How the Military Can Help You Plot Your Books

The military might not seem like the best source for creative writing advice. But that isn’t really the case. There is a ton of creativity behind tactics, strategy and decision making that go on every day.

Recently, I stumbled across one such creative process that has helped me get through those tough points in a story that just don’t seem to be working.

Enter the OODA Loop

The OODA loop is a concept that was developed by an Air Force Colonel named John Boyd. It stands for Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act. He used it to train airforce pilots in the art of dog fighting against enemy pilots.

I’m using it for something tremendously less badass.

The OODA Decision Cycle Depicted with a fucking metal looking star in the middle \m/.

The diagram above was developed to show that all decisions one can make are rooted based on the raw information someone can observe around them. Then, based on heritage, tradition, and previous experiences a reaction to the observable environment is made.

To apply this concept to your writing, throw yourself into your point-of-view character’s perspective and then go through the loop.

This is has been a game changer for me when writing fiction. Fiction is difficult, especially if you know where and when the action is going to take place. But many times you have to force yourself to write slower, to build the world and the characters in it up. This can sometimes kill your motivation, no matter how interesting the characters or world might be. In points like this in your story use the OODA loop and ask these questions as your characters:

OBSERVE

  • What do I know about the world currently around me?
  • Where do I fit in the overarching plot point of the story?
  • What circumstances are unfolding in front of me?
  • How do / can those circumstances change the world around me?

ORIENT

  • How do I take in new information and how do I react to it?
  • Culturally, how was I brought up to react to what I’m observing?
  • Historically, how have people I known reacted to similar situations / environments in the past? What do I know about them?
  • Have I had previous experiences similar to what is occurring now? How did I handle something like this in the past?
  • How intelligent am I, and how do I analyze situations?
  • Am I risk taker, or do I play it safe? Logical or illogical?

DECIDE

  • Based on my orientation towards what I’m observing, what decisions could I make?
  • Out of those decisions, which seems the most logical?
  • How should I communicate my decision, or should I communicate it at all?

ACT

  • How will I put my decision into action?
  • How will I know if it is correct / is incorrect / works / doesn’t work?
  • How does my decision change the story / environment / situations I’m involved in?

REPEAT

If you ask these questions as your characters, especially your main antagonist / protagonist. You will begin to see a plot unfold. Writing these things out for critical events that happen along a timeline will help you not only understand your characters better, but also how they operate within your story and with each other.

-Jordan