5 Things I Learnt in the Army and How They Influenced My Writing by Teo Xue Shen

Teo Xue Shen started working on his novel even before he enlisted into National Service. During his spare time (both in and out of camp) he would hone his story, which he wrote on his mobile phone. According to Xue Shen, who is a sergeant in the army, his military experience inspired some of the scenes in his novel. 
18 Walls is an action-thriller about a group of soldiers called Squad 72 – comprising Ren, Raine, Rick, April and Sean – who have to defend a walled city from an invading army of feral savages. But when they head out beyond the city walls, they uncover a shocking revelation. 

* * * * * *

1. Actions do speak louder than words. 
When you're on military exercises or deployment, your gender, appearance, background, race and religion don’t matter. What really matters is what you do. Someone who seems weaker than you may very well be the one who is more than willing to help you out. And that’s what counts — words are empty unless they’re acted upon.

This is what makes up the fundamental relationship between Raine and Sean. It’s also how Ren judges the individual members of his squad. As an individual, Ren never gives his squad false hope, instead, he gets on with the job.

2. Your military uniform gives you "special powers".
Let me explain: When you're wearing civilian clothes, there are some things that you won't do – such as sit on the ground when a chair is available. However, there seems to be a mystical property of a military uniform that allows you to sit anywhere, or indeed, sleep anywhere. Stand on guard duty long enough, and that rock starts looking like a decent pillow. I’ve even slept comfortably neck deep in mud and rainwater in my flooded shell scrape (a shallow trench).

And you'll eat anything too: The MREs (meals, ready-to-eat) may look like mush oozing out of that packet, but they suddenly become a gourmet meal (even if some of it tastes roughly like braised cardboard). Similarly, despite their constant badinage over their daily consumables, Ren and the rest of Squad 72 will eat anything whenever they get the opportunity. 

3. Don't stop believing. 
Most soldiers will experience have to go on onerous route marches, endless rounds of endurance training, and so on. The key to completing these physically trying activities is to keep going. Your body can rest, but keep your mind going. Because once you give up mentally, it’s more than likely that you’ll drop out. The same goes for writing. No matter what – keep going. At my best, I can write up to 19 pages a day. At worst, one word. If one word is the best you can do, so be it. But don’t stop. Too many potential manuscripts are now collecting dust somewhere on my laptop because I stopped for a break which dragged into a permanent lull.

This mindset can be seen in the character, Raine. She’s faced with setback after setback, losing many of the people who matter to her. And yet she doesn’t break. She doesn’t give up. All she does is fight even harder. 

4. Guns aren't glamorous.
Movies make firefights seem more glamorous than they actually are. In real life, it's not just "point and shoot". When you pull that trigger, you experience a punch in the hollow of your shoulder from your rifle butt (made even more painful if you're doing it wrong). Then you have to deal with the eye-watering smoke; the incessant ringing in your ears, and of course, that sinking feeling in the middle firefight when you pull the trigger and nothing happens. Oh, and here's the important thing: Chances are, more often than not, you'll miss your target.

I try to describe these moments as often as I can in my novel because this is what happens in real life. For example, in the building where the squad finds their enemies sneaking up on them, Ren, Ivy and Raine plan to take out three of them. But Ivy doesn’t kill her target while Raine misses hers entirely.

Another example can be found when Squad 72 hooks up at the watchtower with Squad 526 – Ren tries to put a bullet cleanly through his enemy’s forehead but he ends up hitting the eye instead.

5. Things seldom go as planned. 
Although every military exercise is preceded by a laborious planning phase, the moment it starts, you can just throw out the playbook. Some seemingly insignificant part of the plan will somehow decide not to cooperate and things will go downhill from there.

Squad 72 experiences several of these incidents, such as when they try to assassinate the character called The Captain. Why do I include such misadventures? Well, mostly to provide opportunities for the characters to grow and develop a deeper understanding for one another other as they struggle with their plight and sometimes, with themselves.

Get 18 Walls here.

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