This theme is probably going to be very similar to the City Guards week from December, but that isn’t surprising. Guards and soldiers get used interchangeably in a lot of fiction because they are part of the setting. The nameless warriors who are there to either be in the background, push the heroes to the next plot point, or be taken out in a scene to show how powerful/evil the villain is. Yet, there is one subtle difference between the two that drives me to do a week for the military characters. So, what am I talking about?
That would be location. City guards are in the city and that’s where they tend to stay. It’s in the name and they are closer to police than soldiers at times. While still working for the same kingdom, soldiers are more prone to traveling away from the city. They patrol the wilderness instead of the streets and march to war when necessary. You tend to have larger armies than guard forces too because this is where the true might of a nation will be displayed. Gear might differ as well because guards need to chase criminals while soldiers need to clash with their charging enemies. This could mean the military has stronger armor, heavier weapons, and more advanced technology such as catapults. Not that different from the real world.
Even with all of that, guards and soldiers tend to get the same roles. Unless they are going to join the main or supporting cast, these guys are nameless victims of the story. You do get a grander scale with armies though. Think about how often you see two opposing forces crash together like tidal waves of bodies and metal. It sets a chaotic and bloody scene for the heroes to work within, but it doesn’t do anything to develop the armies beyond ‘the fight and die’. We really do rate battle scenes on the enormity of the forces and the brutality of the fighting, which really drives home the idea that these nameless characters are fodder. Heck, I remember ‘Game of Thrones’ gloating in December about one of the final episodes having ‘the biggest battle ever shown in a TV show’. That tends to mean a lot of soldiers on the screen with no reason to be there other than fighting and dying.
It’s not the deepest role and it is kind of sad since any character who steps out of the army to be more than scenery loses something. They may still be a soldier, but they aren’t part of an army for the most part. At the very best, they are acting as a representative of that nation for the sake of the story. It’s not that easy to do the jump either. Those with high rank would come off as odd if they’re taking orders from the main hero, so they might create tension in the cast. Those of lower rank might require more orders and fall further into the background until they become something else. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it is a challenge for a fantasy author, especially if the story involves adventuring. The life of an adventurer is one that doesn’t always follow the rules, which is the opposite of the law-abiding soldier.
Have you ever used a military character in your story? What were some of the challenges?