HMMWV. Works best if the NCO in charge of the motor pool is on the joke, will backfire horribly if he is NOT!


  5. Rafael kicked something else loose in the brainpan. He is absolutely correct about the standard crew of 3 for a standard HMMWV. Driver, gunner, and TC (that stands for Tank/Track/Truck Commander). The TC usually sits in the upper right “passenger” seat. They are person in charge of the truck. any “passengers” will be in the back two seats (assuming a standard 4 person configuration (which can hold 5 counting the gunner in the turret).

    If the truck has networked computers and such, they are going to be located, right next to the radio mount that is located between the driver and the TC. The other thing to remember is that the inside cab compartment of a military HMMWV isn’t nearly as open as easy to get to as a civilian vehicle. If you get a chance take a look inside one.

    Also, if someone is injured and they are unconscious/unable to help get out of the truck, it is a pain in the ass to get them out if the door is jammed shut. There is no magic to getting a casualty out of a damaged truck. If you are talking MRAP vehicles (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected), some of them don’t have doors where the driver or TC are. Getting them out is a big challenge. It is something the crew really needs to practice.

    They also conduct “Roll over” drills regularly, if they are well disciplined and doing the right thing(tm).

    And, one more note. Each area in a hostile zone has its own security “movement requirements” I.E. No less than 3 trucks, and 2 of them must be gun trucks, or each convoy must have a tracked vehicle with it, or no less than 5 vehicles in a convoy, whatever. You don’t violate that. If part of the convoy is called back, if they convoy can’t split into two smaller convoys that meet the minimum requirements, then you don’t split the convoy.

    Ok… one LAST note (for now). If you don’t know have first hand experience with the military (and even if you do), have someone with knowledgeable experience read over your work so they can point out major red flags. Case in point, the movie “Courage Under Fire” had a real “boner” of a flaw.

    If you remember the movie, Denzel Washington’s character was trying to unravel a mystery about an attack. And the thread he kept picking at that finally unwound the whole thing for him was the question of “when did the M-16 run out of rounds?” He was trying to determine when Meg Ryan’s character died in the battle, which was crucial for determining the award she was to be given.

    That was the question he asked again and again and again. And that is the question that finally broke open the case and revealed its tasty inner truth.

    The problem is that they apparently had BOATLOADS of SAW (Squad Automatic Weapon) ammo. That is the “machine gun” that the crew had. The SAW and M-16 both fire the same size round 5.56. The SAW fires linked 5.56 rounds that fire “hotter” than regular M-16 ammo however. But, if you are almost out of ammo, you just break down the links and load the ammo into magazines for the M-16. And since the SAW is designed to fire from M-16 magazines as well as from a drum of ammo, you could have broken down ALL the SAW ammo into magazines and they could have shared the ammo. A magazine isn’t the preferred method of loading the SAW, but it’ll work in a pinch, which, they were most decided in. As for the M-16s, they would be firing a hotter round, but, again, when you are desperate, it’ll do pig. It’ll do.

    So, the answer to the question of “When did the M-16 run out of ammo” was a moot question. It shouldn’t have. What I am guessing is that they were supposed to have a M-60 Machine Gun (that fires a 7.62 round), but it was too large for Meg Ryan to pick up and use, so they substituted the smaller and lighter SAW on set, not realizing that in doing so they completely undermined the entire premise of how the lies were cut through and the mystery solved.

    Anyway, long, long story short, ask someone who knows and can articulate that knowledge. And please don’t take short cuts, if you are going to set your story in the “real world” and there is a really easy real world solution to the problem that your character faces, you need to rework the problem.

  6. Wow. Lots of typos in that last post. That is what I get for not re-reading it before posting. Sorry.

  7. I’m looking forward to reading this. Not being a military person in any way, shape, or form, I think I’ll let others more knowledgeable about such matters continue with their discussion of the podcast

    Your description of Redshirts reminds me of Feed (Mira Grant’s Newsflesh Trilogy), just set in Star Trek instead of a zombie apocalypse movie. The first half to three quarters of the book was mostly just for fun. Zombie baiting and making fun of mass media and human nature in general. The sinister plotline kinda kept me going, but it was mostly just because I was in the mood for comedy that I didn’t put it down. Despite that, it’s actually the first book I’ve ever read that’s actually had me crying _after_ I put the book away for the evening. (Spoiler warning) First person perspective of zombie conversion must have been so hard to write. It was hard enough to read, and (at least in my experience in writing) the author is always way closer to the characters than the readers are). Plus you have to think a hell of a lot more while writing, meaning emotional response has to take a back seat to some extent.

  8. A couple of times during this episode you expressed concern about offending or disrespecting your intended audience. I get why you would be wary of portraying our troops as demon mongers, or why you might shy away from writing a story where Marines are killed.


    As a veteran, I can tell you these guys are big boys. Just write a cool story and trust them to take it for what it is. They have morbid, sick senses of humor and if you can speak in that language, you can speak to them. If you can speak to them you can give them some escape.

    I say this from personal experience and with all due love and respect.

  9. One thing kind of bugged me. Halliburton is not a military contractor, at least not in the arms and armor sense.

    They provide oilfield services, and while one of their capabilities is “hole enlargement” I don’t think it applies in the sense you intended.

    I don’t know why everyone always reaches for Halliburton as their bad guys. ( Actually, I do, and it disappoints me, for reasons that don’t belong here.)

  10. I’m not military or ex military, but in my exprience workng with and teachin various classes for military personnel, I’ve noticed some things about their demeanor and character.

    1. They’re almost universally likeable. Aside from one General (no I will not name him), nobody was a jerk. Now, they might have been nice to me because I’m a civilian, but my half-assed assesment was that I’d be nice as hell too to people that I may someday be in a combat situation with.

    2. While sometimes crude (more rare than you might think), they’re polite. Very polite.

    3. They’re more competent than you might think, too. Even the soldiers who clearly aren’t bright can still figure things out that might surprise non-military people. I don’t know if it’s a confidence thing or not.

    I only chime in because the actual military people can give you technical guidance, but can’t see their character since they’re in the middle of it. And in a story, character is paramount.

    Remember those things and use a lot of random TLAs and you’ll be fine.

  11. A couple other things to add. Besides all the acronyms there are plenty of other military shorthand terms. Everyone knows “klicks” (kilometers). There’s “mikes” (minutes), “opsec” (operational security), and the all-encompassing “hooah”, not to mention the various slang and jargon terms the soldiers use. And of course HMMWV’s are “Humvees”. I think more than anything, learning the language and using it appropriately will make it feel authentic. Also, to add to Raoul’s mighty fine description, those humvees aren’t padded and uncomfortable to sit in for long periods of time.

    One thought I had on losing the -10 (when you talk about using the field manual in the field), every soldier is required to read and is tested on the -10 for every piece of equipment they use long before they even touch it, so I don’t think it would be very realistic. However, you could go the “Greatest Amercian Hero” route and have them lose the manual when they need to refer to it for something crucial they don’t remember how to do off hand.

    At least, that was my experience, but I’ve been out for 10 years, so maybe things have changed. But as pointed out by the others, the best thing is to get someone who’s intimately familiar with the subject material to look it over, but I’m sure that’s nothing knew to you guys.

  12. There was a minor pet peeve of mine that kept coming up during the show. Soldiers means army – one of the fastest ways to irritate a Marine is to refer to him or her as a soldier. Make sure you know which branch of the service your squad is and refer to them appropriately.

  13. This was my first episode and now I’m hooked. AND it helped get me through a half-marathon. I’m a huge fan of the program now, and I can’t wait to read Dan’s story.

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