Posts Tagged ‘London Blitz’

Whenever I write through the perspective of a particular character in a story, it’s never simply just using my good-ol’-Rami-Ungar-style of narration and pretending to see things through the eyes of said character. I wish it were that simple. Characters, despite being the product of an author’s imagination, tend to feel like independent entities who are telling me their stories (if any psychologists or philosophers can explain that to me, I’d love to hear your two cents). Still, transmitting the story from my head, where the story’s presented as a movie with narration mixed in, to the page requires me to figure out how that voice manifests on the page.

Sometimes that’s easy to figure out. Sometimes it’s not.

The past couple of stories I’ve worked on–Mother of the King, The Night Hitler Came to London, and this novelette I’m working on currently–have been challenging when it comes to figuring out the narrators’ voices. This probably has something to do with the fact that the POV characters in these stories have lives that are very different from mine. For the first two, the POV characters have both been British, which I am not. I’ve been relying on all the British novels, TV shows and movies I’ve consumed over the years, trying to make them seem British, rather than Americans throwing around British colloquialisms like “bloody hell” or “tosser.” And in the case of The Night Hitler Came to London, the two main characters are growing up during the London Blitz, so trying to tap into the mindset living during that particular moment of history isn’t the easiest.

Then again, my country has been at war in some way or another since 2001. So perhaps it’s a bit easier than I give it credit.

And this current story I’m working on…whoo boy! I’m back to working on a novelette I started between two previous drafts of Rose, and the main character is a young housewife from the American South during the 1960s. That’s already pretty alien to my own experience, so it’s a challenge to make her sound like a real person without resorting to a stereotypical Southern accent. I’ve made some progress on that in this latest attempt on the story and I think I’ve figured it out, but I’m sure there will be challenges in the future, I may have to work on her a bit more before I try to publish this story anywhere.

And I’m probably not the only author who struggles with this. Because of how different their lives are from ours, or just how differently their minds work, there will be characters whose heads we struggle to get into and whose voices we struggle to translate to the page. With that in mind, I have a few tips on how an author can figure this out:

  • Look at their background. While every individual is different and background doesn’t determine everything, it can have a huge influence on how a person–and a character–turns out. How they were raised, socioeconomic status, education, religion, nationality, ethnicity, language, who they hung out with, how they were treated by teachers, how they did in sports, what they saw on the Internet. All this makes us. If we can figure all out of this, it can help us get in our characters’ heads and figure out their voices.
  • How do you want them to come off? How do you want your audience to perceive your character? If funny, make sure their observations are full of jokes and witticisms. Narcissistic? Everything comes back to them and makes them look good. Do they feel persecuted? Everything and everyone they come into contact with should reinforce that belief, even if to us we see innocence in these interactions. If you know how your character should come off to readers, you’ll have an easier time writing them.
  • Have an inner dialogue. This is something I did for my character in my current WIP. I go into this in more detail in my article on Self-Published Authors Helping Other Authors, The Inner Dialogue: A Method For Figuring Out Your Stories, so I highly recommend you check it out. If you don’t have time to read it, this is just having a conversation with your inner writer. You can also do this with your character. After all, characters are independent entities after a sort, so you can learn a lot by “hearing” them “speak.”

Some characters are easier than others to understand and translate to the page. But when they are, you shouldn’t give up. There are plenty of ways to figure them out. And when you do, that’ll make all the hard work all the more gratifying.

Have you worked with characters whose voices were hard to find? What did you do figure out their voices?

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There are people looking at the title of this post and thinking, “What the heck did that crazy author come up with now?”

To answer that question, I just finished writing a short story taking place during the London Blitz. I first had the idea for this story over four years ago, when I went on a study-abroad trip to Europe to follow the Allies’ path through Europe. While our teacher and tour guide (or was it one of the other students giving a report based on the research they did the last semester?) was discussing the London Blitz at Bletchley Park (the site where Alan Turing cracked the Nazi Enigma code), I had this idea for a story taking place during the Blitz, involving some kids encountering something awful while trying to run from the bombs. Over time, the antagonist came to be Adolf Hitler.

Or is it him? You know me, I never write anything simple. In any case, the story reflects something about me that shouldn’t surprise anyone: I’m scared of Hitler and the Nazis. As a Jew, I know how close my people came to annihilation nearly three-quarters of a century ago. If the war had gone differently, I probably wouldn’t be here, let alone talking about my stories and my love of horror with you. This is part of why I studied the Holocaust in college, and why I still study it today (though obviously not as frequently as I did in college). But even though I studied the Holocaust and have a pretty good understanding of what occurred, knowing doesn’t make me any less afraid of the Nazis or their monster of a leader. And with such a resurgence of people saying Hitler was right or worthy of admiration, I made sure to get that fear across in the story. Hopefully I succeeded.

You know, I actually wasn’t intending to write this story. I was planning on getting back to a novelette that I’d started working on in-between drafts of Rose. However, this story started calling to me to write it, and I couldn’t resist the call to listen to it. And yes, stories can demand to be written. At least while they’re in our heads. And I only just figured out why this story wanted me to write it so badly that it grabbed my attention. You see, I went to Washington DC recently for work. It was the first time since I was thirteen or so that I’d been to DC, so obviously I was going to do the tourist thing and check out some places (see my Instagram for photos). One of the places I decided to visit was the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, so I could see it after being so much more informed about it than I was as a teen.

The train car at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. There’s such a palpable energy of despair coming from it, you can’t help but be affected by it.

I guess my subconscious had me write this story because I was going to that museum. Maybe it was some form of mental preparation, or maybe I felt somewhere in my mind that it was the right thing to write. In either case, I went to the museum on Saturday, and let me tell you, their main exhibit has a palpable atmosphere. You can’t go in there without coming away affected. Seeing all these artifacts from the past–concentration camp and Nazi uniforms, newsreel footage, photographs, testimonials from survivors, even a train car that might have been used to transport Jews and other “inferior races” to concentration camps–along with the museum’s presentation of them, make you fully aware of the horror that occurred so long ago and how it still affects us today.

After I left the main exhibit, I was so glad I was writing this story. It was as if through the story, I was reminding people there’s still a reason to fear Hitler and his ideology. Especially since it’s showing a resurgence these days, long after its abominable creator committed suicide.

So what’s next for this particular story? Well obviously I’m going to have it looked over and then edited. Afterwards though…we’ll see. It’s a little over sixty-eight hundred words, so it’s not too long. I’ll see about getting it published somewhere. There’s a magazine I’ve been trying on and off to get published in, so maybe they’ll take it. Then again, the Ohio Chapter of the Horror Writers Association, of which I’m a member of, has been talking about putting together an anthology. Perhaps I’ll submit it there.

In any case, I’ll let it lie for a while before working on it again. In the meantime, let’s see if I can finish that novelette before I get the latest draft of Rose back from Castrum.

That’s all for now, my Followers of Fear. I’m going to get ready for bed. Until next time, pleasant nightmares!