How to Have Stronger Character Beginnings

Oh yes. Need to read this a few more times. Perfect advice for Nanowrimo!

A Writer's Path

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What’s the best way to initiate a solid protagonist character?

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Five common mistakes German speakers make in English

hoto Credit: Garyisajoke via Compfight cc

hoto Credit: Garyisajoke via Compfight cc

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not perfect. Fuck knows WHAT I am saying in German half the time, but I know that on at least one occasion I told people I went nude sledding instead of night sledding. The best thing about that language though, is that it’s so handily practical. If you don’t know the word for something, you can just describe it!

Don’t know what gloves are called? Just ask for hand-shoes (Handschuhe). Guess what? That’s the right word. Your gums are hurting? Just complain about your teeth meat (Zahnflesich), and you’ll be right on track. And your wrist is sprained? I think we both know you mean your hand-joint (Handgelenke) don’t you? Want to put something in your pocket? No. Actually, you want to put it in your trouser-bags (Hosentaschen).

So. While I go around murdering this lovely language, let me tell you the instant giveaways that you’re not a native English speaker. Just in case you were wondering.

“I’ve been here since ten minutes.”/ “I’ve lived here since two years.”

Nope. You’ve been here for ten minutes. Or else you’ve lived here since 2012. I don’t know why. No-one said English made sense. That’s just how it is. Deal.

“On the other hand side.”

There is no other hand side. There’s another hand. And there’s another side. Put them together and you’ve stepped through the looking glass.

“I need this until Friday.”

Actually, you need it by Friday. If you need it until Friday, that means you expect me to continually give it to you all the way to Friday. Which has come out sounding way dirtier than I meant it. You can say “You have until Friday to give it to me” but that sounds rather demanding and impolite.

“Let’s see how it looks like.”

We can see how it looks. Or we can see what it looks like. We cannot, unfortunately, do a combination of those things.

“This is the actual version.” “Could you please make this content more actual?”

Actual, in English, means real. Aktuell, in German, means current or up-to-date. So I can totally see where you’re coming from. But unless you’re speaking to someone who is familiar with this mistake, you’re going to be causing quite a bit of confusion.

That’s it! They’re the most common ones I ever hear.

Now, let me tell you about the time I went sledding…

The launch of my acting career

Photo Credit: janepaludanus via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: janepaludanus via Compfight cc

This weekend, my boyfriend and I went away for a night to a beautiful hotel near the Bavarian Alps. It was a treat, so we decided to book in for early evening massages at the Spa Hotel. It’ll be wonderful, we thought, we’ll soak in the spa, get massages and then shower before heading out for a nice dinner. He rang and made the booking, for two people, under his surname. Partridge. They couldn’t fit us in simultaneously, so we had to go one after the other.

After ruining both hair and makeup – and seeing many more penises and vaginas than I had intended – in steam rooms and saunas, it was time for his massage. I decided to pop back to our suite, have a quick shower and change into something other than the over-starched bathrobe and damp bikini I was currently wearing. 

I should explain here that I was born without a sense of direction. Most people say “Oh, yes, mine’s quite bad too.” But what I mean is, I literally have no inkling whatsoever of where I am at any given time, and where that might be in relation to any other place, or how to set about getting to said other place.

“Which side of the road is your apartment block on?” My friend asked me once.

“Well, of course it depends which direction you’re coming from,” I replied helpfully, if patronisingly. “It’s sometimes on the left, sometimes on the right.”

There was silence.

“Are you serious? I mean is it east or west!”

Honestly? How the fuck would anyone ever know that? I’m not standing around with a compass all my life!

It was the same in this hotel. In my defence, it’s a large and sprawling hotel, and made up of a series of “Houses” with strange names like “Quirin” and “Scheuer”, and nothing for guidance except an occasional artist’s impression of a fire escape plan. The third time I saw Quirin I told him to go screw himself and almost shed tears. After a long and arduous journey I had finally made it back to the suite when the phone rang.  

“Good afternoon, this is the Hotel Spa. We’ve just had a vacancy and we’re able to fit you in now. Is it convenient for you to head back over for your massage?” 

So back I went, of course, completely unable to retrace my steps but nonetheless excited about the indulgence that awaited me. When I finally arrived, a smiling elderly lady stood like relaxation herself, pen poised over a booking form. She looked apologetic.

“He spelled out the lovely name for me, but I’ve forgotten it,” she confessed. “I know it began with a P.” 

“It’s Partridge,” I said, assuming she meant the name we’d booked under. I dutifully spelled it out. She wrote it slowly and carefully, completed the rest of the form and then looked at me with a beaming smile.

“Welcome, Mrs Partridge, shall we get to your massage room?”

“Oh!” I said, instantly realising my error. She’d been asking for my name. She now assumed we were married. That I had confirmed we were married. How on earth could I correct her now? She’d either think I was an idiot for spelling my own name wrong, or I’d have to launch into a complicated story in my broken German about how I had thought she meant the booking name and not my name. Perhaps she was embarrassed by the idea of non-married couples sharing hotel rooms?

I realised I had been staring at her in blank terror for what must have been several moments. “Mrs Partridge?” She said, sounding worried I’d suffered a stroke. “You really look like you could use that massage. Let’s go.”

Fine, I thought, following  her. There’s no harm done at all. She thinks I have a different last name, what does that matter? I won’t embarrass her. 

It quickly became very clear she was only going to use my surname, and a lot. “Are you warm, Mrs Partridge?” “Is that too firm, Mrs Partridge?” “You have very tense shoulders, Mrs Partridge.” 

I could hardly relax for wondering how on earth to solve the Mrs Partridge dilemma. I could see no way out. Mrs Partridge I would be. I played a fine part. Mrs Partridge has a desk job, same as me. She apparently has circulatory issues, and she is none too big on conversation. Details of her early life are sketchy, but I suspect she grew up in Australia. 

Finally it was over. “Can you smell the scent of oranges, Mrs Partridge?” I’m still unsure whether that was a stroke-related question, or the essential oil I’d been rubbed with. 

“Your husband is just outside waiting for you. Very patiently, just as it should be.” She threw me a knowing wink. Jesus christ. Married five minutes and we’re already a cliche. 

Unbeknownst to me, his masseuse had been under the same illusion. “Oh no,” he’d told her simply and immediately, “We’re not married. She’s my girlfriend.”

And there, as my masseuse led me out, was my brand new husband  (waiting patiently indeed) and his masseuse. “Mrs Partridge looks very relaxed now, don’t you think?” My masseuse asked them both. 

All her good work was instantly undone. I must have looked like a rabbit in headlights. “Great,” I thought, “He thinks I told her we’re married. His masseuse probably knows we aren’t married. Now she’s there thinking I’ve lied to my masseuse, and that I’m desperate to get married so I’ve resorted to fiction.” His masseuse looked away politely, saying nothing.

Instead of fleeing in terror, Mr Partridge smiled placidly. “She does.” He said, not even flinching.

The Partridge Family waved their bath-robed goodbyes and padded back on the long, mysterious trek to the hotel room. At first, he and I just made general chitchat. Yes, my massage was totally relaxing too. Yes, she did a really good job on my shoulders. 

Then silence.

And then, he cleared his throat. “So…ah, did we get married at some point?”

“Oh god. I know. For some reason I spelled out your name, and she thought it was my name and then I didn’t really know how to correct her and it seems to be her new favourite word-“

In my haste to explain, I didn’t realise he was laughing. He’d instantly known what had happened and just thought it was funny. 

However, later that evening we walked past a cute little gazebo in the centre of the hotel grounds. “What’s that?” I asked. 

“That’s the chapel,” he replied. “They do weddings here.”

“Oh! Shall we just go and make it official?” I joked, elbowing him.

He did laugh, but this time…I think I saw fear in his eyes. 

So, what have we learned here? Firstly, I will be at pains to correct any future such errors. I shall loudly and repeatedly state my own surname at all appropriate occasions. Even inappropriate ones, just to be sure. 

Secondly, it’s apparently possible to take a joke too far. 

Thirdly, I quite liked Mrs Partridge, though I found her slightly taciturn. And she really needs to do something about her circulatory issues.