Learning to Write Better through Reading

I finished reading The White Rose Resists by Amanda Barrett this past week. The novel, based on the actual White Rose resistant group whose young leaders were tragically executed, via guillotine, in 1943, piqued my interest because of the extreme reviews it had on Goodreads. I’d only had a vague knowledge of the real event which involved Munich university student siblings, Hans and Sophie Scholl, along with fellow students, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell and Willi Graf, among others. These five were convicted of treason and immediately killed. Their crime? Sending out propaganda leaflets suggesting that the war was a lost cause. 

I was moved by the actual events behind the novel, but I found the structure of this novel confusing.  When a narrative is written from different points of view, there needs to be a corresponding change in ‘voice’. This can be done through dialogue, thought processes and interactions. Merely defining a viewpoint with a name at the beginning of each chapter left me constantly turning back to the chapter beginning, wondering who the I had morphed into now. Who was doing the actual talking? The author never let me forget that she was telling the story, even though she no doubt meant the opposite. I get what she was trying to do. I’m guilty as charged, writing fiction in first person, present-tense to create the least amount of distance between the reader and the action. But when that first person is constantly changing, the reader can’t develop any empathy towards the character—only confusion.

Another irritant, which I put in the editor’s court, was the constant reference to vater and mutter, ja and nein, etc.. We get it, it’s a German story. But the words here seemed gratuitous and jarring. As well, by inserting the fictional characters, Kirk and Annelise, into the plot, she creates an artificial love story and only weakens the historical fact. I'm grateful to other reviewers who articulated much better than I can some of the issues of this mostly five-starred book. (Go to Goodreads to follow the discussion).

Enough of my criticisms. While the re-telling by Barrett might be flawed, there’s no weakening of the actual tragic incident.  I found the narrative most compelling when it shared the final hours of Sophie Scholl’s life. 

So while I’d been warned by other Goodreaders not to bother reading, I’m grateful I did, after all. Sometimes reading what doesn’t work can be as useful to a writer as reading what does. Here’s what I will try to apply to my own writing:  I will be careful with my use of foreign words; I will try to establish credible points of view; and I will not insert characters that don’t add to the overall plot. I don’t mean to disparage this novel. The author told a deeply felt version of an important event and she includes great references at the end which can lead readers to find the true story in between the fiction, if they, in fact, care. Writing historical fiction deserves truth. But in the end, as authors, we can only try our best. Editors, we need you!

Photo: Creative Commons, Bust of Sophie Scholl by Wolfgang Eckert 


No comments:

Recent Posts

Ode to the Linden Tree

I noticed a social media post about it being National Tree Day yesterday, September 22, (different day in every country) and thought I’d sha...