Friday, 30 September 2016

Writing A Tank

by Martin Willoughby

On September 15th, 1916, the British Army introduced the tank to warfare. Its debut was on the Somme battlefield, by that time mired in mud, blood and slaughter.

Around 50 tanks made it to the staging area before joining the infantry in there assault on the German lines. By the end of the day only 12 machines had pushed through the German lines, and by the following day only a couple remained active, the rest having being destroyed, or more commonly had mechanical problems.

It was not an auspicious start, yet by the end of the war, the tank had proved to be an invaluable aid to the allies and saved many lives just by being there, and today it is the master of the battlefield.

When starting a new book, article, short story (or blog), we can feel like those first tanks: untried, untested and prone to failure. The mechanics of the story fall apart, the characters are out of place, and the whole thing crumbles when we put it under any serious scrutiny.

We may have tested it all in our head or in our notes, but after the first draft we know something is rotten with it. Not always, but often enough.

The British army kept on with the tank as they saw the positive contribution they had made. The mechanical problems were all but overcome by 1918 and the protection they afforded the infantry on the battlefield was welcomed.

Keep faith with your idea, improve the mechanics of the story, place the characters in the right place and, like the tank, you can become a master of the field.


image courtesy of British Library flickr page


  1. I love the analogy of a tank! Now all I need is a skilled engineer to show me how to put the tank back together again...

  2. Given that the tank is an instrument of mass killing, we might also consider whether our writing is giving life to people or metaphorically 'killing' them by inducing guilt and feelings of inadequacy or by never actually writing about anything that reflects their lives.

  3. Love this analogy. I'm going to keep this in mind