One of the most rewarding parts of writing is when a character comes alive. Much is said about how good stories come alive to readers and how characters in them seem to be real people, but in my experience the same happens for writers as well. While writing my novel A Calling Above Oneself in grade 12, I had everything planned out; before actually writing it, I knew what was going to happen in every chapter and who all my characters were. Except for one… Private Franz Karl Schachen.
Judging by my book sales, few of my blog readers have read my novel, so I will try to avoid any spoilers here! But I will tell you a little about this fascinating character who took on a life of his own. I had very minimal plans for Franz in my story. He was meant to add a little bit more interest, being a young Wehrmacht soldier who decides to abandon his comrades and instead support the quest of the heroine, Galya, and her Soviet friends. I didn’t know what kind of traits Franz would have, past innocence, idealism, and naivety. And how surprised I was when Franz became the most alive character in my whole book– the character of Franz Schachen wrote itself, and became an integral part of the story when he was supposed to only be a supporting character. It really was a special thing to witness, because in every scene with Franz I felt like I was watching the story unfold instead of writing it myself!
Franz is described as being a tall, blonde German with wide eyes and a young face. I hope I did his sincerity and cheerfulness justice in this drawing!
Above is a drawing I made of Franz, who is one of the most beloved characters I’ve ever created. In a time of war, he shows great dedication to the cause of good; so much so that he turns his back on all he knows and accepts ridicule and rejection. Beyond that practical idealism, he is an exceptionally sweet and kind individual who does not allow the horror of war to change him. He is devoted to Galya’s cause, and while helping her in her quest he also keeps her smiling. Franz plays perhaps the most important role in A Calling Above Oneself, because his dedication is supplemented by an attention to the human side of things. Although young and perhaps slightly simple, Franz is exactly the kind of person I would want as a friend in the middle of a war.
How better to demonstrate Franz’s character than with an excerpt from my novel– this excerpt is from Galya and Franz’s first meeting, and I think it portrays him well!
“I’m Private Franz Schachen,” he said, in accented Russian. I was surprised. “What’s the matter?”
I took his hand warily and shook it, feeling very suspicious and reserved.
“Toothache,” I growled- which really did seem a terrible explanation for my tears. But let him think what he pleased; after all, I would probably be lying in the yard and riddled with bullet holes by the next morning.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said. “Could it be your wisdom teeth? I had to have mine out three weeks ago, the battalion surgeon did it for me. If they’re really bothering you, I could fetch him if you like.”
“I’ll be alright,” I replied stiffly, puzzled because his offer seemed genuinely well-meaning.
“If you’re sure,” Private Schachen said. “What’s your name?”
” My great-grandmother was named Galina,” he commented brightly. “She was from Saint Petersburg, or Leningrad now, I suppose. But don’t tell Major Mittenwald; the army officially thinks I am German for six generations.”
One of the hardest things to do is to remain kind under difficult circumstances. Positivity can be hard to cultivate in terrible times, and I can’t imagine how people were able to remain upbeat or even sane in World War II. So I really appreciate the character of Franz, as he is the epitome of optimism and is endlessly kind. A Calling Above Oneself is one of my proudest accomplishments, and Franz is one of the proudest parts of that. It is so cool to me that the character of Franz became everything that he is!
I hope you have enjoyed this post and are as fascinated by the character of Franz as I am. If it has piqued your interest, you can read more about A Calling Above Oneself here and pick it up from Kobo here. There’s nothing more exciting than when a character comes alive; and if I may say so, I think few are more alive than Private Franz Karl Schachen!
© Adair Elizabeth Robin Jacobs, 2014