Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Candid Camera: A Look At Character

I think I'm addicted to something. A new something, I mean. Blog chains, in general and particular. Here I am again taking part in an AW blog chain, topic of which endeavor is Character. Specifically, a scene which perfectly captures the essence of your character.

So last night I got out my “camera” and went hunting for a candid snapshot. After wandering through four of my novels and dozens of characters, I finally settled on this scene from my novel SS-5. (For those of you new to my blog, that's 2009's NaNo novel, my first excursion into YA, thriller, and suspense. Details here: http://frontnotes.blogspot.com/2009/10/historical-note-teenage-spies.html )

SS-5 is based on the true story of five Dutch teenagers (four boys and a girl) who, when the Nazis took control of Holland, banded together to fight back. At this point in the novel, the boys have been assimilated into the real Resistance, and are actively involved in deadly espionage. The pressure and danger is forcing them into a maturity far beyond their age, and it's ripping apart the bond of friendship between the five.

Affected most is Charlotte, who is forbidden to take part because of being female. She's forced to watch as her friends are destroyed, and is tormented by the ferocious need to take part in the fight.

The scene should be self-explanatory. Thoughts and critical feedback would be awesome!


Charlotte sat in her room, drawing with fierce strokes the figure of a girl in armor. A girl, standing on a hill, armies sprawled shining out below her. She held up the flag of victory, and from open mouths all around poured grateful accolades. But there was no triumph in the girl's eyes, just a sort of sad relief.

Had Joan the Maid, centuries ago in France, wondered if she could ever succeed? In those days when everyone said she was mad, had she known that her cause was true?

Charlotte wondered.

After a moment, she laid down her pencil and pushed up the sleeve of her sweater to look at her watch. Piet had leaned toward her for a moment during dinner, whispered “Meeting tonight at six” and then turned back to his carrots before anyone saw.

Ten minutes yet before she had to leave.

She hadn't been in school today; she'd been with her mother, a few blocks away, with two terrified children huddled in a cellar. The Gestapo had broke down their door the night before, hauling their parents and older brother away. The two children, both girls younger than six, had huddled under their bed and managed to escape detection.

“Jews?” Charlotte had whispered when her mother told her.

“No.” Lorrie Skyyjer's face was grim. “The father had helped in printing and distributing pamphlets about the Allies' progress in the war. He was the man who brought paper, only that. But it was enough. Someone saw, reported, and the Gestapo came.”

A neighbor had found the children. They refused to come from under the bed, even when Charlotte and her mother came. They stared at something only they could see, and, arms twined together, refused to move.

Finally they had to be pulled out, separately since their combined weight was too much. Charlotte didn't think she'd ever forget their screams.

And here she sat, on her feather bed, in her warm house, wearing good, solid, even pretty clothes, with a full stomach. Safe. Secure. Out of danger.

While all around her people lost their lives fighting back.

Charlotte traced the figure on her easel with the tip of her pencil. “What would you do, Joan? What did you do? Did you sit safe at home and wait for your brothers, your best friends, to die?”

History proclaimed the answer.

And also the price Joan had paid.

Restless, Charlotte got up, pacing her room, until she gave it up, tugged a scarf over her flame of hair, and hurried out into the night.

The farmhouse was dark and empty, the barns likewise. The truck wasn't in the yard; obviously Farmer Smit, Jan and Piet hadn't arrived back yet.

She slipped through the darkness to the kiln, and swung the secret door open in the dark. From below she saw the flicker of candlelight. “Hello?”

“Charlotte?” She caught the owl-like glow of Jos's glasses. “Where is everyone?”

Charlotte's feet thudded down the earthen steps. “The boys aren't back yet. Isn't Hendrik here?”

“He's not coming.” Jos slid over on the rug, making a place for her to sit. “I've been here hours alone. I'm glad you're here.”

Startled, Charlotte glanced over to see if he was joking. But beneath his glasses, she saw not the twinkle of mischief, but the glitter of tears. “Jos. What's wrong?”

He shook his head. Nothing.

She turned him so he faced her. “Jos. What happened?”

His throat convulsed as he swallowed. “Remember the flour mill?” His voice was only a whisper. “The flour mill that was being converted into an munitions factory that we blew up?”

She nodded.

“I went along because I was small, and good with chemicals and fire. But Farmer Smit made sure no one knew my name or who I was. It was safer that way, he said. So I was the one who destroyed the mill, along with them.”

He paused. “The day before yesterday the Gestapo caught one of the people involved. They tortured him until he gave names. The Gestapo caught every one of the people involved in that mill, and twelve more who had nothing to do with it. Thirty people shot, Charlotte. Thirty people dead because of me.”

Oh, Jos.” Emotion surged through Charlotte, smothering her. Jos took his glasses off, rubbing them with his handkerchief. In his eyes she saw the pain and the agony of guilt.

He's just twelve. Oh God, he's just a kid. He can't be responsible for thirty people's deaths.

Her hands twitched, ready to pull him into an embrace, hold him tight. Tell him it would be all right.

But somehow she knew it had gone beyond that.

“If only someone had known,” Jos said dully. “The first man they captured was in prison for a week before he talked. If someone had been inside, someone who could warn the others, then no one would have had to die.”

His words mingled in Charlotte's mind with words she'd heard Farmer Smit say.

“We need someone on the inside. Someone to find out what the Germans are going to do. But we can't ask anyone to risk their lives to that extent.”

And in that moment, Charlotte knew what she had to do.

Her mouth went dry, just thinking about it. Her father...everyone...

Bitter fear and sweet relief clashed in her mouth.

She knew what she had to do.


Thanks so much for reading! If you liked this post, follow these links to read more excerpts by these talented bloggers!


Anonymous said...

Wow...this sounds like a powerful story, and I suspect one that will make you cry more than once. I have a feeling Charlotte is about to do something a little nuts to protect those she loves and show that a girl doesn't have to just sit at home and wait.

Katherine Sophia said...

That was cool... I always enjoy reading your work. :)

Kelsey said...

I have missed Charlotte. :)

Nina Hansen said...

collectonian - your feeling is right. ;)

Glad you liked the story, Katherine and Kelsey!

Ellen said...

Wow, so intense! I'd love to read more of this, it's really interesting :)

Caitlin said...

I LOVE this, your voice is so believable and addictive. Intense stuff :)

PS. I gave you an award on my blog, just for being so awesome :) enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Oh wow. WWII fiction = sold. A lot!

Lady Blanche Rose said...

Yay! I was so excited to be able to read more! :D I can't wait until I can read the whole thing someday.

Nina Hansen said...

Whoohoo! You guys are awesome. :D Hearing this has given me a bunch of encouragement to hit a new batch of agents with this novel. Thanks for commenting!

Hillary said...

This is very powerful, and flows nicely. You've built an interesting, charismatic character in Charlotte.

Degirl said...

Wow, this is an amazing story, Nina. Its well written and emotionally charged. I was instantly drawn to Charlotte and to Jos.

Nina Hansen said...

Thanks for commenting, you guys! So glad you liked it. :)

Anonymous said...

I honestly loved this. Its a great story and a great premise. Some people say Nazi stories are tired and overdone, but I disagree, and this post helps prove that.

Nina Hansen said...

Wow. That's one of the things I worry about, and that reaction was fantastic. Thanks for commenting!

Anonymous said...

I thought it was totally awesome. It's good to see a female character wanting to do something untraditional in a traditional time and setting.

My only complaint and it's completely personal was the Joan of Arc reference. I don't are there no female heroines in Dutch history. Unless of course it is known that Charlotte was a fan of Joan. Like I said it was just a personal thing. I think the story is awesome and I love WWII stuff. Especially the part where the family was taken away for distributing Allied news.

Aimee Laine said...

"“We need someone on the inside. Someone to find out what the Germans are going to do. But we can't ask anyone to risk their lives to that extent.”
And in that moment, Charlotte knew what she had to do."

Oh the defining moment.

Great job!

Nina Hansen said...

Thanks, Aimee! :) That was a real landmark point for Charlotte's character - for me as a writer too, actually.

lyratorres: Charlotte's fascination with Joan is a long-term story arc, actually, so it works in this situation. And in real life - do we really pick heroes of our own nationality all the time, anyway?

Joy Tamsin David said...

I really like your new look. Very pretty!

Anonymous said...

Wow, great story a-brewing. I'd want to keep reading based on that snippet alone. Nice job!

Kayla said...

Oh, wow! Joyous day! What a great post! I'm keeping my fingers crossed and praying I'll be able to read this in a book someday, Nina! ;)

Love your new layout, too!

Nina Hansen said...

Thanks, Joy and Kayla! I'm glad you like the layout!

That means a lot, clairegillian. :) Thanks all for commenting!

Danielle said...

This was awesome! I wanted to keep going. well done. I have a fascination for WWII and this was very good.

Nina Hansen said...

Thanks so much! WWII is an amazing historical period, isn't it?

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