War Genre: Honor and Dishonor in Pro War, Anti-War, and Kinship Stories

What is the War Genre?

An external story in the War genre focuses on the self-actualization of the protagonist through the expression of the gifts of love and self-sacrifice. Each AVATAR can act heroically by defending fellow warriors honorably in the face of horrific pain and loss.

In War stories, readers see that victory is only meaningful when honor is maintained. Traditional War stories tell us that it is better to lose honorably, or even to lose dishonorably, than to win dishonorably. When the reader faces a dilemma in their ordinary lives that may require a more honorable or a less honorable choice, they remember this lesson. The reader also must consider whether the metaphorical battles of their ordinary lives are worth fighting as well as how they engage in them.

The underlying question in every War story is:

How do we secure our group’s survival while maintaining our humanity in the process?

War Genre: Honor and Dishonor in Pro War, Anti-War, and Kinship Stories

What is the Controlling Idea of the War Genre?

The universal theme or CONTROLLING IDEA of a War story is:

War derives meaning from the noble love and self-sacrifice of warriors, and it lacks meaning when leaders corrupt warriors’ sacrifices on the battlefield.

The Four Core Framework of the War Genre

The FOUR CORE FRAMEWORK helps us meet reader expectations by bringing the core of our story into focus to create an irresistible, memorable, and shareable experience for the reader.

1. Core Need


The core need of the protagonist in a War story is safety. It arises when a force of antagonism attacks the protagonist’s tribe (second party), nation or other mass group (third party). These stories help the reader navigate their own battles to defend shared lives, homes, and beliefs.

2. Core Value

Dishonor to Honor

Life and death stakes are in play, but the core values in the War genre derive from the need for safety of the group—one spans victory and defeat and the other, honor and dishonor. The most positive end of the value spectrum in a War story brings the AVATARS victory with honor. The furthest extreme on the negative end brings victory with dishonor that is misrepresented as honorable.

3. Core Emotion


Just as in ACTION stories, the risk of death for AVATARS to whom the reader has become intimately connected evokes excitement and fear. But the core emotion in a War story is intrigue, which we describe as an intense fascination about “what will happen next… how will the AVATARS contend with this seemingly impossible situation?”

The payoff of intrigue is the flavor of satisfaction when “the penny drops,” that familiar feeling when we finally realize that two plus two equals four.

4. Core Event

The Big Battle

The CLIMAX of the War genre is the final big battle when the core need is in peril and the protagonist must choose between their own safety and the safety of the group.

5 Conventions of the War Genre

GENRE CONVENTIONS are specific requirements for the story’s ALTERNATE WORLD, AVATARS, or circumstances that create conflict and enable solutions. Conventions set up genre reader expectations. Without these, the reader will be confused, unsettled, or bored and quit reading.

The War genre has five necessary conventions:

  • One central AVATAR with offshoot AVATARS that embody a multitude of that AVATAR’s personality traits. (Achilles in The Iliad by Homer)
  • Big Canvas. Either a widescope external setting (War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy) or the internal landscape (Saving Private Ryan [1998], Platoon [1986]).
  • Overwhelming odds—the protagonists are substantially outnumbered.
  • A clear “point of no return” moment, when the combatants accept the inevitability of death.
  • The sacrifice for kinship moment. One protagonist sacrifices for the good of fellow soldiers.

8 Obligatory Moments in the War Genre

OBLIGATORY MOMENTS are the must-have events, revelations, or decisions and actions that pay off the raised expectations of the CONVENTIONS.

The War genre has eight obligatory moments:

  • An Inciting Attack.
  • The protagonists deny responsibility to respond.
  • Forced to respond, the protagonists lash out according to their positions on the power hierarchy.
  • Each AVATAR learns what their antagonist’s OBJECT OF DESIRE is.
  • The protagonists’ initial strategy to outmaneuver antagonist fails.
  • The protagonists, realizing they must change their approach to attain a measure of victory, undergo an all is lost moment.
  • The Big Battle Scene. The core event of the War story and what the reader is waiting for. This is the moment when the protagonists’ gifts are expressed or withheld.
  • The protagonists are rewarded with at least one level of satisfaction (extrapersonal, interpersonal or intrapersonal) for their sacrifice.

War Genre Sub-genres

The War genre can be further broken down into three subgenres based on the controlling idea:

  • Pro War: The Longest Day (1962), Inglourious Basterds (2009)
  • Anti-War: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque, Platoon (1998)
  • Kinship of War: Gates of Fire by Steven Pressfield, The Deer Hunter (1978), the song “Goodnight Saigon” by Billy Joel (1982)

“The war story is about primal fear, security, courage, and the will to or commitment not to take life in order to defend intellectual constructs.” 

— Shawn Coyne

Additional Resources for the War Genre

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