Wow! Here we are, at the end of my tale. It's been quite a while since I began work on A War Apart. The first chapter was originally posted on December 27th of 2009, and now, 367 days later, I have finished the story. According to my processor, A War Apart clocks in at 134,311 words and 248 pages. I'm fine with calling it 134,000. This is, by a huge margin, the longest work I have ever finished, fiction and non-fiction included. When I began I never imagined how huge this would grow.
I would first like to thank those who read the story on FanFiction. Even if you haven't posted a review, or subscribed, or put me on author alert, I must thank you (though authors do love to hear comments). The fact that you've come this far means you have enjoyed what I present, and it is much appreciated.
I also want to thank the forum members of Advance Wars Net and Wars Central who have given me support and expressed their interest. You guys are the best. Your continued remarks, praise, and your work to catch my typos and mistakes (you know who you are, and I really do appreciate it), has strengthened this work.
And, finally, to my girlfriend, who didn't laugh and only supported me when I admitted I was writing fanfiction. I love you.
What follows is a series of FAQ questions regarding the development of A War Apart and my own experiences as an author. Please note that THESE QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS CONTAIN SPOILERS, so if you have just clicked the last chapter for the sake of doing it, shame on you.
Additionally, if anyone has further questions they wish to ask, feel free to drop me a message and, if appropriate, I'll update this section with answers at a later time.
Q: How did A War Apart originate?
A: It began, strangely enough, with chapter four. The very first piece I wrote was the section where Christoph and Sami are bounding through the woods, fleeing Green Earth. It was supposed to be a one-shot, and I wasn't even sure if I was going to post it. That original version was about war, fear, and terror, and was written from the point of view of a soldier in the middle of it all. I had hardly defined Christoph as a character at that point – he was just someone I'd created to fill a gap.
Later, I got to thinking. A crazy notion germinated that I liked to write. Sure, I'd written before (check my FictionPress account, named below), but I felt like I could go somewhere with this new piece. And I loved Advance Wars. So it snowballed. Furthermore, I personally enjoy black-and-gray morality as a writing style, rather than black-and-white, so this gave me the opportunity to put a darker, more realistic tinge on the otherwise happy and cartoony Wars World and its denizens.
That was one of my major goals, by the way: to take Advance Wars and make it real. To make the interactions real, to make the events real, to make the characters real. I wanted to inject realism into everything about it. In fact, it was my most important goal. If I succeeded in doing that, then I believe I am a decent author, or at least one who can keep his shit together.
Q: Where did Christoph, Sepp, and all your original characters come from?
A: As mentioned, Christoph began with the one-chapter precursor to A War Apart. But that was Christoph the Name, not Christoph the Person. He developed as a character later, but before I actually got around to writing chapter one. He started simply as an officer who hated Black Hole, and through my words I let him grow from there. He became much more and much deeper, with strengths and flaws. I wanted to see him develop, and so he did.
Sepp's likeness and personality (perhaps stretched a bit) is based on one of my good friends. Carefree, sarcastic, but a good man. Smart as hell. He has a duty, and he'll do it, but he won't necessarily enjoy it.
As minor characters, Roma and Sigfried came about first as simple companions to Christoph (actually Sepp began that way too, but around the time he got his own point of view was when I decided to flesh him out). Then they shifted to companions for Sepp. Christoph had Sami, Jake, and Rachel to buddy with, so Roma and Sigfried gravitated towards Sepp Lee. In order to develop a character, one needs other characters to accompany them, and it was just convenient. But the lieutenant trio worked very well, in my mind.
There is another, darker reason for why I created the characters I did. To kill them. I knew from the very beginning that people were going to die. I knew from about chapter three that Christoph was going to die. That was when I made the decision to have him descend into the broken, shattered, and ultimately remade man that he became. He was remade, yes, but into someone else, as Sami remarked.
Q: And the Advance Wars characters? How did you make your decisions to include them and narrate them?
A: Sami was a given. Everyone likes her. She's one of the few AW characters who actually experiences some development in the games, and is the only one who has a (heavily implied) romance with another character. I won't say she was easy to write, but I didn't have to shoehorn her emotional development and feelings, or the way she spoke and acted. The dynamic of her relationship to Eagle provided me with a lot to work with, so I took it and ran.
I decided to offer Nell's point of view as a contrast to the grunts in the thick of the fighting. She's removed from the bloodshed and the conflict, but at the same time she is acutely aware of it all. She isn't a faceless politician: she's Nell! She also has a personality. She provides a view into the world of strategic command, which would have otherwise been hidden to the reader. The soldiers might experience the bulk of the conflict, but without a larger context the war would have quickly become superficial. Nell's role was to impress upon the reader that, yes, the events of the story were very real.
Max was the most challenging. I devoted to him the fewest chapters and shortest sections. He only had one environment throughout ninety-nine percent of the story, anyway. But he also contrasts with Sami, Christoph, and Sepp as a man stuck in a position where he cannot fulfill his duties. He takes it well enough, but there's some frustration there. His role becomes one of communicating to the reader the nature of the enemy, and his eyes open up a keyhole view into Eagle's mind.
Q: Are there themes in the story?
A: Oh yea, all over the place. They're not hidden. If you can't find them then you're looking too hard.
Q: What were the biggest challenges in writing A War Apart?
A: There were several.
The first was keeping up the will to write. During the spring of 2010 I was studying abroad in Beijing. The minor culture shock I experienced and strange, new environment pretty much disconnected me from everything I had been doing in the States (except Civilization 4: I got reeeally good at Civ 4 in China). There was so much to do and see, and the classes were so hard, that I really could not keep writing while I was there. I got maybe four pages done total. When I returned I found my spark again and continued, but then Starcraft 2 landed at the end of the summer, and I'd been waiting for it for twelve years so I couldn't exactly pass it up. After that, I went through the busiest school semester I'd ever had. It's my senior year and there were a lot of things that had to be done. But during this past winter break I found time and resolved to complete the story. So I did.
In terms of the actual writing there were definitely obstacles to overcome. Keeping the narrative fresh when confined to certain environments – like a tank's cabin – was often difficult. If I write the word "viewer" or "extension" one more time I might cry. The point of view from such a narrow physical setting is limited. Tanks are not limber, and they are not interesting beyond the fact that they're sixty ton machines with a huge gun (which is cool in and of itself, but that's beside the point). The story has to come through the characters inside that tank. It has to come from what they do with it.
Honestly, the battles were the hardest thing to write. You might think them easy, but no, when sitting behind the computer they can be boring. You have to pack as much detail and action into a single chapter or section, which can quickly become tedious. Character interactions were much more fun to imagine and set to words.
Retaining military accuracy was something that required a bit of work too. I did layman's research (read: Wikipedia and Google Images) to learn pretty much everything I know about armed forces worldwide. Everything else came from different pieces of fiction I have read, which will be listed below. I have the United States Army rank structure memorized because of the research I did for A War Apart. Of course, I took a few liberties here and there, so don't expect everything to be 100% accurate. Or even 70%. If you use this story as a bibliographic source in your next report, do not point fingers at me when you get an F.
Finally, I stumbled across one last challenge when I was wrapping it all up. Death. It's harder to narrate then you think. Death is more than just killing a character and removing him from the story. You really have to show what impact that death has on the rest of the characters. You have to make it real. With Christoph, it took some narration: the abrupt ending to Chapter 20, and the military burial in chapter 21, as well as the reactions of Sepp and Roma. In the case of other characters, like Kanbei, it was more about the politics. What were the political results of his death? Since he wasn't a main character, and not even a minor character, how was I going to ensure his absence was felt in the story? Those were the questions I had to answer.
Q: What were your favorite elements of writing A War Apart?
A: Narrating Sami, definitely. She's strong, brave, compelling, and interesting. She's got her strengths and her flaws. Her actions and lines just flowed.
Writing the development of Christoph was equally entertaining. He's a hurt soul by the end, and I got to see firsthand how he got there. How he lived, how he died. I don't enjoy seeing people die, of course, but the development is the compelling part. Sami might've been fun, but she's a preexisting character. Christoph was entirely my own creation.
And the "big reveals" are just as fun for authors to write them as they are for fans to read them, by the way.
Q: So, in general fiction terms, what are your biggest influences and favorite authors?
A: Joe Abercrombie. He is my number 1. Before him I didn't read fantasy, and now I'm hooked. His epic trilogy, The First Law, opened me up to black-and-gray morality. That and he does a phenomenal job of creating interesting characters. The people he molds are incredibly real and deep. Seriously, as long as you don't mind that nearly every one of his characters is, in some way or another, an asshole, read Abercrombie.
Stephen Baxter is a well-known author in the science fiction community. He writes hard sci-fi, which is about the only sci-fi I read. Great author, wonderful stories that deal with the big issues of humanity and realism out the ear. If you read or watch sci-fi and chafe every time someone survives a black hole or travels through time, read Baxter.
Beyond them, I've read a wide variety of authors. Tom Clancy's Red Storm Rising and Harold Coyle's Team Yankee are both stories about a hypothetical, conventional Third World War between NATO and the USSR. Much of the behavior and functioning of certain weapons and military organizations in A War Apart comes from their books. The video game World in Conflict is based around that same idea of NATO vs. Warsaw, minus ICBMs, and it provided me with much inspiration. Great game, pick it up if you like strategy.
It's not really related but I've started on Terry Pratchett's Discworld stuff. Also great. Hilarious too.
Q: Now that you're done, what are your plans for the future?
A: Am I going to keep writing? Yes. I'm hooked.
I currently have ideas and a framework for a fantasy story. Dark, gritty fantasy, like that guy Abercrombie I was talking about. There's some written, but it's just primer stuff. My goal for that story? Follow in Joe Abercrombie's footsteps and bloodily subvert every fantasy trope I can get my hands on.
My FictionPress tag is CEE2027. Check me out. I have an old short story posted, so feel free to read it. Exactly when I begin the new fantasy story is up in the air. Don't hold your breath, but don't give up either. It will happen. And this coming semester is a lot freer than the last, so it could be sooner than you think. It could be sooner than I think.
Q: What about in Wars World? Are you going to come back to it?
A: I'll be honest, I haven't decided. A War Apart is a self-contained story, and there are no loose ends to be tied up (if you think there are, go ahead and imply; the answers are not supposed to be elusive). If I did come back, it would be to the new, post-DS world I have created, barring the release of a new Wars World game.
But, that being said, it could happen. I do have ideas floating around, and some even on paper. If I do another Advance Wars piece, it will definitely be from a different country's point of view, with Nintendo characters and new ones alike. I would also probably take a different route and avoid the straight-up combat (certainly of the armored sort). Maybe political intrigue, maybe air force, maybe navy, who can say?
Just remember what Nell said: there will be civil war in Yellow Comet…