Meet A Character – Rolf Offenstath


From my first book…

Rolf.

Rolf Offenstath sat down wearily in the wreckage of what used to be a house, he guessed. He’d never lived in Berlin, but had attended one or two May Day celebrations in his time with the Hitler Youth. Rolf shivered, his breath visible as he exhaled with a shaky sound.. It was cold and wet for May. He saw Scharführer Esserholtz, the equivalent rank of a Sergeant moving towards him. “Esserholtz.” He called. The older man sat with him, shivering in the cold. “What’s the news?” Rolf asked. Eseerholtz glanced over at Rolf, his eyes taking in the SS insignia on his collar, the single pip on his epaulet, designating him as a First Lieutenant. The gleaming black pistol holster that held the Luger. The older man reflected he’d been in the army almost as many years as this boy had been alive. And here this boy was in charge of a Company in the ReichsKrieg, the German army.

“Herr Obersturmführer, the word is that The Fuhrer is dead.” The Sergeant told him. “Admiral Doenitz is in charge of the Reich. Boorman has succeeded the Führer as head of the party.” He knew that would be important to Rolf. He was so dedicated to the idealogy, Esserholts knew. “Goebbels has killed himself and his family.” He cradled his rifle, shrugging. “Alles ist kaput.” All is lost.

All is lost. Rolf looked down at his feet. He’d risen quickly in the 6th SS Panzer division, his Hitler Youth background helping him to Officer Rank. He could recall trading in his brown uniform Youth for the all black Waffen SS uniform, and the feeling of pride. His rank was as a 1st Lieutenant, in the division that would take part in the Battle of the Bulge. It had not been too long ago that Rolf had gotten the news from his Hitler Youth leader that he was being shipped to battle. “You will have the chance you’ve dreamed about, to take up arms against the invading English and Americans.” He’d been told. “You will report to 6th SS Panzer as a First Lieutenant.” The man, Herr Axmann, had looked at him with pity. “Remember, the men you will command have been fighting for years. Be firm, polite, respectful… but remember that you are an officer in the Waffen SS.”

For those of you who read this kind of stuff, you now know i’m ready to play in Forsyth’s playground. I’m all set to link the Third Reich to Odessa to the Vatican… and tie that into the Organization.

Rolf will be the Engineer of the first book, cold calculating, ruthless. He’ll tap into his experience from Bastogne to make him the most effective Engineer the Organization has ever seen.

This book will set the stage that my apocalyptic series will stage in.

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How My Writing is Done pt. 2


Okay, what I’ve done up until now was to open Dramatica first. I may write a few scenes first, and then do Dramatica, but I like to know  – where am I going? It all goes back to a kung fu movie with James Caan in it. A character announced in that movie that Caan’s character used the 5P principle – Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.

I’ve only seen that movie once, by the way. I can vividly remember that scene. sitting there watching TV with my dad in the house on Bull Street in Newport. Must have been around 1974.

I also learned (from books on leadership) the fail to plan motto. “If you fail to plan, you have planned to fail.”

So, I like to know – where am I going? I’ve got hero, sidekick, impact character, villain, villain enabler. They all live somewhere, and villain, due to nature of being a villain, is in conflict with hero.

Open Dramatica. Start the interview process and really hate life for the next four or five days. Dramatica insists on all those time wasters. Who is your hero? What are they like? Tell us about them. Tell us about relationship between hero and impact character.

Boring. Necessary. Dramatica really forces you to SLOW DOWN and write about the characters. Sure, I can’t wait to get to gunfire, bone-chilling punches with a meaty dubbed sound and slow motion explosions as hero jumps sideways across the room shooting two guns at the same time as the independent grocer ducks and covers his head.

But see, unless I’m trying to write a Chuck Norris movie, you actually have to make your characters REAL. My first novel was going nowhere until my characters became real to me. Part of that happens when you write.

So, I spend the week going through sheer drudgery, and I copy and paste the results into 30 scenes on my corkboard in Scrivener.

Done.

Start writing. I open a scene in Scrivener. TYPE SOMETHING!

Start with a Character name and an action. “Fred Flintstone” what? “Sat.” “Jumped.” “Drove.”

Ah.

“Controller sat in his private office in Babylon”.

I’ve started. Who what when where why how? I don’t care. I just finish the thought.

“Controller sat in his private office in Babylon, looking at his laptop.”

Why?

“Controller sat in his private office in Babylon, looking at his laptop. Controller held a very unique job, that of coordinating all the myriads of persons working for the shadow governments, the entity that conspiracy theorists called the Illuminati and some called the Bildebergers.”

BOOM. I know who, because I’ve written about Mr. Silver Spoon high society Controller before. Controller keeps all of the Organization’s plans running. minor department heads, called “Movers” all report their plans to him. He keeps them running. When something shows up he doesn’t like… he calls Lynch.

“Controller had to keep track of the activity of hundreds of people, many carefully hidden agendas and plots. He’d had to badger the software people to write a special piece of software for his needs. Whenever Controller had reflected on the old system of cork boards, 3X5 cards and colored push pins, he would wince. How did the past Controllers ever keep track of things that way?

He glanced at the display, his eyes running across it. He preferred to have a giant screen monitor for this, so they’d come up with a docking interface for him that projected his screen onto a giant plasma screen monitor. Or whatever it was. Controller didn’t worry about little things like that.”

Okay. You now have a subtle glance into who Controller is. He is dedicated. He is organized. And he doesn’t worry about minor little details about what kind of screen it is. What’s important is juggling a thousand conflicting plans and priorities.

But he was accustomed to giving orders and having them carried out with delay. He remembered the day he’d moved into this exalted position. His predecessor had told him, “You’ll want to give as few direct commands as possible. Choose the right subordinates, make sure they know how you want it done. Frequent meetings, direct and to the point, are the key.”

Controller had remembered that. A simple phone call was often the only thing he needed to do.

But now one of his subordinates had uncovered a direct threat within the Organization, from within. He stared at the small box, marked “Chad”. It was marked over with an X. But the name attached to it was something that worried Controller.

There were a large number of tags. Names, places. And none of them connected to anything.

Names and places did not end up on that board unconnected. And that worried Controller even more.”

Okay, now you’re aware of a major subplot to the book. Someone else is out there, controlling, moving pieces.

Controller picked up his phone, and hesitated. He was always careful to call those above him. But Lynch… ahhhh, Lynch. His Engineer. Only in the Organization for two years or so… and had the direct ear of Caesar. Lynch had undertaken tasks and assignments nobody had known about. He would disappear for weeks, reappear, and hand Controller the reigns to some other piece of the puzzle.

Lynch had raised both of them to new heights. The office of Controller was always one subordinate to the Inner Circle. But in the last two years, following the hiring of Lynch from a pathetic posting in the US State Department, they had risen in stature to that equivalent of the Inner Circle.

He hit the speed dial number, and heard the phone answer. “This is Six.” He heard.

“Sorry to bother you. This is Controller.” Controller reflected on a simple fact – how powerful a person had to be to lose the necessity for a name.

Now I’ve drawn Lynch into it. Lynch is my version in this series of an Easy button. When I get stuck on something, shove Lynch in, and things get fixed in a hurry. Develop an Easy Button character. Lynch does nasty things like.. set people on fire. Shoot them. Stab them. Throw them from airplanes. Good subplot? Let’s try killing that subplot, and see what happens?

I’ve also given you a glimpse now into the inner circle. If such an Organization really existed and I truly did this, I’d be meeting the real Lynch this evening. Think of the Mailman from “Three Days of the Condor”. Think of Charles Bronson from “The Mechanic.”

Lynch pulled out his phone as he waited, dialing it.

“Six.”

“Remind me to smoke a cigar with you.” Lynch said.

“Who is this? How did you get this number?”

“I’ve got your number.” Lynch said. “Tell me, have you ever been to Dortmund?”

There was silence. “Is this by any chance Lynch?”

“You should then understand the reference to a cigar.” Lynch said.

“You might find your cigar a little.. Bitter.” Six said. “I have some friends ready to make your acquaintance.”

“Really.” Lynch said. “Too many bad movies, Fritz. Tell me, did you hire him because of the fencing scar on his eye, or did you hire him because he used to be a hired killer? Really. And that was the best you could do. And you had to hire a friend of mine. You’ve been reading too many bad spy thrillers.”

“I have other friends. All promised great rewards. I’m afraid the only reading I’ll be doing shortly is your obituary.” Six said.

“So, what was your plan? You were really going to go with the other candidate?” Lynch couldn’t keep the skepticism out of his voice. He could see someone out on the street, moving towards the door. Lynch steadied his rifle, cradling the phone. He pulled the bolt back, then slid it home.

Ready.

“There are some doubts.” Six agreed.

“Silly. What you mean is, you’re not happy with the loss of control, so you’re going with the other Candidate. You think he’ll be more pliable.”

“That is no concern of yours, my friend.” The closest hint of a German accent broke out at last. Lynch knew he’d broken the man. “And it is about to be of no more importance to you my friend.”

“Hold, please… Halten, Bitte.” Lynch pulled the trigger as the door opened. The figure in the raincoat stumbled, and dropped to the floor.

“Thank you for holding.” Lynch said pleasantly. “That was Clubfoot. His poor mother in the nursing home. I’ll send her flowers in his memory.”

Six felt the sweat break out on his forehead. He’d never realized how truly dangerous this Engineer was. How did he ever get so lethal? “I think we need to talk.” Six said.

“Losing your nerve, so soon?” Lynch was incredulous. “Offering a deal already? Are you sure you’re in the right business? We’ll talk tonight, I promise. I have a special cigar saved up for you. This isn’t sanctioned, but I don’t think I’ll be censured by the Inner Circle for acting. Let me tend to your scar-faced thug, and the others first. I’ll be in Dortmund in just about an hour and a half. Enjoy your coffee.”

Cat and Mouse. I decided to move into a cat and mouse scenario. We’ve established a rival organization within the organization, and I went back to one of the first short stories I’d ever read, “The Most Dangerous Game.”

Now, something that’s always bothered me. When you have those scenarios, in every one else’s stories, they’re always in silence. Lynch isn’t one for silence. He’s got that phone. He has your phone number. and he knows where you’re hiding. He’s “They” after all.

So, lynch would not shoot, run, duck, gasp,look around, dive to the next cover spot, turn, shoot someone. Nope.

He’d call them on the phone, and harass them.

So, we don’t so much see Lynch most of the time. You see the body drop.

Josef paused as a stair creaked. He held his breath. There was silence. Josef smiled grimly, and moved up the stairs as stealthily as he could. He made it to the top.

He could make out in the darkness the shell casing lying on the floor. So, this is where the target had stood and waited for Willi to enter. “I will avenge you.” He whispered. He wished for a moment he had some religious beliefs, that perhaps Willi could hear him somewhere. But alas, Josef had no religious beliefs whatsoever.

He gripped the Walther pistol, moving slowly. The Target had either gone downstairs, or was in the office. He headed towards the office door. He paused, listening. There was no sound. No boards creaking, no breathing, no sound of weight shifting. Had the target gone downstairs? Josef was tempted to turn around. He stepped into the office, his gun swinging wildly to cover the empty room.

He paused. Where would I be, if I was The Target? He turned and stepped out of the office, just as the realization spread in him.

If I was the Target, I’d be behind me.

His foot carried him out of the office, as something cold ripped at his neck…

What you don’t show, is sometimes more important than what you show.

I’m careful to notate in my meta tags what characters are in the scene, where, the POV, and the date. Why the date? My series is a time-delineated series. In other words, the clock is ticking, and the end is inevitably coming. I have to know WHEN the scene is. I also use a freeware program called Timeline to notate critical points. I don’t use it much. I think I open it once a month.

And everything you read is raw. It’s still not first draft yet, because you’re going to poke at it to make it rough draft.

There’s five steps – raw, first draft, second draft, third draft, final draft. Apparently, I’m starting to polish my skills to the point where my raw is almost second draft status, and much of it can move directly to final draft.

You’ve read of Controller, how he relies on lynch. Lynch is a force of nature, and his taunting, confident lethal-ness. His contempt for Six when Six turns traitor. And Controller can rely on Lynch to take care of Second, Four and Six while he does what he needs to.

Now I’ve got scenes where Lynch can really shine.

Did I concentrate on my plot? Nope. I wrote of interactions. Controller musing about his ever-present work, noticing something off. Lynch is two steps ahead of him, and taking care of it already. Controller now can act.

I got all this by writing a name, an action, and a second action. The important thing?

Know your characters.

The Lost Battalion Review


I started on this topic the other day.

If you have never seen this movie, expect to have your heart torn out. This is the kind of writing every author should aspire to.

You are introduced to Major Whittlesey in the opening scenes of the movie, and you right away know who and what he is.

You are introduced to two characters from New York, and the way they explain battlefield hazards for the new soldiers tells you EVERYTHING about them.

You know all about Private Yoder from the beginning. You know about Private Lapastie too. You get a glimpse of Krotoschevski, and it hints at greatness.

You understand Major Prinz. you understand General Alexander.

you understand Private Chen, and agonize with him. He’s been ordered to stay behind alone, and you see from his face he knows he’s going to die – yet he stays at his post anyway.

And the characters develop. One of the single greatest movie scenes of all times goes to Private Krotoschevski, with the “I took the test” speech to Private Lapastie. See if it doesn’t make your heart swell with pride! Can YOU write a speech like that?

The friendship between Private Lapastie and Yoder, which at first almost ended up in blows, is astounding. Try to write something like that!

And if you can create a character like Major Charles Whittlesey, you deserve an income rivaling that of any best selling author. Rick Schroeder’s portrayal of Whittlesey deserved awards.

Watching this movie should be required for all writers. The scene where Private Rosen slowly hands a dog tag to Major Whittlesey, who reluctantly accepts it… you should study every second of it. Put it on frame by frame, and FORCE yourself to describe it.

“Rosen stops in front of Whittlesey, tears slowly running down his grimy face. He hesitantly extends his arm, soaked with the blood of his best friend, the encrusted dog tag suspended from his weary fingers. His face becomes set, the slight nod telling Whittelsey everytihng the Major was dreading.”

“Whittelsey, the agony on his face, slowly reaches for the dog tag. The look that passes between them speaks loudly. No word is spoken. none was needed. In that understanding glance, Rosen saw the agony in Whittlesey’s face, the tears beginning to cut through the soot on the Major’s face. For every dog tag in the Major’s hands, he was inwardly dying a thousand deaths.”

“In that moment, Rosen saw who the Major was. And he vowed to himself that if the Major at that moment ordered them all to march to Berlin and hunt down Kaiser Wilhelm and make him pay for this war, make him pay for the deaths of so many fine men… Rosen would not hesitate. He would follow Whittelsey to the grave. It was the same thought he’d though a dozen times in the last four days. ‘I will follow this man, not for duty’s sake. But because he cares.'”

“Whittelsey binds the dog tag to the too-large bundle in his hand. He can put a face to every dog tag. He can recall a conversation with every man who’d had it. He can recall a moment of valor from every one of them And the knowledge haunts Whittelsey. ‘These men are dead because I ordered them to be here.’ Whittelsey, unable to bear it a moment longer, looks down, his chin trembling. ‘These men are better than me.’ He thinks again, for the hundredth time that day.”

“He will never be able to sleep well again. He glances at Captain McMurty and nods. No words need to be said. McMurty nods, and looks away. He is changed by working with Whittlesey. He now is overcome by the knowledge of how great these men who’ve died at their orders were.”

If you’re a writer, watch this movie a dozen times. Force yourself to novel-ize parts of it. the first watching of this movie is traumatic. If you do not cry at least once, you are probably a sociopath. Trust me when I say, literally, this movie should be required watching for every would-be author.