I am writing a story in which a young man (about 18) meets a 14-year-old girl, and they work together to overcome serious hardships. I mean actual, physical danger and violence, starvation, etc. A lot of the things they face are very difficult, and the girl is young and doesn't know all of the dangers they face at first. The male character is trying to make sure she survives, as he is in a better position to help her, and eventually they escape together. I haven't quite decided about that yet--as in, when and how they will escape, but I picture them having to walk a lot through woods and perhaps mountains, facing such obstacles as hunger, harsh weather, and the danger of being recaptured.

The story does eventually have them fall in love, and I suppose that would be natural considering all that they go through together. But they don't express their romantic interests in each other until much later on, when they are in a position to separate from each other.

The story is set in World War 2. The male character is a German officer of high rank who secretly renounces his office, and tries not to get involved in any cruelty.

My question is, how would the young man act towards the girl--how chivalrous can I have him be throughout all of this without making it seem too romantic? I want it to be somewhat romantic, but not sappy. Also, my character is already exceptional because of his refusing to go with the Nazis' agenda. How can I make him seem exceptional, but also not make him too perfect? I want him to be believable. These days, young men and women treat each other differently than back in the day. I am wondering what types of mannerisms would be natural for this kind of relationship back then, even if they would be considered romantic in this day and age.

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    The best way to figure this out would be to read the German writers of the period. Fortunately, you've got lots of excellent authors to choose from. Try Thomas Mann, Stefan Zweig, Bertolt Brecht, Bruno Frank, Annette Kolb. Günter Grass published later, but he actually was a soldier during the 1940s.
    – Juhasz
    Jun 5, 2020 at 18:23
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    "a young man (about 18)" and "German officer of high rank" - is this the same character?
    – Alexander
    Jun 5, 2020 at 19:02
  • @Alexander Yes it is. I only mention two characters in the question.
    – Naomi
    Jun 5, 2020 at 19:13
  • Thanks @Juhasz. This helps!
    – Naomi
    Jun 5, 2020 at 19:14
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    @Naomi I hope you have a good explanation for that. Is he a member of old German nobility, or a newer NSDAP activist? That would make things much different about his character.
    – Alexander
    Jun 5, 2020 at 20:01

1 Answer 1


A few thoughts:

A. Later in the war all sorts of people were getting boosted up the ranks in an attempt to fill in the gaps in the Wehrmacht command structure. Indeed, recruitment criteria for the SS were steadily relaxed during the war. It is plausible that a naive unready officer could end up higher in the organisation. Nevertheless, he shouldn't get too high because Hitler kept the top brass close to him and there would be little chance of escape.

B. Perhaps, consider making him not of a purely German 'high' bloodline. Over the years, there have been countless phases of germanification in countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary and even Romainia. Perhaps, part of his motivation is to return to his 'Motherland' and escape the general horrors of war rather than merely rebel against the atrocities of the holocaust. Many in the SS committed war crimes far away from the concentration camps.;

C. Back then, Formality and Politeness were considered essential core characteristics of any person in any relationship. They had no Romantic connotations at all. Indeed, nowadays many would consider this mode of behaviour Standoffish and Cold! Romantic interest might then have been inferred from the tiniest, to modern eyes almost trivial, personal gestures and acts. Indeed, there might even be a degree of farcical tip-toeing around each other about each other's intentions based on misunderstood gestures. This would be especially so in a situation with two youthful strangers forced together into an intimate (non-sexual) relationship, such as back-woods survival, without a framework of chaperons and elders in attendance;

D. Perhaps it would be fun to play with a degree of dualism in the two characters. The young man could perhaps be caught in an internal struggle between the strict military up-bringing of his noble family and his artistic or passionate tendencies (for instance, it would be plausible that he is also a talented pianist or singer). The girl would obviously be caught between the fear of violent or sexual aggression and the potential for romantic interest, but I feel this might come across as a little too cliche (and perhaps even inappropriate in today's world). However, I am sure there are many other sources of internal tension you could think up for her character. Indeed, it might even be fun to flip the roles and make her of higher social status than him. Then, she could pendulum between following the orders of 'A man of rank' and 'Talking down to the riffraff'.

E. As far as the inciting incident is concerned. (Consider this nothing more than a writing prompt.) Perhaps, they are evacuating from the eastern front (ahead of the collapse and retreat from the Russians) and their train falls victim to sabotage. They run into the woods to escape being gunned down by the insurgents swarming the carriages..... Then the plot begins.


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