Is it acceptable to write a piece of fiction based on the war in Iraq?
April 6, 2009 12:29 PM   Subscribe

Would it be seen as (and is it really) exceptionally tasteless to write a fictional novel about a soldiers' experiences in Iraq?

I just wrote out a lengthy explanation, but it was all sorts of moddled and there were a thousand thoughts scattered throughout.

I'm curious to know whether it would be widely considered tasteless or offensive to write a novel set mostly in Iraq about a soldiers experiences in the war there. Of course a "war novel" can go a million different directions, so suffice to say that this would be an extremely informed endeavor, with no shortage of consultancy (I've many friends and a few relatives who have fought - really fought - in the war). It would not be a rollicking action-packed adventure or anything of the sort, but it would be very, very raw.

I suppose I don't particularly care what people would think about this, as there is such a fog about what really goes on over there, and I know many, many people who have been immensely intrigued by soldiers who have blogged about their experiences.

My only qualm is that my writing style tends to be a bit cynic, perhaps almost perverted at times (I have, as an example, received a number of comparisons to Bret Easton Ellis). There would be no amount of exploitation involved, of course, but to write from about the day to day life and thoughts of a 20-something in a warzone could certainly be offensive on the grounds of those thoughts alone, even outside the the context of the war.

What are your thoughts?
posted by anonymous to Writing & Language (16 answers total)
 
No, of course it's acceptable as long as it's not about how the Jews are behind the war and "set in an alternate universe where the Holocaust happened."
posted by Kirklander at 12:33 PM on April 6, 2009


You can write anything you want, but this is an especially sensitive subject (especially now).

I, as a reader, would not give your book a second thought. "Its totally fake" is what I would say, and I'm sure many others would also.
posted by hal_c_on at 12:37 PM on April 6, 2009


I don't think that anything is out of bounds in a novel. If it is prurient, tasteless crap people won't be slow in telling you.
posted by ClanvidHorse at 12:38 PM on April 6, 2009


If you're going to research it and accurately present things as experienced by people who have been there, why would it be unacceptable?

Tom Clancy never served in the military or as a spy, but that hasn't stopped him from writing novels about them.

My only qualm is that my writing style tends to be a bit cynic, perhaps almost perverted at times (I have, as an example, received a number of comparisons to Bret Easton Ellis). There would be no amount of exploitation involved, of course, but to write from about the day to day life and thoughts of a 20-something in a warzone could certainly be offensive on the grounds of those thoughts alone, even outside the the context of the war.

You need to start reading some war novels, because what you're proposing isn't exactly new. Authors have been doing it since forever. Try The Things They Carried.

Actually, Wikipedia has a not-terrible overview of war fiction.
posted by rtha at 12:42 PM on April 6, 2009


[Stephen Crane] won international acclaim for his 1895 Civil War novel The Red Badge of Courage, which he wrote without any battle experience. - Wikipedia

Go for it.
posted by Joe Beese at 12:52 PM on April 6, 2009


Who cares? Write what you want. Don't be afraid.
posted by xmutex at 12:59 PM on April 6, 2009


Some people will be pissed, most won't.
posted by OrangeDrink at 1:05 PM on April 6, 2009


Judging by the movies that have come out so far about the Iraq war...

Offensive or tasteless? No.
Any audience for it? No as well.
posted by smackfu at 1:28 PM on April 6, 2009


I don't think many people would dismiss your novel as "offensive" or "tasteless", but I do think it would be a very hard book to sell.

Because here's the thing: why would a publishing house buy your novel rather than a novel by someone who had actually served in Iraq? And then, assuming you sell the novel to a publishing house, why would a reader buy your novel rather than a novel by someone who had actually served in Iraq?

In other words, what do you bring to the table? Yes, Stephen Crane wrote The Red Badge of Courage without having served in the military or as a war correspondent (he did the latter afterwards), but it was a) 30 years after the Civil War, and b) he was Stephen Crane. A lot of other people who didn't serve in the Civil War wrote otiose or downright crappy novels about the Civil War that have now been (deservedly) forgotten.

Most of the great war novels have been written by people who served in, or reported from the front lines on, the wars they're about: All Quiet on the Western Front, Catch-22, The Things They Carried, MASH, For Whom the Bell Tolls, and so on.

The great war novels that were written by people who did not serve are generally written decades or generations later: Red Badge of Courage, War and Peace, and so on.

So if you want to write this book, go for it. But it's going to be an awfully tough sell, because you will be competing against hundreds of Iraq veterans and embedded journalists.
posted by Sidhedevil at 1:32 PM on April 6, 2009


I don't think so at all . . .have you seen Generation Kill?
posted by nameless.k at 1:39 PM on April 6, 2009


fiction is fiction.. unless you're passing it off as something autobiographical, it's a non-issue... if people could only write about what they had experienced, we'd have a very limited set of literature and would never have any stories about anything in the past.
posted by modernnomad at 2:11 PM on April 6, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would automatically assume that a fictional book written by a civilian about OIF is going to be BS in the same way that "Stop Loss" and "Over There" and other films and TV shows are BS. Especially since there are so many quality nonfiction books out there written by actual soldiers (or embedded journalists) about their experiences. As a veteran of Iraq, the likelihood that I'd read a civilian's fictional book about a war I fought, and that my friends are still fighting today, is somewhere very close to zero.

However, I think you can write anything you want to write. Free country and all.
posted by lullaby at 2:20 PM on April 6, 2009


There's no reason not to. Do your research and filter it through what you know of humanity. If your book is good it is good, don't worry about offending anyone.
posted by Kattullus at 4:09 PM on April 6, 2009


It's fine. Go nuts.
posted by chairface at 5:19 PM on April 6, 2009


The only way writing your book would be unacceptable is if you weren't proud of it after all is said and done (and even then it would still be OK if you got a decent royalty cheque out of it).
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 9:06 PM on April 6, 2009


Don't try to pass it off as a memoir.
posted by cass at 7:18 AM on April 7, 2009


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