Genre & Theme
3 min read

A short guide to writing war novels

Five women, standing side to side in their military uniforms.

War novels have long fascinated readers with their gripping accounts of heroism, tragedy, and the human condition. As a writer, it is crucial to understand external content genres like the war novel in order to craft a compelling narrative that appeals to readers. This guide will explore the conventions, obligatory scenes, and tips for writing a successful war novel.

What is the war genre?

The war genre in fiction focuses on the experiences of soldiers and civilians during times of war. These stories often explore themes of heroism, sacrifice, loss, and the impact of war on individuals and society. Examples of war fiction include "All Quiet on the Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque, "The Things They Carried" by Tim O'Brien, and "Catch-22" by Joseph Heller.

The war genre is one of the external content genres, which focuses on the external conflicts and events that drive the story. Understanding the external content genre helps you develop stories that meet reader expectations and deliver a satisfying experience.

When to choose the war genre

Choosing the war novel genre for your story can be an excellent decision if you want to delve into themes of courage, sacrifice, and the human experience when facing adversity. Consider the historical context, themes, and ideas you want to address, and evaluate your familiarity with the genre to determine if a war novel is the best way to convey your message and captivate your audience.

Conventions of the war genre

The war novel genre is characterized by several key conventions:

  • Setting: War novels typically take place during a specific historical conflict or war, whether real or fictional.
  • Protagonist: The protagonist is often a soldier or civilian caught up in the conflict, facing extraordinary challenges and hardships.
  • Conflict: War novels depict the physical, emotional, and moral struggles experienced by the protagonist and those around them.
  • Themes: Common themes in war novels include courage, sacrifice, loyalty, survival, and the impact of war on individuals and societies.
  • Tropes: Expect to encounter battles, camaraderie among soldiers, military hierarchy, and the civilian experience in a war novel.
  • Tone and atmosphere: War novels often have a somber, intense, and emotionally charged atmosphere that immerses readers in the story.

Obligatory scenes of the war genre

There are certain scenes that readers expect to encounter in a war novel:

  • The introduction of the protagonist and their motivations for joining or being involved in the conflict.
  • A depiction of the brutal reality of war, including battles, injuries, and the loss of comrades or loved ones.
  • Moments of camaraderie and bonding between the protagonist and their fellow soldiers or civilians.
  • A turning point or crisis that tests the protagonist's courage, loyalty, and convictions.
  • The resolution of the conflict, whether through victory, defeat, or a return to civilian life, and the protagonist's reflection on the impact of the war on their life and beliefs.

Tips for writing a compelling war novel

To create a captivating war novel, consider the following tips:

  • Conduct extensive research on the historical context, military tactics, and cultural nuances of the era to ensure your story is authentic and accurate.
  • Develop engaging and complex characters with distinct personalities, motivations, and backstories that readers can connect with.
  • Create a vivid and immersive setting that transports readers to the front lines, using rich descriptions and sensory details.
  • Craft an engaging plot with twists and turns that maintain reader interest and build suspense throughout the story.
  • Use authentic language and dialogue that reflects the time period and the experiences of those involved in the conflict, while remaining accessible to modern readers.

To craft a war novel that meets reader expectations and allows your unique voice to shine, it's essential to understand the conventions and obligatory scenes of the genre. You should also remain sensitive to the experiences of those who have lived through war and approach the topic with respect and empathy. With dedication and careful attention to detail, you can contribute to the rich tradition of war literature and create a story that resonates with readers for generations to come.



  1. Coyne, Shawn. 2015. The Story Grid. New York, NY: Black Irish Entertainment.