From Homer's "The Illiad" to "The Hunger Games," warfare has continued to resonate as a powerful literary theme. Like any work of fiction, war stories require well-developed characters, conflict and plot to grab readers' emotions and attention. Zeroing in on these elements of well-crafted stories, as well as carefully examining details of research and history, can help you write a gripping story centered on the concept of war.
Creating Character Depth
Your readers will need more than just a warfare situation to develop a connection with your protagonist. Brainstorm a list of facts about your character, including his family situation, relationship status, occupation, fears and desires. Then, with these elements in view, impose a military conflict onto the protagonist and imagine how one of those character details could become the basis for your story. If your character lost his best friend in a terrorist attack, for example, he might be moved to join the military effort to track down the people responsible for his friend's death.
Developing Group Dynamics
Many war stories, such as the film "Band of Brothers" and Tim O'Brien's short story collection "The Things They Carried," prominently feature the relationships characters form in the midst of war. Try creating additional supporting characters that add depth to your protagonist's core conflict. If your character enlists in the military with someone he's known since grade school, small details that hint at their longtime friendship could add a new layer to their present combat situation. You might also consider creating a conflict between your protagonist and another person he serves with, such as a clash in values or beliefs.
Choosing the Setting
Margaret Mitchell's "Gone with the Wind" wouldn't be the same without its portrayal of the desolation of Civil War-era Georgia, while "Star Wars" would be a very different story if it didn't take place in a galaxy far, far away. Selecting a specific setting can transform your idea into a story with complexity and depth. Decide whether your story is going to be a realistic piece set on Earth or a futuristic or science fiction story about a fictional war. If you are writing about a historical war, think about how to infuse the setting with details of the era, such as music, culture or political developments.
Designing Unforgettable Details
Ultimately, war stories bring the reality of combat to life through stark, often shocking descriptions. As you develop your story, imagine what it might look like for your character to fight in the war that's at the center of your plot, including what sights, smells, sounds and other sensory details will become potent memories for him. Brian Klems, contributor for Writer's Digest, suggests allowing yourself to fill in only the details you find most gripping rather than trying to develop too many at once. The sensory descriptions that strike you as powerful will likely be the same details that grab your readers' attention.