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The Process Of Writing My Novel ‘My Brother’s Shadow’, by Monika Schroder

My Brother's Shadow by Monika Schroder - German-American author of historical teen novels

It has been said that there are those writers who plan and those who “fly by the seats of their pants.” I am part of the second group and before I began working on my novel, My Brother’s Shadow, I only had a rough idea of who Moritz, the main character, was and what would happen in the story. I encountered a surprise in the first few pages. Moritz was telling his story in first person and used the present tense. Hadn’t I read in many books about writing that the first person, present tense point-of-view was difficult to write? My first two novels were told in the voice of third person omniscient narrators reflecting on past events, and I had no intention of changing from what I knew by writing in first person and in present tense.

I rewrote the beginning in past tense but couldn’t force Moritz to tell his story in hindsight, so I stuck to the immediacy of present tense. The story is set in 1918 Berlin. I needed to convey a lot of background information. It seemed such a daunting task to introduce the reader to starvation and despair in Berlin as well as the anticipation of military defeat without the omniscient perspective of third person POV. In the first chapter I needed to set the stage, let Moritz introduce himself and his family, and find an intriguing ending to the chapter that would entice readers to go on. Moritz came to my rescue. As an apprentice in a print shop of a Berlin newspaper he could read the headlines of the paper he just helped print and thereby inform the readers of my novel of the state of affairs in Germany in October 1918.  The newspaper became a vehicle to disseminate information about the setting without interrupting the flow of the narrative. In the first page of the novel, Moritz reads an official war report knowing that the government is not allowing the truth to come out. He also meets Herr Goldman, a journalist with the paper who takes a liking to Moritz and ultimately helps him to fulfil his dream to become a reporter.  Moritz is able to tell the reader about the most pressing and newsworthy current events through his conversations with Herr Goldman. Apparently there was a way for me to write in first person, present tense and still give the reader a sense of the setting.

About half way in, the story took an unexpected turn and once again I had trouble letting myself deviate from my original plan. Moritz had met a girl who had completely flummoxed him with her wit. Granted, it was not so unlikely that a 16-year old boy would take an interest in a girl but I had not anticipated a romance.

I had never expected to write about young love. Now here was Rebecca, the smart daughter of a Jewish bookseller who attended the same political meetings as Moritz’s mother and sister. After their first encounter on the train, it was clear that they had to meet again. Yet the book takes place in 1918, so they wouldn’t go “all the way.” I was able to braid his discovery of love together with the story of Moritz’s relationship with his brother, who returns from the trenches a maimed and bitter veteran. Rebecca’s presence even gave me the opportunity for a hopeful conclusion to leave readers satisfied after Moritz’s intense final confrontation with his brother.

Writing My Brother’s Shadow has taught me to trust the process along the way. A quote by E. L. Doctorow showed me that I am not alone with this approach: “Writing is like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”


Monika Schroder’s author website:

Monika Schroder’s bio page


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Writing Teen Novels

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. When I wrote my novel, “Ben’s Challenge”, set in late 1950s Australia, I started off in third person. However the characters and the story did not come alive. I had also thought that first person was more difficult to write, but when I changed from third to first person and wrote as Ben, I became Ben. His relationships to the other characters, and his responses to events around him became natural – and so did the writing.
    With my current work, I wanted to write in first person again, but I for some reason it didn’t work. So I changed to third person. That was better, but it didn’t get across the PoV of Jessica, my main character, as well as I wanted to. To cater for this, I use extracts from her diary, and that seems to be working well.
    I think we all have to be aware of how we write and be willing to change the process if what we are doing doesn’t work for us. Thanks for an interesting post, and I must find and read “My Brother’s Shadow” – it sounds enticing.

    April 19, 2013

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