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Bruzilla
04-19-2008, 03:39 AM
I'm looking for some guidance ont he correct ways to refer to military ranks in a novel. Can the rank be abbreviated, such as Lt., Gen., Col., etc., or should they always be spelled out? In particular, if a character were to ask a question would it be written "Col. Smith, I have a question," or would it be "Colonel Smith, I have a question" since a character would say "colonel" and not "col".

Thanks

gettingby
04-19-2008, 04:05 AM
Following AP, you would abbreviate the title when it is before a name and spell it out when it is not. Personally, I would stick with that rule. It is also what I have noticed in reading. However, I think creative writing "rules" are more flexible.

Linda Adams
04-19-2008, 04:27 AM
If you're doing a novel, spell the rank out when using it in dialogue, such as "Yes, Colonel" or "Colonel Smith wants to see you." You won't need to use it much; it's like addressing a character by name, except it's a title.

For the narrative, it'll be better to refer to the characters by the last name and leave the rank out except when it might be required (like a character taking notice of the rank). If it the rank were used every time a name was mentioned in the narrative, it would get pretty jargon-heavy for the average reader.

By the way, ranks like Lieutenant Colonel and Lieutenant General are referred to in conversation as 'Colonel' and 'General.'

BlueLucario
04-19-2008, 05:23 AM
If you're doing a novel, spell the rank out when using it in dialogue, such as "Yes, Colonel" or "Colonel Smith wants to see you." You won't need to use it much; it's like addressing a character by name, except it's a title.

For the narrative, it'll be better to refer to the characters by the last name and leave the rank out except when it might be required (like a character taking notice of the rank). If it the rank were used every time a name was mentioned in the narrative, it would get pretty jargon-heavy for the average reader.

By the way, ranks like Lieutenant Colonel and Lieutenant General are referred to in conversation as 'Colonel' and 'General.'

Agreed. It's better to spell the rank out. Linda I think the jargon would be a little common sense like. I think the reader may understand that.

Bruzilla
04-19-2008, 07:08 AM
Thanks all. I spent ten years in the Navy, and when I flew on missions everyone was on a first name basis, but when we were on the deck it was always Mr. so and so for junior officers, commander so and so for LCDRs and CDRs, and chief, petty officer, or airmen so and so for the enlisteds. We used the titles all the time, but I never thought about writing them out. :)

Craig Gosse
04-19-2008, 07:35 AM
It's a bit more complicated when it comes to dialogue...

Any version of 'General' is, er, 'generally' referred to 'General'. Unless it's an 'official' event, don't have anybody saying 'Brigadier General Smith'... It's 'General Smith'.

Likewise, Lt. Col would be 'Colonel Smith'... unless you are making the point, in dialogue, of his rank, in which case you would use something like: 'BIRD Colonel Smith...!"

(A 'full' colonel, in the U.S. Army, has an eagle on the collar/'cover' - hence, 'bird colonel'.)

So, on, et cetera, with the various ranks... Most of the time, 1st Sgt, S.Sgt, would all be 'sergeant'... but you should learn when 'Top' comes into play - and where 'Sar-Maj' comes in...

(i.e., it's it's own subculture, with it's own terminology - if you, as author, or any character, is going to be 'in' the culture, know how to use it. Otherwise, indicate your/the reader's confusion...)

'As a civilian, Jones blinked in confusion - he'd just met three 'sergeants'... yet, aside from himself, it seemed 'obvious' to 'everybody' who was in charge...'

Linda Adams
04-19-2008, 07:49 AM
Linda I think the jargon would be a little common sense like. I think the reader may understand that.

Depends on the rank you use. If you stick with generals and admirals, you're pretty good. Those are the people in the news all the time, and everyone will be familiar with their rank. Probably not too bad off with ranks like Captain, Major, Commander, Lieutenant and maybe Colonel since all of those have been represented in TV shows (MASH, JAG).

Then there's this list: sergeant, sergeant first class, staff sergeant, sergeant major, command sergeant major, master sergeant, technical sergeant, gunnery sergeant, master gunnery sergeant, and chief master sergeant.

It's not even all of them! (I left the Navy out)

To add to the confusion, in the army you would address a sergeant first class, staff sergeant, sergeant, and master sergeant all as sergeant, but you would address a sergeant major and command sergeant major as sergeant major and a first sergeant as first sergeant.
:e2thud:

Once you get out of the few basic ranks everyone knows from TV and news, then it can get confusing.

maestrowork
04-19-2008, 08:42 AM
In dialogue, you should spell them out. In narrative, it depends on the tone and voice, etc. much like whether you should use contractions or not.

maestrowork
04-19-2008, 08:43 AM
Following AP, you would abbreviate the title when it is before a name and spell it out when it is not. Personally, I would stick with that rule. It is also what I have noticed in reading. However, I think creative writing "rules" are more flexible.

AP is not necessarily a good guide for fiction writing.

Richard White
04-19-2008, 08:43 AM
Plus remember, ranks are abbreviated differently depending on the service ( for example a lieutenant colonel is abbreviated LTC in the Army and Lt. Col in the Air Force.)

Here are the Officer Ranks for the US military (http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/insignias/officers.html) and here are the enlisted ranks (http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/insignias/enlisted.html).

Linda Adams
04-19-2008, 02:52 PM
Plus remember, ranks are abbreviated differently depending on the service ( for example a lieutenant colonel is abbreviated LTC in the Army and Lt. Col in the Air Force.)

Here are the Officer Ranks for the US military (http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/insignias/officers.html) and here are the enlisted ranks (http://www.defenselink.mil/specials/insignias/enlisted.html).

That only matters if you're in a joint service unit and having to do evaluations and correspondence that's signed by other services (in which case the Air Foce Lt Col will chew you out for abrieviating his rank LTC). From what I've observed in books and newspapers that mention the military, the abbreviations, when used, are standardized regardless of how the service uses them. Even the Army Times spells out a a Sgt. First Class rather than using the in-house version of SFC.

WittyandorIronic
04-19-2008, 04:55 PM
That only matters if you're in a joint service unit and having to do evaluations and correspondence that's signed by other services (in which case the Air Foce Lt Col will chew you out for abrieviating his rank LTC). From what I've observed in books and newspapers that mention the military, the abbreviations, when used, are standardized regardless of how the service uses them. Even the Army Times spells out a a Sgt. First Class rather than using the in-house version of SFC.

Hmmm....I wasn't actually aware that it depended on joint service, or really ever realized that the different services did, in fact, abbreviate them differently. I would not pause or really analyze anything if I were to come across Lt. Col. in a book, but LTC would immediately take me into an army mindset. If that is what you wanted, it might be useful. It's a bit like phrases and terminology. You can be general and vague, but if you are specific you had better be right.

I'm sure you are aware, but if you are writing about a specific service (modern day), then general military experience is not always applicable. Peripherally I may have realized that the navy, air force, marines, and army did not attend the same style of basic training, but it wasn't until I had some navy buddies that I realized how VERY different their basic training was compared to my own army experiences. And once I heard about the air force basic training, heh....well. All the jokes made more sense. ;)

Michael Davis
04-21-2008, 03:15 AM
I worked for the military for 30 years and here's a couple tid bits that might be helpful in your writing:

- Never heard any junior office say "yes General" or "yes colonel", it was always "Yes sir," or "Yes sir, Colonel."

- As a civilian, you're not required to use rank, but every civilian I knew showed respect of the rank (it doesn't come easy). I always referred to the individual as "Yes General" or "Yes colonel". If I was a personal friend and knew the officer on a first name basis, I still show deference in front of others ("Yes Colonel")

- Army officer skill series are defined by a two digit number, and they have a primary and secondary. For example, the heroine in my book TAINTED HERO had a primary air defense (14) and a secondary in Operations Research (49).

- The officer grades are organized into series 01-07 (04=major, 05=Lt Col, 06=Colonel, 07= Gen) for pay grades, but sometimes yoy'd hear someone say "He's an 06"

- If you're in the pentagon, you rarely see anyone below a major unless they are in a tech field (like AI or IT). Why? Cause it costs so much to live in the area, the junior grades would have a difficult time, plus a certain level of experience is required at those assignments.

- Generals come in four tiers (lowest to highest rank): Brig General (1 star), Major General (2 stars), Lt. General (3 stars), and General (4 stars). 5 stars are only used in time of war.