Monday, June 22, 2020

Research Rabbit Holes

Building off of the last post by member Sandy Buxton, I’d like to mention the education one gets as being part of a writing group. Fair warning, though: It’s a two-edged sword because if you, like me, tend to be easily led down research rabbit holes in your own work, you may find yourself being pulled into the warrens of other people’s research rabbit holes. Here’s an example of where I went today:

Recently, a member submitted a chapter of a novel that referred to the main character rising to the rank of Master Sergeant in the U.S. Army Rangers by the age of 29. During the critique portion of the meeting, another member questioned if that were probable. There was some discussion on how this character was a tough, type-A, hyper-achieving woman and so, in theory, with perhaps a boosted promotion here and there, be able to attain that lofty rank swiftly. Especially if superiors saw her value and wanted someone with her capabilities in that higher position. 

I am lousy at keeping military ranks straight. Private in the Army is a base level. Admiral in the Navy means commanding more than one ship. These I get. It’s everything else in between, in all the various branches of government—just U.S.!—that I will invariably get wrong. Then there are all the police departments and other pseudo-military organizations throughout our land. Way back in the ’80s, when I worked for the Fish and Game Dept. of New Hampshire my first job out of college, I was charged with editing their publications and once in a photo caption gave one conservation officer a promotion and the man next to him a demotion. It was not taken lightly.

And so, in order to education myself, I found myself looking up Army ranks this morning. Here’s what I found*:

Unlike the promotion processes for Private through Staff Sergeant, unit commander have little to do with the promotion process to the SNCO ranks. These promotions are completely centralized at the Head Quarters of the Department of the Army (HQDA).

There is no minimum time-in-grade (TIG) requirement for promotion to the Army SNCO ranks, but candidates must meet the following minimum time-in-service (TIS) requirements to be eligible for promotion:

  • Sergeant First Class (E-7) - 6 years.
  • Master Sergeant/First Sergeant (E-8) - 8 years.
  • Sergeant Major (E-9) - 9 years.
What does this mean? To me this says that if our character entered the Army at age 21 (right after college graduation), and if she was promoted through the other ranks quickly and efficiently, she could theoretically have the time-in-service by age 29 to be promoted to Master Sergeant. 

However, one does have to question (even in these enlightened times) the likelihood of a twenty something *woman* being given all green lights and no traffic jams on her way along the crowded highway that is the military. It does seem a bit too easy to me, on the face of it.

And this is where writing craft comes in. 

Facts are facts but in fiction, if you tell me something that isn’t necessarily possible in the real world but you create the setting, characters and circumstances to where it’s believable, you have achieved the rank of Master Storyteller, my friend. And there’s no limit of age or gender on that. 

However, time served is involved: the more you write the more you innately recognize where and how to employ writing tricks and tools to help readers suspend their disbelief or, if it’s a nonfiction work, to make it interesting enough that they learn something they didn’t know before.

But having people read your work and call you out when you don’t quite achieve this level is priceless. Whether it’s a writing group or a couple of trusted beta readers, it’s important to find someone else to give you outside perspective on what you’ve written. They should both point out where things may be starting to go off the rails and well as show you the brilliant spots that you may, in your overworking of the piece, have become blinded to.

That’s today’s Research Rabbit Hole. I’ll keep track and share more as they beckon to me (because I know they will!).

Kay Hafner

Note: I found to be a glitchy site; pretty (if you can get it to load properly) but more designed with design in mind than usefulness. I found my info on but then comments on that site had a link to (see below) which was a whole long list of promotions regulations that I did not attempt to parse. I apparently do have limits to how far down a research rabbit hole I will go...
...but here’s the info if you want to delve deeper into the military mindset:

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