USMC Writers’ Workshop

Image: USMC/Kyle Olson

“Science fiction has the ability to reach far more people than a policy document.”

That was one of the takeaways from the Art of Future Warfare project’s one-day workshop last week with the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory in Quantico, Va.

But what about when you pair “printed Ambien,” as Atlantic Council senior fellow Max Brooks referred to Washington’s sprawling white papers, with science fiction narrative vignettes? That was the task laid out for nearly 20 writers-in-uniform from as far away as Cyprus and three futures-focused writers. Max Brooks, the author of World War Z, Charles E. Gannon, author of Fire With Fire and much more, and August Cole, director of the Art of Future Warfare project and co-author of Ghost Fleet, each worked with a small group made up mostly of Marines, but also Navy and Coast Guard personnel too.

The objective: come up with stories or other creative approaches to enriching the picture of the future presented by the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory’s report, 2015 Marine Corps Security Environment Forecast: Futures 2030-2045. The “show don’t tell” adage is tried and true, and just as applicable for policy documents as it is for newspaper stories.

Getting into the workshop was a selective process that reflected the challenge at hand; applicants had to show they had published science fiction or similar writing before. So the Marines and other writers who made the cut were well suited to the task of the day. Working in three groups, the attendees honed in on one of three futures presented in the futures report. Led by the experienced writers, the participants functioned in much the same way as a group of writers might in working on a movie screenplay or a TV pilot. Writing is more often than not a team sport, particularly world building when the goal is not a technically perfect picture of the future but one that readers can relate to on an emotional level in order to reassess their own assumptions and preferences.

Workshops are an important part of a creative process but should not be mistaken for the final outcome. Many a manuscript is left unfinished after encountering that trap. The next step for the writers and the Warfighting Laboratory is where the real challenge lies: turning these concepts and ideas into readable, compelling vignettes in time for an update to the Marine Corps Security Environment Forecast this summer. Success will be if Marines and others share the “MCSEF” document, as it’s known in Quantico, as much for the vignettes as for the official forays into the future.

Read the Marine Corps Times coverage ahead of the event.