The Difficulty of Writing about War
Saturday, December 16th, 2017
During my school appearances, students often suggest topics for novels they’d like me to write. The request I get most often is for war stories. However, students are often surprised when I tell them that writing about war is very difficult for me.
Half way through the first draft of my novel, The Winter War, I was giving a talk at a middle school in Park Rapids, Minnesota. After I’d finished my presentation, one of the students asked if I was working on any new books. I told him that I was part way through a novel about the 1939 war between Russia and Finland. Several of the boys got excited and said that they were looking forward to reading the story. When I told them that it had been a very hard book to write, one boy asked me why.
Instead of answering, I turned the question back to the students, asking, “Why do you think it might be challenging to write about war?”
After a long pause, a girl in the middle of the room raised her hand and said, “Since wars are so violent, it could make you sad writing about all the battles.”
“Very true,” I agreed.
Next, a boy beside her added, “And the reader might get grossed out if you put in too many gory things.”
“Yes,” I nodded.
Then a girl near the front said, “It also might be hard to write about war because wars happen on so many fronts at the same time. It would be hard to show all the action.”
I agreed that a rapidly changing setting can be very problematic for an author.
Another girl said, “And if you weren’t in the war you’d have to get all your information from other people, and they might have trouble remembering things or they might not want to talk about it.”
“An excellent point,” I said.
Finally, a quiet boy in the back of the room raised his hand and spoke in a soft voice. “If you wrote a war book too good and made it sound really exciting, kids might think it was cool to go off and join the army and fight in a war.”
“Exactly,” I said. “That is, no doubt, the greatest challenge of all.”