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It's a monster, I know. But it's everything I knew about writing wars. I hope someone out there finds it helpful.

I broke it down into sections so if you feel like you don't really need to know a certain section you can look for the one you do. All section headers are in bold.

I want to take a moment to thank :icontuomaskoivurinne: and :iconplayinthedead: for the input they gave throughout the making of this tutorial. They're good friends to have.

I also want to thank :iconoboe-wan: for helping edit the first draft.

I am not a soldier myself so I don't have first hand knowledge of combat. But I do have first hand knowledge of soldiers. If it is anything in the way of credentials, I was partially raised on a US Navy base and am from a military family, with members who served in every American war since WWI. I have other much more personal reasons for writing this, that might go into if asked.

I also know literature. I'm an English teacher, so I damn well better.

I also welcome discussion. If you think something has been misrepresented, comment or note me and I'll definitely hear your point of view.

Likewise if you have any questions, I'm always up for answering those, too.

EDIT: March 30, 2013

I made a lot of improvements, cleaned it up, expanded some sections (and marked them), and added a new one.
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:iconbrandonspilcher:
BrandonSPilcher Featured By Owner Jul 28, 2014  Hobbyist General Artist
Lots of useful advice in this.

However, with regards to the subject of trauma and PTSD, might those primarily be modern issues? Cultural attitudes towards death and war have undergone a lot of evolution over the last couple of centuries. I can't see too many Vikings, Assyrians, or Zulus having the same compunctions over killing their enemies as an educated soldier from a modern civilization.
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Edited Jul 28, 2014  Professional Writer

To answer your question;

Please understand, I know you didn’t comment out of any malintent. My answer is going to be long, but please don’t take it as an attack. I think that war stress is something that most people are under informed on, and that our media has done us exactly zero favors in that regard, so I’m going to try to answer your question as thoroughly as I can.

Sadly, it is exactly this kind of idea I am trying to combat. The idea that PTSD is somehow ‘new’ or that other cultures (ancient or otherwise) were/are less humanly concerned with violence can be a very damaging opinion. Whether intentional or not, it marginalizes the people now that have the disorder, and makes it seem as though this evolved due to culture, which is an idea that can change, not a biological reaction, which is what it actually is.

I will refer you to another article I wrote which deals exclusively with combat related mental illness

There are a few things that I think need to be cleared up.

    1.       Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is not limited to people who have seen combat, and it is not necessarily linked to someone’s mindset, ideas, or preparedness for war. What factors contribute to someone having PTSD have nothing to do with culture, race, age, sex, or ability, or their compunction for killing or not. It has only to do with how much stress that person has been under, and the degree to which that trauma threatened their life or someone they watch get victimized. PTSD appears in combat veterans, victims of natural disasters, victims of domestic and non-domestic criminal violence, child abuse, rape, and small scale accidents like car accidents as well.

(more info: old.impact-kenniscentrum.nl/do… or it is compiled in the other guide I already linked you to)

    2.       PTSD, which was not originally called that, showed up in the first edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which was published in 1952. This was the first time that many mental disorders were mentioned and defined. These disorders clearly existed before the printing of the manual, they simply hadn’t been defined and explored. Psychology as a field wasn’t even entertained until around the late 1800s when it began to enter academia and become standardized. Therefore, it was not the disorders that were non-existent, it was the field of study and criteria to evaluate the disorders that were.

    3.       Not all combat veterans get PTSD. Most come back with some form of mental fatigue or what is called ‘combat stress’, but again, PTSD itself depends on a lot of factors.

As for when and how PTSD showed up in history? Literarily, it is all over both the Iliad and the Odyssey, as well as being explored in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and several Indian literary texts, so it isn’t limited to a single cultural sphere. When I said it shows up in these things, I don’t mean ‘that person went to war then he was sad’ comes up in the text. Actual descriptions of the same exact symptoms, after what are clinically considered ‘traumatic’ events, come up all over the characters in these texts. And PTSD has a very specific set of parameters to even be defined as such, so these are not vague generalizations. Even the more vague examples definitely point to combat fatigue and combat stress, even if the most extreme form of PTSD isn’t realized.


Historically, the same type of situation was noted by a plethora of greek historians, e.g. in Xenophon’s Hellenica (and lots of others), and several Roman writings that related to both soldiers and also non-combat related civilian cases. It has also been studied in 17th century China, and there are several notable examples from Alexander the Great’s army <-- this link may not work, I think you need a login, but if you’re interested I’ve got the article.


The point is, tl;dr, no, it is not modern, and no, it has little to do with anyone’s cultural mindset. Violence and violent death takes its toll, and so does living in a combat condition even if nothing has actually happened to a soldier. Now, is it possible that PTSD was less frequent in some wars than in others? Yes, there is evidence that points to that; it does seem at the moment that soldiers who have more time out of high pressure situations to bury their dead and grieve for them, more time in a zone that is ‘behind the lines’ so to speak, they are less likely to develop PTSD, but no less likely to have some form of lower grade combat stress. And that comes directly from the historical evidence I linked you.

There are cultures, such as the Vikings, that we have much less actual evidence on, save a few writings, and some later third or fourth hand accounts of things, so that is really not enough to go on. But it does seem that human beings are human beings, and while they may not have had cultural compunctions about killing, they had the same psychological sensitivities and stress reactions as anyone else. We have no idea the ratios to which this happened, or how pervasive it was in which settings, but to say it is a modern invention is surely misinformation.

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:iconninitynine:
ninitynine Featured By Owner Edited Jul 5, 2014  Student General Artist
 well start crying baby because I use wikipedia XD
as all the others hre, this is exactly what I needed.

say, I'm writing a fantasy/supernatural story, it's like supernatural meets jarhead, and right now it focus more in the characters after the war, 12 years to be exactly and one of the main things I focus, one of his main traits is his PTSD which I want to make sound realistic.

what would could byou suggest me for that?

FYI he is a werewolf and his squad was tasked with... doing pretty much what buffy and the winchester do but in... different settings. I actually published a short story introducing him here 
ninitynine.deviantart.com/art/…
there I tell a brief story of how he would often wke up with nightmares about his worst mission the one where everything went... SNAFU (I wanted to use that word), and even though he forgets what happened that night something that troubles him even more that remembering-, all nights prior to that one and the ones after that, he still suffers nightmares from the rest of his service, and from another event in his life which I'm working currently namely seeing his wife getting shoot in the face when they walk out of the movies...

any idea how to make this work, 'cuz Im a jam of sorts teying to puzzle it in, all the feelings and that kind of ... thingies
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Jul 9, 2014  Professional Writer
Well, I see you favorited the other guide I wrote, the one about writing combat-related mental illnesses. I spend a lot of time in that talking about PTSD, but the chapters before it are also relevant to the disorder as well. That guide is pretty much the best information I have, so, if you read it over and have more particular questions, I'd be glad to help...

Also, I would mention that the fact your MC is a werewolf might have some extra effect on him, but I don't know how you are imagining the werewolf part (ie do they change voluntarily, is it only at the full moon, are they in control of themselves when they change?).
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:iconninitynine:
ninitynine Featured By Owner Jul 9, 2014  Student General Artist
the werewolf part I manage it differently from others, usually is like a teenage (or maybe an older guy) who's life changes after been biten, but not the case, he was born a werewolf, so he basically knows alll the tricks, and perks and can shape at his whim and desiree at any extent or any part, and since he was like near inmortal, when he became a teenager he waas quite reckless, to the point where would do things like driving a car half drunk, full of hotties at full speed and crash it and then not giving a damn about the dead girls cause he couldn't die, he was the superior species.

This kinda devil-may-care attitude is what somehow lead the army to him and gave him to choices, rotting in a jail none knows or working for uncle sam...

But no, he didn't have nightmares for the killings he did during fullmoon and/or losing control cause learned how to control it since he was 7, he does regret what he did though, reason why afterwards he became a preist, he wanted--nedeed to help people and redeem for all that and... ayda,yada, yada.

now, you mention here that the life like before the army is an important aspect, well the father was in the army as well, being in the army runs in the family like the werewolf curse, and his father raised him on the road for almost 10 year, raised him like a soldier and a hunter, he wanted him to be like him but, he didn't want that life... sucker for him 'cuz he ran away from it so much it was his only way.
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:iconmrrocketdad:
MrRocketDad Featured By Owner Mar 22, 2014
This was very helpful.  Thank you. 
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Mar 25, 2014  Professional Writer
You are most welcome.
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:iconvladimirdracultepes:
VladimirDraculTepes Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2014
this is a very useful guide, very useful indeed. i wanted to ask , what do you do if your protagonist is a comander of a small ocupation force(250 men in my story) and he and his men commit atrocities against the civilian population with the intent of maintaining order. ( but some of those acts are in retaliation for the things the enemy soldiers did in his country) and that after a time he starts to feel horrified at the terrible things he has done and wants to do something to "save himself"
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:icondoughboycafe:
doughboycafe Featured By Owner Mar 19, 2014  Professional Writer
While I think there would be a lot of universal human feelings regarding that, I think the specifics will depend a lot on who and what you're writing. Can you give me some context for the story? nationality of the commander, time period, setting, where they are stationed and why ,how long ago the conflict was, what type of conflict was it (ie, what style of warfare), etc?
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:iconvladimirdracultepes:
VladimirDraculTepes Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2014
well,its about a war bettwen two fictional countries(which are allegories of the soviet union and nazi germany)
its set in modern times(they have modern weapons like the ak-74, g36c,  tanks like the T90 and leopard2) the war lasted five years ,my story is set at the lasts months of that war ,in the capital of the allegory of nazi germany. they are stationed in a sector that is controlled by them ( their general wants them to stay there to protect all flanks while the main army continues their advance,which makes he and his men angry) and while they secure all buildings around them they encountered civilians hiding in a basement and that's where the story starts
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