Monthly Archives: June 2016

Writing Decisions I Make #mondayblogs

The Decisions I Make While Writing
Or: Why the heck did that character just do what he did?

Everyone knows this moment while watching a B-rated horror flick on TV. The heroine hears spooky sounds coming out of the basement. The music rises and her footsteps slow as she walks towards the basement door. Her hand reaches for the knob and everyone in the room shouts, “Don’t do it!”

We wonder how she could be so foolish. We know evil lurks down there. But somewhere a script writer made a conscious decision to have the scene evolve like this. Now, we as writers are making decisions all the time: about mood, setting and the actions our characters take. Is it raining during the scene? Is it dark or is it morning? Things like this can really affect the mood and setting. And even though I fret over every word, every sentence, paragraph, scene and chapter, I’d like to concentrate today on the decisions I make regarding my characters and their actions, how I back these decisions up and further the story along.

I write historical fiction set in Germany in the 17th Century. I made a decision in the beginning that I wanted a historically correct account about the people and their plights during this period. I also wanted to make the story easier to read so I decided to keep the dialogue ‘lighter’ or non-archaic, using not actually contemporary speech, but somewhere in between the two. And I wanted to somehow create real people with real problems like heartbreak, herbs and horrors. (I wanted to call the book Sex, Drugs and The Thirty Years War, but I decided against that.)

In order to make the characters come alive and show the reader who they are, I need to set up their personality traits along the way, like salting a soup, so that the reader can understand why they act the way they act. For example, a character who was thrown from a horse as a child could understandably have a fear of horses in her adult years. A young man who had a traumatic separation from his mother could have intimacy issues. A woman who was a servant her whole life may not have high self esteem. She most likely will not be the heroine who swings a sword and wards off mercenary soldiers. Her ultimate heroic act may be then that she sacrifices herself in order to save those she loves.

We have all read books where the characters have made choices that we can’t understand. We think that this character would not have done the deed given what we know about him. (Though some writers can use just this tool, an unpredictable trait emerging from a character, quite effectively in order to further the story.) But in my observations, most people are predictable. The signs of personality changes are often there if we dare look. As my characters develop, I set up personality changes so when the character is faced with a conflict, I already know what choice they will make (and the observant reader may see the changes coming too if I do my work right!) For example, a young girl sees a soldier rape her mother. She decides to take a knife and kill him. If I want this scene to be believable, I need to have the girl be athletic from the beginning. I need to train her beforehand so she would even be able to use the knife. And she has to be capable of such an act, so she needs a slight black streak across her personality.

Yes, I do written character analyses. I do their astrological charts. In the beginning, I found actors I would like to play my characters in a film, just to get a feel for their movements and facial expressions, but later they all evolved into their own people. Books about personality disorders have been really helpful and I like to give the characters one or more. (I’m a big fan of flawed heroes.) My historical trilogy, Heaven’s Pond, was written and self-published at first in a first person point of view, from the viewpoints of three of the characters. This was the easiest way to really get into the characters’ heads. The trilogy has now been re-written in the third person point of view. I must say, the first draft written in first person was helpful to find the characters and to really feel them.

So, in my novels nothing happens per chance. The characters may evolve on their own but I’m the puppeteer who’s pulling the strings. The characters may act irrational or self destructive or miss chances that could have saved them. But my conscious decisions plot the whole thing like I am building a ship.

What sort of things do you like to see in characters? What sort of things don’t you like to see?

This post first appeared at Donna Huber’s Girl-Who-Reads blog.

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Teen Noir #FlashFiction

 

“Hey, Carolyn! I passed!”
     Carolyn heard the screen door slam and heavy boots stomping up the carpeted stairway. She jumped up and down, jiggling herself into skin-tight jeans and flopped back on the bed. Gut sucked in, she pulled the zipper up and secured the button. 
     “Carolyn! I passed my driver’s test!” Jeremy said, filling out the doorway. He slammed both hands against the door jamb. “My brother gave me the Camaro, the dumb ass. Let’s go for a ride.”
     A devilish grin spread across his face. He landed on top of Carolyn, kissing her face, her neck and fumbling with the button on her jeans.
     “Hey,” Carolyn said and slapped at his shoulder. “Do you know how long it took me to get into these jeans?”
     “I know how long it’ll take you to get out of them.”
     Carolyn covered her face with her hands. Jeremy jumped back up, grabbed her arm and pulled her up to her feet.
     “Let’s go for a ride,” he said. “I have to get the car home at seven.”
     He leaped down the steps, two at a time, and she followed him out. Still slipping on her shoes, she heard the engine outside rev. She pushed through the screen door and saw him holding the passenger door of the yellow Camaro open for her. She got in and he slammed the door.
     “Four on the floor,” he said, put the car in gear and away it purred. “Let’s go to the river. I want to show you something.”
     He drove up Union Street and up over the Union Street Bridge. He turned onto an unused off-ramp that headed towards the old train yard next to the abandoned iron mill and the machine shop. Carolyn looked over the red-rusted buildings of the mill, the overgrown train tracks and could see the river beyond the row of weeds and low bushes. Crickets chirped in the late-summer, late-afternoon heat. The engine from a diesel locomotive droned on behind the rattle of the traffic crossing the metal bridge. A lonely train whistle blew on the other side of the river.
     The Camaro’s tires crunched on the gravel parking lot and Jeremy killed the engine. He was at her door in a flash, opened it and pulled her behind him. They climbed over a barrier and through a roped-off area towards the train tracks.
     “Viola!” he said and held his hands up next to an abandoned box car.
     “What’s this?” she said. “We shouldn’t be here, should we?”
     “So what. It’s our new hideout.”
     He grabbed a rusty, empty five-gallon paint can and turned it upside down. Carolyn stepped up onto it and climbed into the boxcar. The floor had been swept and a sofa stood along the narrow end. 
     “Who knows about this?” Carolyn said as she toed at a pair of underwear and a ripped t-shirt.
     “Just Ducky, that stupid ass.” Jeremy kicked the clothes out the door. “Well, what do you think?”
     Carolyn raised her eyebrows and sat down. Jeremy knelt on the sofa, reached behind it and produced a bottle. 
     “Here, want some?” He handed her the Southern Comfort.
     “Yeah, then I’ll just have to puke.”
     “Just sip it then…hey, what’s this?” he said and pulled up a suitcase. He threw it on the sofa and let himself fall onto his backside with a thud.
     Click click. He opened the suitcase and whistled through his teeth. Carolyn sipped at the Southern Comfort and looked at him out of the corner of her eye. She screwed the cap back on. 
     “Who does that belong to?” she said.
     “Hell if I know.” Jeremy riffled through a pack of hundred-dollar bills.
     “Put it back,” she said. “Let’s get out of here.”
     “No goddamn way. It’s mine, now.”
     The diesel engine hummed louder up the tracks somewhere, like a sleeping dragon.
     Carolyn stood. “I’m getting out of here.” 
     He jumped up and grabbed her by the hand before she could jump out of the box car. They watched as two black sedans with tinted windows pulled into the parking lot and stopped next to the Camaro. Jeremy, never letting the suitcase drop, backed up against the door on the opposite side of the box car. He tugged at the door and it scraped open. Carolyn looked out, down a thirty-foot drop to the river. 
     “C’mon, we gotta jump.” 
     “I’m not going to jump, Jeremy!”
     “We have to.” 
     “Just put the suitcase back.”
     “No way.”
     “You’d get yourself killed for the money?”
     They heard men’s voices out in the yard. The diesel engine roared really close now, right up against the box car. Boom! The loc coupled with their box car. They both staggered and regained their balance.
     “We have to jump,” Jeremy said.
     Carolyn felt his hand on her back and that dizzying sense of falling, like she’d had in nightmares. Twigs snapped and she felt her body impact with the earth, rocks boring into her spine. Her eyes refused to open but her hearing was sharp. Her breathing came in painful gasps. A dull thud vibrated next to her.
     “I got it,” Jeremy said. 
     Carolyn felt him shake her. She could not move.
     “Psst. I got it. I got the money!” He shook her harder. “Carolyn! Wake up!” he whispered, his breathing revealing panic.
     “Sztttt.Sztttt.” That unmistakeable sound of walkie-talkies staticked overhead. Men shouted. Jeremy shook her again and tried to pull on her arms. She could not stand up, she was sure of it. 
     Carolyn took a deep breath. She used her last ounce of consciousness to make out what the men above were saying:
     “How did those damn kids get on the film set!” 
 

Spotlight on Germany

Cologne around 1411
Cologne
 

The best thing about living in central Europe is the availability of public transportation. Don’t even have to fly. From where I’m sitting, I can be in  Nuremberg in thirty minutes, I can be in Munich two hours, Prague in four hours, Vienna in five, Brussels in, say, seven hours, and London in twelve.

High-speed trains. The railway expansion is causing chaos on Bavarian streets at the moment. Everywhere you turn, and I mean everywhere, bridges are shut and roads are dug up. But when it’s done, those trains’ll be faster than ever.

View from the train station

I can get to the city of Cologne in about four hours. After passing Frankfurt, the train makes a picturesque journey along the Rhine River, past the mystical Lorelei, impressive at the least, breathtaking at the best.

Breathtaking: the first impression of the famous Kölner Dom, the Cologne Cathedral as one exits the train station.

 

View from the Rheine
Some bullet-point facts about the cathedral:
  • Work began on the cathedral in 1248 and stopped in 1473. It was finally finished in 1880.
  • It is 474 ft long, 283 ft wide and its towers are approximately 515 ft tall.
  • It is the world’s largest Gothic cathedral.
  • From 1880 bis 1884, the Kölner Dom was the highest building in the world.
  • 20,000 people a day visit the cathedral, that makes how many million every year?
  • The cathedral has eleven bells, the largest which weighs 24,000 kilos.
  • It costs about 10 million Euros a year upkeep.

 

After WW II-courtesy of NS DokuZentrum Köln

 

The Artistic Crime of the Century

…or Le Coup


August 8, 1974
 
New York, New York. This morning, Phillippe Petit, 24, was arrested for disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing after entering the World Trade Center and stretching a high wire between the two towers. Petit, assisted by six accomplices, has been taken to Beekman Downtown Hospital for psychological observation.
 
A traffic jam formed in the streets below at 7:15 a.m. as spectators gathered to watch Petit 1,350 feet above them dance on the wire. After eight passes back and forth between the towers, approximately 45 minutes, Petit surrendered to waiting Port Authority of New York and New Jersey police officers.
 
Eyewitness Sgt. Charles Daniels told reporters:  “I observed the tightrope ‘dancer’—because you couldn’t call him a ‘walker’—approximately halfway between the two towers. And upon seeing us he started to smile and laugh and he started going into a dancing routine on the high wire….And when he got to the building we asked him to get off the high wire but instead he turned around and ran back out into the middle….He was bouncing up and down. His feet were actually leaving the wire and then he would resettle back on the wire again….Unbelievable really….Everybody was spellbound in the watching of it.”
 
Petit, a Frenchman, told reporters that he had planned the stunt over the last six years. When asked why, he told reporters, “If I see three oranges, I have to juggle. And if I see two towers, I have to walk.”
 
The seven men reportedly spent the last three days, disguised as construction workers with fake IDs, lugging their gear up to the top floor of the tower, including the 450 pound inch-thick tight rope and a disassembled 50 pound, 26 foot custom-made balancing bar. They spent the whole night setting up the tight wire. Using a bow and arrow, a line was shot across from one tower to the other and used to pull subsequently thicker ropes across. Then the tight wire was pulled across, fastened and stabilized with two guy lines to minimize swaying.
 
                                                                       ***
 
In a 2003 interview in the Observer by Adam Higginbotham, Petit said:
 
“Notre Dame and Sydney (Laura’s note: two other high-wire stunts he had performed) – that was nothing. Notre Dame doesn’t have a police station, it is not 1,000 or so feet high. It was a public structure, very easy to access. And Sydney Harbour Bridge was half-and-half: a bridge, in the middle of the night. The World Trade Center was the end of the world. Electronic devices, police dogs. It was l’attaque de la banque. Bank robbery, you know?”
 
When asked what he felt his chances to pull the stunt off were:
 
“Zero. Under zero. It was impossible. And the walk was not even to think of. I’m trying to sneak inside the biggest, most surveilled, protected building in the world. I was a kid from the street and I thought: maybe I could have two crews coming at more or less the same time and then putting a ton of equipment across and then guylining it and then tightening it – without being caught by all the cops and the guards? And you’re asking me did I think about the walk? Of course not. The walk was a stupid, ridiculous objective. And maybe when I did think about the walk, it was nothing. I am a wire-walker. I can walk any time, anywhere – I’m indestructible. So the walk was never a subject. Really, the tough part was the bank robbery. Getting out alive? Pfft! I was not interested in that.”
 


But survive the stunt he did and it is the topic of his book To Reach the Clouds, now released as a paperback titled Man On Wire. Man On Wire was not only the description of his crime on the police report, but the title of the 2008 award-wining British documentary directed by James Marsh. That’s my DVD tip for the weekend.

Where were you on August 8, 1974?

Here’s a link to the 2003 Observer article by Adam Higginbotham: Guardian.co.uk

#FlashFiction: Just Say No to Writer’s Block

Powered by: http://www.writingexercises.co.uk
I used the random first line generator but I didn’t use it as a first line: He had waited twenty years to return it. Writers: you never need suffer writer’s block. Not when we have toys like these random generators to play with!

 

TWENTY YEARS by Laura Libricz

A light snow fell and covered the street with a hush. The sky was the same dirty grey and darkened so early on this December afternoon. His muffled footsteps crunched along the unshoveled sidewalk, droning on, a labored repetitive action. He watched the fine flakes drift past and settle on the frozen mounds, an accumulation of these last few stormy days.

His foot slid and he caught his breath. A muscle strained in his bad hip. Something caught his boot and he heard metal scrape. He steadied himself and bent down as far as his hip would allow him. A chain-like thing, snagged in the wooden fence, had a hold on his boot’s shoelace hook.

He untangled the silver chain from the fence and his boot and held it up, away from his face. He padded his pockets for his glasses but he had left them at home. The chain was easy a meter long. A swan-shaped pendant swung; a much-too-heavy thing to be dangling from such a fine chain. The swan had its wings spread and its beak pointed towards the sky. From its belly hung a tear-drop opal surrounded by silver-colored filigree.

He pulled at the swan’s beak with his gloved finger. If this was silver, it would bend. But this was solid and heavy. He knew nothing about precious metals, but something told him this was no ordinary ladies’ costume jewelry. He wound the chain around his wrist, shoved his hand in his pocket and made his way home.

Fire crackling in the open hearth and the smell of pitch reminded him of coming back to this house as a child after trekking home from school. Even after multiple rental apartments in foreign countries, this would be his only real home. It was quiet now, one of the downfalls of living alone. Downfall and upfall. He hung his black woolen coat on the back of a chair in front of the fire, sat on the chair, undid his boots and set them next to the woodpile. He threw two logs onto the fire and sparks rose up the flue.

He held his hand up and the silver chain unraveled once. The swan pendant glittered in the firelight and the opal took on the glow like a smoldering ember, almost as if it had swallowed the warmth.

He had only seen such an opal once. He bought it for Lena. Spent a whole week’s wages. An opal on a silver chain but nowhere as costly and fine as the one he held in his hand. He never saw Lena again. That afternoon he had to flee the city.

He stood and slid his feet into his felt pantoffels. He opened the drawer of his writing table, pulled out a silver cigarette case, flipped it open and stuck a cigarette between his lips. The flame from the silver butane lighter flickered and lit the cigarette. The lighter slid out of his hand, back into the drawer and rolled way back inside, resting upon a secret compartment. His eyes squinted against the plume of smoke that rose about his head.

He snapped the compartment open and produced a purple velvet pouch the size of his fist. He opened the drawstring and slowly pulled on a fine silver chain. An opal plopped into his hand. He set the pouch aside and held the two opals up like he was displaying metals he had won for running a race.  The opal hanging from the flying swan was smooth and refined; the links of the chain looped in and out like sixes and nines. Nimble fingers were needed to create a chain of this complexity. The roughly-cut opal he had bought for Lena hung from a chain of simple links. This diminished its beauty not in the least.

It was a snowy December day like this one, twenty-two years ago. Lena had given him her portfolio to safekeep, a leather folder tied with a leather cord, full of drawings and photographs. They had arranged to meet by the train station and together they would escape the madness. But he had stopped at the jewelers to pick up the opal and approached the train station from the back. He saw the throng. Police were arresting bystanders at random. In the confusion, he boarded the train before anyone saw him.

He had waited twenty years to return the portfolio. An address found in a phone book, belonging to a name that was close enough to hers, was enough to still the nagging guilt he nourished over the years. He received no reply. He would never contact the name or address again.

He dropped his cigarette in the remains of this morning’s coffee. He put both chains into the purple pouch and shoved them to the back of the drawer.

Castle Coburg #Germany #History

Veste Coburg www.coburg.de

The Veste Coburg

Today we’re riding on a regional train from Nürnberg. The journey takes an hour and a half and costs 20€. We’re feeling quite fit, the weather is perfect, so we take on the half hour walk from the train station in Coburg up to the fortress, The Veste Coburg.

In the 11th Century, the hilltop above Coburg housed a monastery. Over the generations, the buildings underwent exstensive expansion the walls were fortified. Today the fortress houses an impressive collection of historical artifacts, paintings and sculptures.

The collection of historical weapons and armor dates from the 16th and 17th Century and is the largest collection of its kind in Germany.

Exhibits from the armoury

The huge collection of historical hunting weapons dates from the 16th Century to the present and includes weapons from all across the European continent.

Exhibits of hunting weapons

On the ground floor of the Duchess’s wing, carriages and sleighs are on display; a bridal carriage from 1560 and Queen Victoria’s Gala Coupe from 1840.

Carriages and sleighs

And the high point of this visit is the Intarsia Hunting Room. This masterpiece of 60 panels of inlaid wood was completed in 1632. Follow the link under the picture for an impressive panoramic view of the room.

Intarsia hunting room

The Veste Coburg has an informative website, translated into English. Check them out here:  Veste Coburg

Here’s the link to the city’s website:  www.coburg.de

Riding the train in Germany is great:  Deutsche Bahn