World Building: Designing a Military Unit

Inventing a new country, a new world actually, means that I am also thinking about how military forces work and creating my own elite battalion.

For the most part, I can have general soldiers and traditional military ranks which I will research separately. But, my main character, Rion, is the sole female member of an elite force of flying soldiers. Their group is called the Aviators. The men are referred to as airmen and Rion is an aviatrix (mostly because I thought that sounded totally bad ass). The Aviators required close attention, from their weapons to their battle names to their uniforms.

Aviators are not people born with wings. The wings are a mechanical appendage, created by a skilled mechanic and then injected with a spark that keeps them going in perpetuity (this is the steampunk element of the story). The spark is housed in a lightning tube that basically looks like a light bulb, complete with a figure eight wire through which the spark travels constantly, flickering like lightning. As long as the tube is whole, it can contain the spark and power the object to which it is attached.

Problem Solving…and another problem
The wings are big and they get in the way. Thus, a special uniform is required to accommodate them. The wings attach to the uniform and fold up into a square shape when not in use between the shoulder blades. This creates a bit of a problem because the Airmen shoot bows and arrows. Since the space between their shoulder blades is already occupied by the wings, they need a new place to store their ammunition. Thus, the steampunk friendly uniforms I’ve designed in my head have a storage pouch, kind of like a quiver, on the opposite arm (the arm that isn’t drawing the bowstring back). Additionally, the arrows are stored in a collapsed state. You can read more about my weapons design in a previous post.

Making it Feel Real
I don’t have any military experience myself, so the next big challenge is making it feel real, both from a militaristic standpoint and creating a unified group of individuals, complete with anecdotes. Reading steampunk stories, particularly those that focus on military members has been exceedingly helpful. I’ve relied on Jim Butcher’s The Aeronaut’s Windlass and the Lotus Wars books by Jay Kristoff (I’ve blogged about these authors and their books consistently lately as I’ve been researching).

The other piece of creating this group of elite warriors is developing their relationships with each other, their city-state (Burga) and the ruling mechanism that orders them into battle. I have a detailed chart containing information about their loyalties and their feelings about the mystics and their new leader. But perhaps the most fun piece of this is creating stories about how each person got their battle name.

As a quick example, Rion’s battle name is NightWind (the title of the book). She got her nickname in the same way that all of the other fliers got theirs – when she took her first leap off the mountain after being awarded her wings. Each flier must climb Mt. Yama, traveling through the Temple of 1000 Doorways. At the top, the mystics gift the new Aviator with their wings and informs him/her that they must immediately jump off the edge and trust in their wings to carry them. How each aviator catches the wind inspires their battle name. Rion catches a dangerous wind, the night wind, that howls down the peak of the mountain and plunges over the cliff after dusk in the fall. It’s a dangerous time to fly and an unpredictable wind to catch.

There are a lot of details that come into play when you’re creating a military unit, or any aspect of a new country/group of people. On the bigger scale, there are ranking methodologies to work out, weapons, ammunition and uniforms to work out. On a more microcosmic level, there’s the smaller group dynamic to weave and the characters to flesh out.

I certainly have more work to do with this piece of the project. But, I hope that sharing some of my creation and thought processes is helpful to you as you take on your own projects!

More about World Building
World Building: Weapons Research
World Building with Pinterest
5 Tips for (Microcosm) World Building
5 Tips for World Building