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I want to write a fighter jet story, kind of like Ace Combat, but because I don't have any money to borrow names from certain aircraft in real life, I thought it would be better to just make up my own designs until I found out that I'm bad with it. Do you guys have any tips on how to describe aerial vehicles?

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    I'm fairly sure you don't need to pay anyone to use names of existing aircraft. But that doesn't solve the problem of how to describe them.
    – user54131
    Apr 19, 2022 at 14:33
  • Not familiar with Ace Combat other than as a video game. So what sort of story are we talking? What is the audience, and what is the genre? What are you wanting to say about them? Do you need technical information like what weapons they might carry, or do you want to describe them flying and fighting?
    – Stuart F
    Apr 20, 2022 at 21:04

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This depends a lot on the level of technical sophistication, and the interest in technical details, of your audience.

If you're writing a book for ordinary 10 year olds, you probably don't want to say much more than "the plane went really fast".

If you're writing for people with a keen interest in military affairs and aviation technology, you might want to discuss some feature of this particular plane that makes it exceptional and how it works.

But most readers would probably be bored by a long technical discussion of the details of turbofan design and exactly how the ECMs work. I suspect most readers would just want to be told that this plane travels at such-and-such a speed and carries so many air-to-air missiles and that sort of thing. If you don't already know a fair amount about jet fighter design, you probably should read up a little so you don't make a glaring error. But you don't need to know enough to actually design a jet fighter. Most readers aren't going to be interested in that kind of detail. You want to give enough detail to make the reader feel immersed in the world of fighter aircraft. But not so much that this starts to be more of a textbook on aeronautical engineering than an exciting novel.

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    One thing I'd add would be to try to not repeat the same description of some part of the fighter jet or how it works every single time that part is mentioned or that action is performed. (I read a series of novels in a historical setting some years ago and everytime the main character had to use their crossbow each little step was given on how to load, aim, fire, and reload the crossbow. By the end of the series I started skipping those paragraphs when by halfway through the first sentence it became apparent that this was another crossbow user manual paragraph). Apr 21, 2022 at 20:56
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Generally speaking, you should always describe things in their context. Start by answering questions such as:

  • Who is looking at the airplane (the POV)?
  • Who are you describing the airplane for (your readers)?
  • What role does the airplane play in your story?

For instance, if an airplane technician is looking at the aircraft, they will notice other things than, for instance, someone who was bombed by airplanes in their home country and had to flee.

What emotion does the POV have towards the airplane? Positive, negative, pragmatical, etc?

A layperson might not notice more than what you notice when you look at a picture of an aircraft... though, of course, if they are near an aircraft things like sounds, smells, relative size also comes into play much more than you'd get from a picture, so somehow looking at a real size actual airplane in person is a great benefit if you can find a way.

Who you're writing for also determines what you want to include or not. Not to mention your purpose of writing for that audience. If it's an "airplanes are bad" agenda you'd describe them in one way. If it's a "how do airplanes work?" type of text you'd need a completely different level of description.

Finally, if the airplane just passes by in a scene or two, you'd spend less research and time on describing them, if at all. While if they are the center of the story, you'd need more knowhledge and more research.

However, look at a movie like Top Gun. Are airplanes central there? Not really, right? The characters are central and while you need lots of research to make it look right in a movie, that wasn't strictly needed for writing the manuscript. For that, you needed more info on pilots, and people in general, than airplanes specifically.

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Do your research. Visit a military museum. Look up user manuals, training guides, or technical specs available either on line or via a legal deposit library, or contact the manufacturers or users.

A useful resource for correct nomenclature is a pictorial dictionary. I recommend the Oxford-Duden Pictorial English Dictionary, but there are others.

Shonaleigh Cumbers, a great oral storyteller I work with, has a pithy saying that helps when choosing what to include and what to leave out: 'You need to know everything you tell; you don't need to tell everything you know.'

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