My first novel series was space opera. For those unfamiliar with the term, it’s a sub-category of science fiction that can be described as a blend of space warfare, epic good vs. evil tropes, and adventure tossed with a little romance. Think Star Wars.

The books feature a telepathic healer and an interplanetary intelligence agent. There’s a good bit of survival fiction in my stories, which I’m comfortable writing about from my own experiences camping, climbing and such. There are some complicated medical scenes, which I’m comfortable writing about based on my own training as a medic. But there’s also a good bit of military action, which I’m much less comfortable writing about since I’ve never served.

Every fiction writer ventures into unfamiliar territory. It’s the nature of the beast. But if we use constructs that will feel familiar to the reader in some way, we owe it to them to be authentic wherever we can. Getting your military scenes right, even if you’re writing about an imaginary, intergalactic military, requires a few things. Here are my top three tips:

Research

In my books, the dogfights may be with spaceships, but people on Earth are still quite familiar with the concept of a dogfight, so it’s important to make the reading experience feel authentic. I played flight simulator videos, researched World War II aviation, and got sucked down the internet rabbit hole learning about current US naval fighter jet technology.

All Earth based military organizations have hierarchical structures. Representing that in some way felt important to me, so I did some research there too.

Of course, things will be different in your futuristic military. I felt free to take some liberties with mine. That’s some of the fun of it. But our goal is not to pull readers out of the story with something that feels too far-fetched within the context of the world we’ve created. Researching those things that feel familiar to readers, and presenting them authentically in our storytelling helps.

Follow Your Own Rules

If you write fantasy, you get to use magic. If you write futuristic science fiction, you get to invent technology. Yes, I’ve rewritten a few rules of physics. My characters can communicate across the galaxy instantaneously. But the key is to follow your own rules. Whether they relate to how the ships fly, or to environments of the planets you’ve created, be consistent. Readers will notice if you aren’t.

Get Beta Feedback from Experts

Because I’ve never served in the military, I felt it was important to get feedback from a reader who did. He understood this was science fiction, and knew his job wasn’t to critique my use of advanced stealth technology. Rather, I needed him to tell me that in the heat of battle my soldiers’ behavior felt authentic. I asked him specifically to evaluate the culture and characters I’d created. I asked if anything pulled him out of the story. His feedback was constructive, relevant, and helped me deliver a much better final draft.

Where there are battles, even in space, there’s often a military involved. With research, effective feedback, and consistency in your world building, you can give readers an exciting, authentic experience.