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So I'm writing a short story based in a WW2 American military base camp stationed in Germany. It's about A Jewish Soviet soldier that, with the help of an American soldier and a series of coincidences, switches his identity and slips into the American base and 'becomes one of them'.

When I started writing this it was meant to be a character study of the Russian soldier and his inner struggles of changing his entire life and his feelings on his past and thoughts about the war through his seasoned eyes coming to this camp filled with hot shots who really don't know what they're in for.

No matter how I try and write this I keep running into the same problem. The Nurse...

So the Nurse in the camp is supposed to just be there to help nurse the Russian soldier back to health after he injures himself in order to fake his identity to switch sides. The nurse and a small handful of Americans are the only ones who know his identity.

No matter what I do I can't help but make them fall in love. That wasn't my intention with the story. I even gave the Nurse a fiancé and that didn't seem to stop me. I think the reason it keeps happening is because I use her nurturing character as a building block for the Russians character.

He shares with her that he's Jewish and that his home town is currently posted by the Germans and how he worries for his family but deep down knows the worse has happened. He shares his traumas of war and since his character is vulnerable I can't stop writing him seeing her as a love interest.

This isn't a novel it's just a short story idea and I really can't seem to work it out. I guess I'm wondering how to work out these kinks and try and avoid any romance. Any help would be appreciated.

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    I am reasonably sure that this kind of question will not be a good fit for Writing.SE. In general, StackExchange sites prefer a question that can be given a single best answer. Perhaps you can rewrite your question to fit that criterion? – Arkenstein XII Jul 26 at 2:21
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    That being said, I wonder whether unrequited love could be a good thing for your narrative? The soldier falls for the nurse, but she doesn't reciprocate? Feels like a situation that could provide tension. – Arkenstein XII Jul 26 at 2:22
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    I think you've done a good job of describing why the romance is happening, but it would be helpful for the problem-solving if you could expand on why you don't want it. What is it about a romantic thread in your story that you object to? Are you afraid it will become the primary theme/genre and overshadow some other layers of meaning that you think are most important? Are you trying to avoid the stigma of romance as a genre? I think relationships of all kinds are very potent material because they're such fundamentally human experiences, and they can enrich stories with other primary purposes. – wordsworth Jul 26 at 6:39
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    Please allow me to scrutinize another aspect of your story. You mentioned that the story happens in "WW2 American military base camp stationed in Germany". Also, you mentioned that Jewish Soviet soldier's home town is currently posted (occupied?) by the Germans. This appears like an anachronism. – Alexander Jul 26 at 7:11
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    I'd say about 90% of soldiers in that situation to fall in love with the nurse. Is your question about actively wanting to make the point that he is not like other men? – pipe Jul 27 at 18:45

11 Answers 11

86

Imagine her point of view, as a typical nurse.

She has already met hundreds of patients over the course of her career who had inappropriate feelings for her. 99% of them held no temptation for her at all, and by now she's sick of it. Some were old, some were unattractive, some were mean when they thought they were being nice, some made sexual suggestions at moments when she just wanted to get on with her job, some were so close to death she couldn't imagine having a future with them. Many were covered in blood or vomit or pus or needed help with the bedpan.

Nursing someone isn't romantic when you nurse everyone. He loves that she looks after him, but to her, there's nothing romantic about him being the fifth man whose bandages she's changed today.

This man who has poured out his feelings for her is nothing special to her. He tells her a lot about himself and she listens politely but she doesn't tell him anything really personal to her. For all that they talk, in her mind he's barely even a friend. He's just one of the nicer customers at her work, one of the ones you can have a meaningless casual chat with while you do your job and then forget about when they leave.

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    Yes. This. The service worker or helpmate type professional (who is never seen as a professional) who is 1) female and 2) falls for any one who shows her the slightest human connection is a massive stereotype. Certainly some people (both male and female) do meet romantic partners because of their job, and it wasn't always taboo for medical professionals to date their patients. But yeah, a romance like this is the patient's fantasy, not the nurse's. – Cyn Jul 26 at 18:22
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    @Cyn exactly -- they all leave eventually, whether by foot, by wheelchair, or by body bag. So it's in her best interest to not get too attached to her patients. – Doktor J Jul 26 at 19:14
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    This is an excellent answer for why the two wouldn't enter a relationship, but the OP seems specifically concerned about him falling in love with her. – Rand al'Thor Jul 26 at 21:56
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The nurse is a nurturing character? Perhaps this reminds him of his mother or sister. This is a person with whom he can be physically and emotionally vulnerable, without any sexual connotations.

Another layer to consider is that, with his life in constant peril, romance is really the very last thing on his mind. He needs friends and allies more than love.

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    This can be further accentuated by giving them a significant age-gap. Not that May-December romances aren't a thing, but if you make her a few decades older, possibly already married and not just engaged, she seems more like a maternal figure. Reverse that, and he might see her as a younger sister or daughter stand-in instead. – Darrel Hoffman Jul 26 at 20:40
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Imagine the Nurse is a lesbian. In WW2 and in the military she wouldn't be "out", but it isn't like lesbians did not exist back then. Her fiancé is a ruse; I know single lesbians that still wear a wedding ring, an easy way to shut down male inquiries.

I will also note, not all lesbians are butch, there are many degrees of femininity in lesbians; gay terms for this are "high femme" (extremely feminine; frilly, dresses, heels, makeup), "lipstick lesbian" (presents as feminine as the average heterosexual woman), and even "soft butch", aka "tomboy lesbian" or "chapstick lesbian", dresses comfortably but halfway between female and male styles. (The scale is finished out with "butch" and "stone butch", presents as extremely male in appearance, haircut, no makeup, etc).

If the nurse is a closeted lesbian in WW2 presenting as a lipstick lesbian (as many lesbians did at the time), she would have zero sexual interest or attraction to your soldier, and would rely heavily on her fictitious fiancé to shut down any advances he made, quickly. she would not be flattered by his interest, she would see it as a threat. No smiles, no shy glances, just a shut down, every time.

"I am engaged, and in love with Roger. I can trade you to another nurse if you can't get that straight."

"Aw, I was just having some fun!"

"At my expense, and you wouldn't do it if Roger were standing here. At least, not twice. I'm just your nurse, not your girlfriend."

You don't have to ever say she's a lipstick lesbian, just think of her that way when writing her lines. Zero sexual interest or romantic attraction to the man, and she can't develop any.

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    To add another layer to this, it's documented that some people in that time, married gay friends (Lesbian-Gay "couples") in order to not rouse suspicion and keep up social expectations. So "Roger" could even be a fellow solider, and add to the depth of the situation. – J Crosby Jul 26 at 14:38
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    @JCrosby Agreed; a reliable "gaydar" (a developed hyper-awareness to clues of homosexuality) was extremely important in that social environment; so it seems likely gays and lesbians might recognize each other, and "team up". Heck, one team can invite another team over for an evening of charades. – Amadeus Jul 26 at 15:04
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    Also, a nurse in WWII would be required by her employers to look and dress in a traditionally feminine way, whether she enjoys that style or not. – Cyn Jul 26 at 18:26
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    A lot of the terms are very regional, in addition to being tied to very specific generations. My point wasn't that the terms weren't real (I've used most of them and believe you on the rest). It's that, aside from baby boomers and up (and not all of them), most lesbians don't think of degree of femininity as a category. It's descriptive, and works for straight women too (along with bi and every other label). Sexual orientation is still mostly categorized but expression of traditional femininity (which is not the same as femininity in general) just isn't. (more) – Cyn Jul 26 at 21:11
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    But yes, a lesbian who loves form fitting frilly clothes, push up bras, bright lipstick, just the right amount of makeup, high heels, and so on, isn't any more attracted to a man than a lesbian who likes loose carpenter pants, combat boots, a leather jacket, and an Army recruit haircut. – Cyn Jul 26 at 21:12
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You are letting the characters develop naturally, according to what feels right for them, rather than forcing them to conform to an abstract plot point. This is good, of course. Now, if you really need to stop your characters going in a particular direction, I don't think you should abandon your good method and switch to the bad one (forcing the plot onto the characters). I think you might find it suprisingly effective to let the characters themselves guide you in the right direction.

For example, consider the following exploratory writing process (not necessariy to produce the final draft, but to find solutions that you will then re-write): step (1), force the plot point onto the characters--even though they are developing such a strong and intimate relationship, romance is NOT developing; step (2), hang a lantern on it--e.g. have some other character urge the protagonist to start a relationship with the nurse ("Man, you two are made for each other, you should make a move" "I get that it might seem that way, and you know, I do love her as a friend, but I just can't see her that way"), step (3), have the two main characters themselves work through the issue, within the action of the story--they talk about it, admit to each other that their life would be so much impoverished without their friendship, and yet they agree that they feel no romantic interest, perhaps discovering this about each other to their mutual relief... And now they can actually have a conversation about it, talking about friendship and love and their feelings about her fiance and his lost family etc. And, quite likely, even though you, in the abstract, aren't sure what would stop the characters from becoming romantically involved, now, through the eyes of the characters, you can explain why this is the case most conclusively.

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    You will want to check your spelling about 1/3rd through your 2nd paragraph. Unless you intentionally misspelled "relationship". – computercarguy Jul 26 at 22:13
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    I love a good Freudian typo : ) – sesquipedalias Jul 26 at 23:08
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    I wonder how many people read it without noticing it. I also wonder how many people read it and went "Yep, spot on." ;-) – computercarguy Jul 26 at 23:22
  • Spelling: "feel no romantic intereset". – Amadeus Jul 26 at 23:55
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    @computercarguy what if there was somebody who read it and did NOT notice it, but went "yep, spot on" anyway, only without realising why : DDD – sesquipedalias Jul 29 at 19:26
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The honest truth is that sometimes characters will do what they will, regardless of what you had in mind for them. It seems that you may have developed your character to a point that he is capable of making his own decisions. I know it sounds farfetched, but it happens.

The best course of action might be to let the romance happen, but don't let it overshadow other important parts of your story. Romance as a subplot is common in literature and media and is a useful tool for character development.

If you are determined to keep romance out of your story, you could try replacing the nurse with a male character, a doctor, perhaps. While this doesn't completely negate the possibility of a romantic relationship, it might make it easier to create a bond between them that is platonic.

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Give him another love.

Does he have a girlfriend back in Russia? A fiancée? A wife?

In any case, this is one of the aspects of his life that he struggles with (will he ever see her again? Does she think him dead?) and talks about with the nurse. Some of the nurse's personality traits might be ones that the soldier find attractive, but they keep bringing to mind bittersweet memories of the lady he has left behind, tinged with reminiscence and longing.

The nurse gave a small smile and a quiet laugh - a gentle tinkle in the hubbub of the ward. Timur paused, his face twisting simultaneously in pain and fond recollection; Inna used to laugh the same way, when she was truly amused. The memories were pleasant, yes, but after so long away... Her absence twisted in his chest like a knife in a wound.

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    Do you think being in love with one person stops you from being in love with another? – David Rice Jul 26 at 18:33
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    @DavidRice Romatically? Not something I've experienced, but YMMV... But, most of the answers (and the Asker's attempted solutions) were all about trying to change the nurse: give her a fiancée, make her a lesbian, etc. She's not to blame, she's just doing her job. And, none of those changes will particularly impact how the soldier feels, which seems to be the problem. So, change something about the soldier - for example, instead of the nurse's caring traits making him attracted to her, they just make him homesick. – Chronocidal Jul 27 at 18:13
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Why don't you make a large age difference between the soldier and the nurse? Like, a big age difference.

Otherwise, what if the nurse just isn't into your soldier? What if he chews too loudly and she finds him to be a slob? What if she has a hard time following his accented English? What if she's a staunch Catholic and she really isn't into anyone who isn't? What if he's an extrovert and she's an introvert? Or maybe she's not thinking about love during wartime at all.

Perhaps your nurse is dedicated to her job and not to the individuals she tends to as a nurse. She's built up a wall around her just to endure the pain of tending to people who are dying. The war has made her numb to love and all she wants is to go home and dedicate herself to her job. She becomes a top nursing professor when she gets back to the United States and becomes active in pacifist causes.

Who knows? You'll find out.

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Short answer

Make minor adjustments the characters' motivations and personalities until it is plausible that they will act in a way that is conducive to the story. (In this particular case, that would be not falling in love.)

It can be difficult on a personal level to change characters that you hold dear, but it is not only possible but often necessary.

Long answer

It appears that you've imagined the characters so vividly that they feel like they are real, living people. To write a story that has them acting counter to their natural inclinations would feel forced as if it were violating their free will. That's great! It means you have fully realized the characters. However, it is important to remind yourself that these people are fictional characters that you have control over.

It is important that all of the elements are consistent and plausible. If you have characters that you wish to preserve, it is worth examining the plot, setting, and other elements to see what can be adjusted. Unfortunately, it is not always possible to preserve a character in their entirety without undermining the quality of a story.

Other answers have provided examples of how the characters could be tweaked to ensure a romantic relationship isn't feasible. Personally, I favor those that make the characters pragmatic. It isn't a stretch to imagine a nurse being a professional who limits her emotional investment in her patients nor would it be surprising that the soldier is aware of how precarious his situation and decides to forgo romance. As long as these traits are consistent with the rest of the character and are sufficiently communicated to the reader, such solutions can let you forgo the romance without drastically altering the characters in ways that might feel more forced or contrived.

Of course, it's worth taking a moment to step back to examine your own assumptions and motivations. Are you making the assumption that people of the opposite sex with compatible personalities are always going to develop romantic feelings? Are you assuming that nurturing care is a sign of affection or that the one receiving care will interpret it as such? Are you a hopeless romantic who enjoys stories in which love thrives despite impossible odds? It is altogether possible that falling in love is actually not a forgone conclusion with the characters you've created.

For a concrete example, consider that fact which you've tried to giving the nurse a fianceé. Why wasn't this sufficient?

Is the problem because you envision characters who aren't willing and able to respect such a commitment? If so, then you should consider giving the characters the will and ability to respect such boundaries. Would such discipline negatively impact the characters or be inconsistent with how they act in the rest of the story?

Maybe the problem is that you really like the idea of pairing these characters together. In that case, maybe you should set aside these two characters for a different story - one in which the romance can be explored in greater detail. You can then tweak the characters in your short story without feeling like you lost a great opportunity for a love story.

Whatever you do, don't be afraid to change your characters if it is necessary for the sake of the story.

Side Note: Role-Playing and "My Guy Syndrome"

This situations reminds me of what is referred to as My Guy Syndrome in the Tabletop Role-Playing world. In short, its a situation where a player prioritizes preserving their character concept over the group's enjoyment.

Having role-played for several decades, I've certainly encountered situations where the action that made the most sense for my given character was at odds with the action best for ensuring the story progresses properly. Early in my role-playing years, had several situations in which I decided the character had to split from the rest of the party and go their own way; I've since learned to improvise rationales as to why the character might be compelled to go against his natural inclinations. In one instance, this approach actually enriched my character. It lead to my Paladin character being more pragmatic, nuanced, and internally conflicted than the stereotypical holier-than-thou crusader.

I've also had situations where my character didn't quite fit the setting or genre of the game. In particular, I created a series of characters for Shadowrun that just didn't pan out. For those unfamiliar, it's a cyberpunk world where the protagonists are (typically) guns-for-hire. The problem is that I am a fan of heroic characters with noble intentions and moral fortitude; such characters don't have what it takes for the mercenary world of Shadowrunning, though. I honestly wasn't able to enjoy the game until I created a character who was less idealistic and more willing to do what was asked of her in order to accomplish her own goals.

The take-away: no matter how much you like a given character, you can only do so much to accommodate them. If they aren't a proper fit for the story you wish to tell, they need to change.

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Imagine the nurse as a man. Don't change anything about the character except the sex, and you should start to be able to write them better. Still just as vulnerable, but it's not romantic or sexual.

  • No reason a nurse can’t be male. But in WW2 days? – WGroleau Jul 28 at 6:15
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    @WGroleau For that matter, just make the person a doctor instead of a nurse, if that helps. If there are too many scenes that seem nurse-level instead of doctor-level, you could add a medical complication that requires doctor-level oversight (as an excuse to get a doctor involved), or have this be a doctor-in-training (a young new doctor, or a doctor who ended up getting assigned where there were too many doctors, so since there was redundancy he spends days doing more menial tasks) – TOOGAM Jul 28 at 16:20
  • @WGroleau I didn't say write the nurse to be a man, I said to imagine her as a man. – David Rice Jul 29 at 13:54
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You could give the nurse a face that is well within the feminine range of faces, but reminds the soldier of a man that he knows very well.

At one of my assignments in the military there was a female officer who bore a striking resemblance to Robin Williams. This completely killed any unprofessional interest I may have had in her.

Another tack is to give her a physical quality that she has in common with his mother and sisters and with no other person he knows, so that he strongly associates this trait with women he cannot pursue to the point that he doesn't even look at her in this light.

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The typical reason for people not falling in love when all the context seems right for it is that there is a blocking reason.

Something in either person is a complete no-way for the other. It can be as simple as the soldier enjoying the nursing, but she is way too much like his mother to be a romantic interest. Or it could be that the way he speaks is too much like other bad men the nurse has met in her life, so she stays clear of any romantic moves. It could be in a physical attribute, or a character flaw, or - the classic "just not my type". Sometimes everything seems right, and from the outside you would even say these two are certainly made for each other - but it just doesn't happen. In a story, you might have to go into inner monolog to explain this to the audience.

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