Military Fiction Writing Tips #2 – Being Sneaky

So I decided to do another writing tip entry based on something that I learned in the military that could potentially be useful to your characters: the art of being sneaky. While I’ve never been in a scout or reconnaissance focused unit, I have received enough training in conducting reconnaissance that I know a thing or two about being sneaky. I also just finished typing the latest entry in the novel I’m trying to write and needed a break from working on it. I decided to not keep posting updates to it on my blog in case I end up actually finishing it and making it a novel, but you can check out the first three entries on this blog. Anyway, here are the tips to being sneaky that your characters can use if you want to demonstrate that they, like me, know a thing or two about not being seen.

Lateral movement versus forward movement

It is far easier for the human eye, and other types of eyes I assume, to detect objects moving across their field of vision than it is for that same eye to detect an object moving towards it. For example, imagine a person walking directly towards you across some distance. To your eye, the person remains unchanged except that they will slowly appear larger as they get closer to you. If the person is moving slowly towards you, this change in size would occur slowly as well, and it would be hard to notice. Contrast this with a person moving across your field of vision. As they move, their shape obscures various objects in the background, making them easy to see. By imagining these two scenarios, you can see how it would be easier to see a person moving from right to left than it would be to see that person moving straight towards you.

How does this relate to sneaking around? Imagine (you’re going to do a lot of imagining in this post) that you have a sneaky character who is trying to observe an area. We’ll call this area the objective. We assume there are people on the objective looking for your character. Your character has identified several positions from which to gain eyes on the objective. If your character knows what they are doing, this is how you might have them conduct their reconnaissance. They’re going to identify an area prior to the vantage point from which it would be impossible for them to be seen. Perhaps a hill or another obstacle obscures them from any possible observation by the enemy on the objective. It is from this point, ideally the last concealed position available, that your character will begin creeping directly forward to the vantage point. In this way, your character takes advantage of the fact that forward movement is more easily concealed than lateral movement.

Now your character has completed their reconnaissance from the one vantage point, but they need to see the objective from another vantage point that may allow them to see something different. How are they going to get from vantage point A to vantage point B? Do they just go directly there from vantage point A? Negative! If they did that they would be committing themselves to lateral movement and would be easily spotted. Rather, they will move backwards to the area that is completely concealed from the enemy’s view and then they can move laterally to a position behind vantage point B. Then once again they will move forward to the vantage point. This is known as cloverleafing (get off my back spell-check, it is too a real word). If your character knows how to conduct reconnaissance, they will do it this way, or if you want to demonstrate that they do not know these skills, you can have them get compromised by the enemy when incorrectly moving from vantage point A to vantage point B.


Camouflage is easy enough to understand. Unless you’re Harry Potter or a futuristic soldier with a cloaking device, if you want to be sneaky you’ve got to do it. The aim of camouflage is to break up the outline of your clothing and skin so that you don’t stand out so easily from your surroundings. The other aim is to make sure nothing bright is showing that would be easy to spot. Human skin is surprisingly easy to spot in the woods if the skin is pale or light. So are metallic buttons or jewelry. However, there’s more to camouflaging one’s self than just slapping some mud on your face and making sure you’re wearing dark clothes, so here are some pointers so you can demonstrate that your characters know what they’re doing. First off, the camouflage colors need to be colors and patters that are actually found in nature. You’d think this would be a gimme, but for the longest time, military camouflage included the color black prominently, when actually black objects don’t appear all that much in nature. Secondly, camouflage applied to the face should be applied so that light colors go on the deeper areas of the face, like the eye sockets and cheeks, whereas dark colors go on the higher areas like the nose and cheek bones. This serves to confuse an observer since usually the high parts of a face would be lighter than the deeper parts, thus causing the observer to not notice a human face in the woods. Remember that all skin that is showing needs to be covered either by camouflage or clothing, so if the character has accrued tears in their clothing, they’ll need to camouflage it. Lastly, if the character is going to attach foliage to their clothes, equipment, or helmet, remember that the foliage should be from the area that the character will be hiding. For instance, if the character will be lying in the prone, they shouldn’t be using leaves from trees to camouflage themselves, but rather the stuff that grows closer to the ground or dead stuff that’s fallen off trees.

Stacking objects

This last one is going to be a bit hard to explain, but it is a useful trick of perspective for sneaking around. Stacking objects between yourself and an observer is a great way to move forward without being detected. I don’t mean literally stacking objects into some sort of obstacle, but rather altering your or your character’s avenue of approach so that there are a series of objects between your character and an observer. What do I mean by stacking? Well imagine (see, I told you) that you are moving through the woods towards a location. Again, you do not want to be seen by anyone at the aforementioned location. There are trees in the woods, but they are not very thick and any given tree merely covers half the width of your body. Obviously this will not help you be sneaky. However, if there are multiple trees like that one in your route to the location, you can use them in groups to hide your movement. Instead of placing a single tree between you and the location, adjust your position so that each individual tree , from your point of view, stands next to another tree. By doing this, instead of trying to hide behind one tree, it will seem like you are hiding behind two trees. This is another advantage of moving forward instead of moving laterally, in that you can use tricks of perspective to obscure your movement. This trick will only work if there are not that many observers looking for your character as they approach. It also might be pretty hard to explain to your readers what your character is doing, but then again you’re probably a better writer than I am and won’t have any trouble.


So there you have it, a few ways to show that your character knows how to be sneaky. Or you could use these tips yourself if you’re trying to be sneaky. Just don’t do anything illegal, immoral, or unethical! Let me know if there are other themes you’d like to know about that you think I might know about. Hope this helps your writing!




One thought on “Military Fiction Writing Tips #2 – Being Sneaky

  1. Thanks for sharing your experiences and knowledge on the subject. I’m certain your military fiction writing tips won’t just be useful for writing military fiction but any sort of story that has military personnel or bits of military action in them. This will definitely help get the details right.


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