By James R. Hannibal
“There I was.” Isn’t that how all good war stories begin?
Clean Hunter—the European version of Red Flag—was in full swing over Germany, France, and Belgium. I showed up in my target sector for a night mission, flying an A-10 Thunderbolt II, affectionately known as a Warthog. My job as an Airborne Forward Air Controller (AFAC) involved translating 9-line target briefings from a British SAS patrol into language American and Dutch F-16 pilots could understand.
While the outgoing AFAC and I executed a mandatory hand-off on another channel, one of the Brits attempted to keep the ball moving by passing a target directly to a Dutch fighter. It did not go well. Points were on the line. We ran the risk of losing the night to the French, who were playing the role of Opposing Force (OPFOR). Nobody in NATO ever wants to lose to the French.
We’ll come back to the story, but my mission that night boiled down to relaying messages. As Christian authors, we have the same mission. We can write the most beautiful prose. We can knock a reader’s socks off with action and adventure. But if we can’t draw their eyes to the right message—one that ultimately traces back to the most important message of all time—aren’t we just flying in circles?
Reader interpretation can run far afield of a writer’s intention. Trust me. And when we’re talking about important Biblical messages, that’s as dangerous as an AFAC talking an attack pilot’s eyes onto the wrong target. The risk of collateral damage is high. So, what do we do? We can’t beat our readers over the head with a message without ruining the story.
In technical terms, we need to call upon hermeneutics, the art of transmitting and receiving the correct message across a range of contexts. We, the authors, are the transmitters. And since we can’t expect our readers, the receivers, to be hermeneutical experts—digging into our upbringing, language, and denominational leanings to discover our meaning—we need to be purposeful in drawing a path to our message. Every word counts. A blooming flower, a harsh word, or a papercut can make the difference in how a reader interprets the scene. These pieces don’t fall into place by accident. Communicating through story requires pre-flight planning.
I returned to the strike channel to find a heated discussion. The Brit 8,000 feet below and to my west had one perspective of the target area. The Dutch F-16 pilot 2,000 feet above and to my east had another. The Brit couldn’t talk the Dutchman’s eyes onto the target—a utility shed representing an enemy early warning radar. The longer that fictional radar node stayed in play, the longer the French OPFOR would deny points to our long-range strikers.
I had a better moon angle than the F-16 pilot, and I found the problematic shed. But good reference points were scarce. I couldn’t talk his eyes on. Then I remembered a new piece of tech in my flight bag—the Air Commander’s Pointer (ACP), a hand-held infrared laser. From 8,000 feet, the ACP laser became a spotlight the size of a house, visible only on night vision goggles. I could literally shine a light on the target, if I could get it working. I’d failed to install the batteries before takeoff. No problem. I slid the apparatus over my glove, opened the battery compartment, and promptly dropped a pair of AAs under my ejection seat.
Spotlights are great, assuming you preflight your equipment. In later missions, I used the ACP to great effect—but not that night. We won. Barely. I never got the Dutchman’s eyes onto the shed, and the German referees sent a transcript of the whole debacle to my commander, who called me to the carpet the moment I walked into the squadron.
That night during Clean Hunter, I wasn’t ready with my spotlight. I’ve made similar mistakes in my writing, not putting the necessary care or preparation into my story’s message. Learn from my errors. Your message as a Christian author is too important to leave to chance. Every word matters.
In short, make sure you install the batteries in your laser before you fly.Make sure you install the batteries in your laser before your fly . . . or write. @JamesRHannibal #ACFWBlogs #writetip #writing Click To Tweet
Former stealth pilot James R. Hannibal is the author of the award-winning Nick Baron covert ops thrillers for adults and Section 13 mystery-fantasies for kids. His debut Christian spy thriller The Gryphon Heist arrives from Revell on 3 September.