1. Mega Erofan
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    Mega Erofan New Member

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    Making WWI soldiers without overdoing it

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Mega Erofan, Aug 22, 2013.

    Hey everyone!

    I'm a new member here, and was hoping to have a bit of input for an original story idea I have. I wanted to write a romance story centered around the first World War, but with a unique twist to it. I won't spoil it (for now) but I'm having trouble with developing the characters in the story: three major and three minor. I want to know how to develop a good soldier character from that era of war without over doing it. I wanna make them realistic, but also make them a bit unique as well because my current characters seem...unwitting for the era, and when I try to change them, I end up altering important parts of the story I want to keep original and included.

    If anyone is willing to look over the profiles I created so far and give me critics and pointers on them, I would more than appreciate it.

    Thank you.
     
  2. stronglydisagree
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    stronglydisagree New Member

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    Tell me more!
     
  3. The Peanut Monster
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    The Peanut Monster Senior Member

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    Post one or two and we can have a look!
     
  4. alexandriadeloraine
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    alexandriadeloraine Member

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    Hey there Erofan;

    If you're aiming for historical realism, I'd suggest that you study what went on during the war. Are your characters
    British, American, French, German, Austrian, Russian? Are they Italian or Polish? Warfare was a different beast a
    hundred years ago, the Russian's were getting to the front on foot and in ox-drawn carts, for instance. WWI also
    made huge use of trench warfare, and it was the war when governments began using chemical weapons on the
    enemy, including mustard gas, tear gas, and chlorine.

    The psychology of soldiers was different, as well. Aside from the famous Christmas truces that cropped up along
    the front lines in 1914 and 1915, the firing rate of the soldiers during WWI (and WWII, actually) was far lower than
    what is seen in modern wars, especially since Vietnam and the Korean War before that. You can check out some
    of the information regarding firing rates here.

    Without more details about your characters, it's hard to give you any concrete suggestions. Can you tell us where
    you intend to have them stationed? What are their nationalities? What year(s) of the war does the story take place
    during, and where have your characters come from prior to being soldiers? Are your characters young men, in the
    range of 17 - 25 years old, or are they older? How did they end up being soldiers -- were they drafted, were they
    already serving when the war broke out, did they volunteer?

    My biggest tip is to read and study the history of that period. A lot has changed in the last 100 years. I'd be willing to
    look over what you have for your characters so far, just send me a PM if you're interested.

    - Alexandria de Loraine
     
  5. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i agree that you need to read/study the history...

    but you should also read/study novels based on 'the great war' written during and not too long after that period... hemingway's 'a farewell to arms' is one that paints the characters in vivid detail... you can find other well-respected novels, such as 'all quiet on the western front' by remarque, with a google search...

    the film adaptations of such novels, as well as original films about wwi will also offer all the info you need to develop believable charactes... two classics you should not miss are 'paths of glory' and 'sergeant york'...
     
  6. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    All Quiet On the Western Front is a great book which was made into a couple of great movies.
     
  7. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Bear in mind that there were several wars during the period between the late 1800s and the onset of the Great War to End All Wars as it was optimistically called. (And we see how well that worked out.) My personal favorite has got to be "The War of the Golden Stool" a British overseas action in 1900. Just the image of a golden stool!
    But, consider the timeframe involved and the state of the union at the time of WWI.
    The United states only had 46 states just 2 years before the global conflict became a global conflict. (New Mexico and Arizona were classified as the New Mexico Territory until their individual statehood was ratified in 1912.) It was an entirely different world. And, while there were a few conflicts involving America during the twenty years prior to the United States' involvement in the War - six to be exact, none of them involved widespread American military might prior to the onset of global war during WWI. So none of the soldiers had ever been involved in any kind of military action. The age of WWI soldiers is estimated to be between about 17 to 35(for officers and career military). The youngest known British soldier was a boy of about 12 and it has been reported that there were more than one young soldier under the age of 17. The men/boys of The Great War were, at best, children with little memory of any prior war or infants or not yet born during the twenty year period leading up to that mess. Their only knowledge of the war would be tales of heroism from grandfathers and fathers and, in some cases, stories of why those progenitors never came home. Their sentiments toward war in general were likely colored by their family memories of previous involvements as well as the newspaper and radio reports from overseas. Now, imagine yourself being a naïve 16 or 17 year old and finding yourself thrust into the unforgiving environment of a bloody impersonal war. You are given a gun and a uniform and taught to go out and kill but, all you see are men already dead and all you can do is vomit in the blood and dirt at your feet.
    Another thing to consider: Unless you are writing about soldiers from other nations than the US (I may be erroneously thinking you are writing about US soldiers since you are listed as being from Delaware) it is important to know that the United States was only involved in the war officially for little more than a year. They entered the action in April of 1917 and were active until the war's end in November of 1918. (Just about the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in Russian which overthrew the Romanov rule of Czar Nicholas II.)
    Prior to that time, many Americans, as in WWII prior to the official American involvement, took active part in the war by enlisting in the Canadian forces.
    Now, obviously the American enlistees, whether through Canada or after the passage of the US Selective Service Act in 1917, were motivated by a sense of righteousness and a belief in the cause. In most cases, they went willingly, anxiously in fact. But, in order to truly understand the environment surrounding the men of WWI, you should learn more about the world in which they lived prior to the war. The St. Louis World's Fair was one of innocence and gaiety. Just a few years later, the Chicago World's Fair, introduced America to the horrors of serial killers and the disappearance of young women. (Side note: Wild Bill Hickok was not allowed space at the Chicago Exhibition and so he, along with several other like-snubbed groups, set up outside the back side of the fairgrounds and did quite well for themselves without having to pay for booth space inside the grounds!)
    In any case, the innocence of the society these men left must have contrasted in sickeningly drastic ways from the war zones into which they were thrust after enlistment. These were farm boys and store clerks who had never seen a person die and now they were finding themselves the instrument of death for others or were forced to cradle the bodies of dying comrades as they breathed their last. Depending on the mental and emotional strength of the men, many of them may have merely steeled themselves, drawing strength from the horrors while others we know simply gave up. Many actually committed suicide because they could not deal with the horrors they were witnessing.
    War, as they say, is Hell. (Sorry to be so long. Didn't mean to write a book... this time)
     
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  8. DH Hanni
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    DH Hanni Member

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    I'd suggest first focusing on what kind of people the characters are rather than focusing on just one aspect of them, i.e. being soldiers. Feelings and reactions don't change just because the times change. It's how the character reacts and feels that matters.

    Research the time period which should be easy considering the era. There's actual footage available somewhere on the internet. Lots of fiction books focusing on that time period and soldiers in WWI. All Quiet on the Western Front is a great one.
     
  9. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Do some research on Amazon. There are tons of books about World War I, and it isn't hard to find a few with personal stories like this one:

    George “Brownie” Browne was a twenty-three-year-old civil engineer in Waterbury, Connecticut, when the United States entered the Great War in 1917. He enlisted almost immediately and served in the American Expeditionary Forces until his discharge in 1919. An American Soldier in World War I is an edited collection of more than one hundred letters that Browne wrote to his fiancée, Martha “Marty” Johnson, describing his experiences during World War I as part of the famed 42nd, or Rainbow, Division. From September 1917 until he was wounded in the Meuse-Argonne offensive in late October 1918, Browne served side by side with his comrades in the 117th Engineering Regiment. He participated in several defensive actions and in offensives on the Marne, at Saint-Mihiel, and in the Meuse-Argonne.

    This extraordinary collection of Brownie’s letters reveals the day-to-day life of an American soldier in the European theater. The difficulties of training, transportation to France, dangers of combat, and the ultimate strain on George and Marty’s relationship are all captured in these pages. David L. Snead weaves the Browne correspondence into a wider narrative about combat, hope, and service among the American troops. By providing a description of the experiences of an average American soldier serving in the American Expeditionary Forces in France, this study makes a valuable contribution to the history and historiography of American participation in World War I.

    From personal accounts like this you can reap hundreds of details that you can weave into characters who are both realistic and unique.
     
  10. DPVP
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    DPVP Active Member

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    Nationality and where they see conflict will be a big part of their experience in WWI. they also will have had a different background coming into the military then someone would now. for example most of the us was rural at the time, this meant more of the boys going to boot camp will have experience shooting and being outdoors. also the site of blood was probably less new from killing livestock and hunting game animals ( i know it helped me when i became an EMT)
     
  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel the need for more explanation of:

    - What you mean by "overdoing it".
    - What you mean by unwitting.

    I'm not sure if you're assuming that we all have a common stereotype of what people of that era are like and you don't want to overdo that stereotype, or...or... well, I'm just generally confused. :) More detail?
     
  12. mrieder79
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    mrieder79 Not a ground squirrel

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    If you haven't already done so, it may be helpful to become familiar with the culture of the early 1900s. As another poster mentioned, these characters are more than soldiers. They will make cultural references, have certain idioms, certain opinions on behavior, etiquette, religion, politics, gender, you name it. The more you can interject from that time period, the richer the characters will be.
     
  13. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    I'm not sure what you mean by "overdoing it", but I'm guessing you mean that if you make them authentic, they will be too repellant for modern readers?

    If you make an "average Joe ordinary" type of man from the 1900s, he's probably going to come across as a bigoted, racist, anti-democratic, anti-semitic, staunch anti-feminist chauvinist.

    I'm sometimes mildly shocked when I read books written in the era, even books that are still popular today carry political baggage that is unacceptable in today's world.
     
  14. DPVP
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    DPVP Active Member

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    Problem is that it ruins the feel and makes the author look like an idiot when they political correct their carachters. Better to have the past full blown then to watter it down so no ones feelings get hurt
     
  15. Mega Erofan
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    Mega Erofan New Member

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    I'm answering your's first to get the repeat questions out of the way (since I'm not sure how to edit or add to posts yet XD), and because your's is an easier read than the rest and somewhat gets to the point of my request.

    First off, the unwitting thing was a fluke on my spell check's part. (XP) I meant unfitting, so tha solves that dilemma.

    Then, of course, what I mean by "overdoing it" was because of the stereotyping. Because I imagine soldiers as either overly buff and strong, extremely arrogant, or having some mental or emotional issue. And I suppose the only way to do that is give some more details on each person so I know wha is and is not stereotyping for each character during the era.

    The story, as mentioned before, has three major and three minor characters. The major characters, in order of importantce, are a German Private, a French Captain, and a German Colonel. The minor characters, also in order of importance, are three German Lieutenants. The oldest characters is the German Colonel, and the youngest is the French Captain, all the others fall in between (I cannot list them right now as the minor character profiles are not finished and the others are in seperate documents each with place holder ages for now, but none are no younger than twenty, and no older than fifty).

    The Frenchman comes from Marseille (hope I spelled that right), the German Private comes from Breme, the German Colonel comes from Berlin, and my three Lieutenants each come from towns in the east: Essen, Cologne, and Heidelberg. (Have not determined which comes from where yet, but will be decided later)

    The location of the story is mainly on the Western Front, at a French trench over taken by German forces, approxmately a year or so after the war has began, so all the characters have been in this war for at least a year.

    The profiles are still being worked on because I still need to work some kinks out of their characteristics and backstories (which I will work on at a later time to be revised by others). I wish to make these characters my own original creations, but without almost turning them into Gary Stus and all.

    And as a personal note to all, I like how some of you have either offered sources for me to look at, tips to build up my knowledge, or have even offered to look over the profiles yourselves. I shall work on the profiles (with the help of someone who has already offered to read them personally through PM) and I'll post the beta profile once was fix a handful of "novice mistakes" for you guys to comb over and see what things are off and what I need to add or take away from it. And even, it you want to or wish to, add notes on what to add to their backstories (since I have them only partially noted mentally) to make them more interesting as characters but also relatable as soldiers or war.

    So thank you, and I hope to be getting a beta profile up at some point over the weekend.
     
  16. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    Why?

    In WW1, all sides practiced general conscription. Everybody could be a soldier. Soldiers were (and are) normal people. They didn't (and don't) all walk about with "biceps the size of Bournemouth" and huge egos. Nor are they crazy. I don't know where you usually spend your day (work, school, something else) but I suggest you do the following. Take each male from your surroundings and picture them in a WW1 uniform, in a trench, where they've been for a year and think how they would probably behave. This may help you overcome the "I need to portray them as strong masculine warriors" feeling.

    Another tip: If you mean the town of "Bremen" that's spelt with an extra "n" at the back. I personally don't like that all your characters appear to come from big cities. Most of the German population was (and is) much more rural. Have one of your junior lieutenants be a Junker from a small village beyond the eastern shore of the Elbe, have your private come from a north German village, you get the idea. :)
     
  17. Porcupine
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    Porcupine Contributing Member

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    Double Post.
     
    Last edited: Sep 4, 2013
  18. Mega Erofan
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    Mega Erofan New Member

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    Thanks for the tips! ^^; This is my first time developing my own personally original characters, so (again) some things will be off a bit. I'll look into shifting the hometowns for my German's a bit and see where that goes, aside from one, which I'll explain in a second.

    The whole soldier stereotype thing of "masculine soldiers" is because I grew up with a big brother that was into wrestling and war games, so I usually saw men who fight or act in war as being buff and strong, or arrogant. So I suppose that stereotyping can be blames on "poisoned childhood impressions".

    Now for the hometown thing: I can have my lieutenants come from small villages and such, but my Private, for sake of some story, needs to end up coming from a big city due to the fact (spoiler for backstory) he's shipped by his parents to family in a city to be taught manners because he always misbehaved. I could flip it around to see if I could reverse it, but that would mean altering his story a bit. Though I suppose most great writers had to rewrite their characters over and over again before making a good one (After all, J.R.R. Tolkien created an entire universe in general, and I'm sure he didn't have it perfect on his first try), so I'll see about the hometown thing.

    Thanks again for the tips!
     
  19. PaulGresham
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    PaulGresham Member

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    I'm quite interested in World War 1, an ancestor fought in it and I have his letters, diaries and photos.
    Try reading 'Goodbye to all that' by Robert Graves, or the one by .................Sassoon, sorry, can't remember his Christian name.
    I would be interested in the character you devise.
    My ancestor enlisted at the age of 16, was a Lewis gunner and was wounded in action. He was a country parson's son, very 'upright' as many were, probably because of their Victorian\Edwardian upbringing.
    This is a British perspective, although the Americans were just as innocent, I imagine.
     
  20. matwoolf
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    matwoolf Contributing Member Contributor

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    Siegfried...'Memoirs of an Infantry Officer' + poems. He never quite seizes the imagination like Owen, or Brooke even. I thought Owen was top boy, but some commentator chose Isaac Rosenberg for best WW1 poem.

    Break of Day in the Trenches by Isaac Rosenberg

    The darkness crumbles away.
    It is the same old druid Time as ever,
    Only a live thing leaps my hand,
    A queer sardonic rat,
    As I pull the parapet’s poppy
    To stick behind my ear.
    Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
    Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
    Now you have touched this English hand
    You will do the same to a German
    Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
    To cross the sleeping green between.
    It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
    Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
    Less chanced than you for life,
    Bonds to the whims of murder,
    Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
    The torn fields of France.
    What do you see in our eyes
    At the shrieking iron and flame
    Hurled through still heavens?
    What quaver—what heart aghast?
    Poppies whose roots are in man’s veins
    Drop, and are ever dropping;
    But mine in my ear is safe—
    Just a little white with the dust.

    Don't forget 'Gallipolli' for WW1 immersion. 'How fast can you run?'
     

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