‘The collective fear on their parents faces that day, settled in Sylvia’s bones. The Nazis had tried to force her parents, God fearing Christians to swear a loyalty oath to Hitler. Since they refused, they knew they were on the list of undesirables.’
I wrote that this week for one of the stories in my WIP, a collection of short stories. My fictional character’s life was changed the day her parents paid the ultimate price for their values.
As a writer, it’s vital that we understand the history of our characters, the choices they’ve made either willingly or unwillingly. We need to know what happened in their past because the past is, and always will be relevant to the present, and it will form the future. It informs the world we inhabit and it informs the choices we make. This goes for our fictional characters as well.
So when my character’s parents made that brave choice, they knew full well that not swearing an oath of loyalty to Hitler would likely be a death sentence, but they stood strong in their values. That choice altered the lives of the entire family not for that moment in time, but for generations, for all time. That decision in 1944 charted the course for my character’s behavior in 1976, giving a deep layered background for the story and every choice she makes.
Don’t get sidetracked by your character’s backstory (it’s easy to do), and certainly don’t do info dumps of narration, nobody likes that.
But DO pepper your stories with enough seasoning (backstory) to give it the full flavor that will deliver a satisfying read to your audience. And if in that read you can educate and illuminate the reader, all the better.
I have a clear objective with this particular story, and that is to show, not tell, that white supremacy attitudes (worldwide) lead to a ravenous hunger for power and ultimately, a thirst for blood. However, as with any writer who has a specific message or agenda, the best way to get that across is through story, not from a pulpit. Stories change hearts, hearts change minds. Pulpits just piss people off. Be a storyteller not a preacher (unless you’re actually a preacher, in that case, preach on.) Don’t beat people over the head with your message, tell them a story.
It’s commonly accepted that Nazi Germany’s concentration camps were/are the epicenter of human sorrow and suffering as a result of human against human brutality. These places stand as tributes to the human race’s capability when fear leads to either blind faith in religion or government, or when vile rhetoric becomes our prime cheerleader. They are living tombstones honoring, not just the victims, but also the sins of those who shot innocent people with wild glee, locked gas chamber doors against the screams of their victims, or, perhaps more inexcusably, closed their eyes to grievous inhumanity. Or worse yet, today in 2017, those who deny the holocaust ever happened. The politics of today have everything to do with why I’m writing my next novel, Garden of Lies, not that it’s about politics specifically, but because it puts a face on a victim of the last time people endorsed fear and anger as their guide and allowed them to justify releasing the largest gathering of sociopaths ever – in Nazi uniforms – on an entire population. That’s my two-bits, now back to storytelling…
Using imagery in storytelling means constantly looking for images, old photos that will help me make the world I am creating (WWII concentration camps, 1960 Portland Oregon, and 1930’s Egypt) come to life in my head and ultimately in a reader’s mind. I collect images and information for my research and save it on my Pinterest board. For example, this image helps me envision what my main protagonist, Esmée sees in her dreams – memories of Auschwitz – and the ghosts who haunt her. Visit my Pinterest board to see the world I’m creating. Please follow my board if interested. Though I could not find (via Google image search) the source of this photo, I have linked it to the info I did find. http://www.mindyhalleck.com
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