Intentionality In Fine Art: Part Two – Details in Stories

We started a brief series on Intentionality in Fine Art in the last post, and applied it particularly to Creative Writing. You can read this if you click here. The first article addressed Intentionality in describing scenes. In this study, we will look at Intentionality in the details of the story.


If you have much experience in writing, I’m sure you are familiar with the elements of the plot. They are setting, conflict, rising action, climax, and falling action. Whatever does not fall under one of these categories does not belong in the story. That may seem obvious, but writers show their amateur status by including details that have nothing to do with the story. They are scenes that do not demonstrate the conflict or the climax, not do they contribute to the rising action.

Most of these examples fall under the category of failed rising action elements. To be honest, this is really the hardest part of the novel to write. Most of us have a clear idea how things start and how they end. If we write murder mysteries, he know the conflict is when someone dies and the climax is when the detective identifies the murderer. The rising action is how the detective finds clues, investigates suspects, and ties together all of the spreading threads. All things stem from the conflict and lead to the climax. Everything gets the detective closer to the truth or is a dead end he needs to back away from. A scene where the detective has a tea service with his mother would be out of place, unless it contributes to the detective’s character development (or mother is the killer).


The grossest offender in the unnecessary detail category is the inclusion of backstory. Writers love it and readers hate it. Authors deeply feel that everyone has to know a person’s past to appreciate how and why they do what they do. Sometimes that data is good to know, but mostly it’s a waste of paper. The best way to include backstory is to either include it in dialogue or set it apart in the novel.

The movie Drive is a well written story. Twice backstory is included in a way that it adds the information and still contributes to the main story. Both times, one character tells another character about someone else’s past. It is done in less than a minute,  so it doesn’t bog down the rising action. The other form of proper backstory inclusion can be seen in the Fitzgerald novel Tender is the Night. It is a method I have used in some of my own novels. The story is told in three parts with several chapters within each part. The main story is told in the First and Third parts. In fact, you can skip the second part and the main story reads uninterrupted. Book Two includes the history of the main character. It is written as a novelette stuck in the middle of a big novel, complete with the full development  of the plot points.

Elmore Leonard once said that he leaves out of his book the parts readers skip over. Good advice! The developed and seasoned author knows to include only those scenes that contribute to the story. Those scenes are written with only pertinent details. Everything in a novel is intentionally placed there by the writer for a reason, and the reason is that it is necessary to the plot. Another way of describing Intentionalism is to call it good writing.

Part One

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Intentionality In Fine Art: Part One – Details in Scenes

In the 1984 movie Amadeus, the emperor Franz Joseph talks to Mozart after the premiere of his first opera in Vienna. After praising the work, he criticizes it for having too many notes. Mozart replies that the work has just as many notes as he requires, neither more nor less. The king repeats his opinion to the composer. Mozart finishes with the question, “Which few did you have in mind, your majesty?”

You can see that scene here.

The movie’s narrator, in the form of a confession to a priest, sees Mozart’s music, and describes it as, “Replace one note, and there would be diminishment. Displace one phrase, and the structure would fall.” Nothing is an accident with Mozart. Everything is intentional and deliberate. You can say the same of any great artistic master. Can you imagine seeing a Rembrandt, and saying, “This needs more blue,” or “less yellow.” What would you think if someone said, “There’s too many leaves on that tree,” or “There’s not enough clouds in the sky,” or some other nonsense like that?

Intentionality in Literature

If this holds true of all art in general, then it also holds true for Creative Writing. Everything we put down on the page is intentional and deliberate. And I mean much more than choosing the right words. Intentionality in Creative Writing mostly has to do with the details that are included. I have in mind both the scene and the story.

What does a room or a house look like? What does a character look like or act like? This is decided by what details you include. You don’t have to include every detail. In fact, you shouldn’t. The fewer details, the better. The less you spell out, the more each reader is free to fill in those details with their own creativity. The more involved they are in a text, the more they commit personally to your story. This is the level of engagement we should crave.

Examples from Literature

So why include any scenic details at all? It’s these details that, when used correctly, contribute to the story. Details that don’t add anything to the story just get in the way. We can use details as symbols or metaphors, for example. In my first novel, ANIMA, I described the road leading up to a certain house. There were lots of details, but each of them were intentional and served some role in telling you about it’s occupant. The grove of pomegranate trees symbolized fertility and the coiled snake represented temptation. The dead ash tree, and medieval Tree of Life, spoke of the lack of spirituality. The large jaybird who bullied and stole from other birds let you know the master of the house was the same. 

The Hemingway short story “Hills Like White Elephants” is an excellent example of this practice. First of all, the white hills themself tell you a lot about the story. In centuries past southeast Asia, a king or a noble would give a white elephant as a gift to someone they actually disliked. The gift makes it seem benevolent, but the white elephant is so rare, no one made them do any work. They did nothing but eat (a lot). From that, a white elephant gift is one that does more good for the giver than the receiver. So when the story gets to the generous offer by the man to his girlfriend, we already know something about the offer just from the title and initial setting of the train stop.

The other great metaphoric scene reference is when the woman looks down the track and sees the two different sides of the rail. One side is all brown and dead. The other side is green and growing. First of all, trains are often symbols of transitions, or at least, changes. One side is dead and the other is alive. The man’s offer forces the woman to consider these two options [read it if you have not yet]. These are not useless details. They add layers to the story and help Hemingway tell the story by means other than straight narrative of action.

The next post will describe the details in the story itself.

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Starting Over In 2021

This past year has been strange and bewildering, to put it mildly. For many, it was down right difficult. I almost died, but I didn’t. I was admitted to the hospital this last summer for respiratory issues. I was tested for covid and it was negative. I didn’t know it then, but I was knocking on Heaven’s door. But I recovered and went home three weeks later.

I didn’t do a thing for my blog during that time, and I hadn’t written a thing for it for the rest of the year. If it were not for Nanowrimo, I wouldn’t have written a thing at all. But it’s a new year, and with that come resolutions. One of my resolutions is to resume regular blogwork. I plan to post every other Monday here on A Word Fitly Spoken. In 2018 I started a Christian Apologetics blog called This Is My Father’s World. It, too, was neglected. I plan to post every other Monday there, as well, and have something to go up on each blog on alternating weeks.

If you’re a writer, you may have made some Creative Writing resolutions. Maybe you need to but could use some help on a few ideas. I hope this steers you in the right direction as I hope they do for me, as well.

  • Write every day – This does not mean compose new material every day. It means do things that apply to the work of writing. This could be research, editing, or outlining. Some of my best days’ work was ont in a recliner with my eyes closed. 
  • Read regularly – Don’t read now and then and when you have the time. Select a few books for the month or the year. Select from the classics, and not anything poplit. Make them diverse. Read them for the escapism and the enjoyment, but also to see how the masters got their best works done. 
  • Set goals – Give yourself deadlines like a real author. One of the benefits of Nano is trying to get 50,000 words in a month. Reward yourself for meeting a deadline and punish yourself for missing one, but not too harshly. 
  • Have a work space – i used to type on a tv tray by my recliner. It was more like a guy pecking at something that was nothing more than a hobby. Now I have a desk and a chair. It’s like real work, because it is. 
  • Make a schedule – This goes along with the idea of making deadlines. You know your life better than anyone. Don’t write when you get time. Set aside time to write and do nothing but in that time. I used to write first thing in the morning until lunch. Now I do better from lunch until dinner. I can write at other times if I wish, but I have to write when I am scheduled to, just like with showing up for a job.

I hope these helped you as they have me. I feel fully challenged for the up and coming year. Look out world! Give me room, and eat my jetwash! 

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The Myth of Theseus and the Movie Inception


It is not uncommon for modern literature and movies to be based on a classical work. For example, O’Neill’s, Mourning Sings Elektra is based on the Greek set of plays, the Oresteia by Aeschylus. Joyce so famously wrote his most popular novel Ulysses set on Homer’s Odyssey. I have also used this in my novels. For example, Pietas is based on Virgil’s Aeneid, and Bloodhound is a retelling of the ancient myths of Hercules and his twelve labors.

The Movie

The 2010 Christopher Nolan movie Inception relies heavily on the myth of Theseus. The main character, Dom Cobb, has the ability to enter a maze of dreams and implant ideas in other people’s minds. He is hired for such a task, but he needs someone who can bring him back up to the world of the living. He hires Ariadne for that. Her name is a dead giveaway! It’s such an unusual name, it draws attention to the myth it’s based on.

The Myth

In the old myth, Athens is subject to Minoa. Part of the required tribute demanded Athens regularly offer up the best and brightest of their youth. They are set loose in a circular maze called the labyrinth. Inside the labyrinth lives a half-man, half-bull called the Minotaur, who would attack and devour those offered. The Athenian prince Theseus volunteers to go and kill the Minotaur. He meets the Minoan princess Ariadne (see, I told you) and the two fall in love. She supplies him with a sword, but more importantly with yarn. With these two, not only is Theseus able to kill the Minotaur, he is also able to find his way out.

The Message

In Inception, Ariadne serves the same roll for Cobb as the mythical Ariadne did for prince Theseus. There is no way that the hero can implant the memory or slay the Minotaur if he cannot safely leave the mazey dreams of the unescapable labyrinth. Being stuck makes their success superfluous. To bring this all home for the writer, I want to encourage you to take total advantage of the wealth of Greek and Roman myths and epics and use them to inspire stories for you to write. O’Neill, Joyce, myself, along with so many great writers, are waiting for you to join us.

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I’ve Got Writer’s Block. Now What?


My work in progress, Telemachus, is stuck halfway in the middle. How could this be so hard? goo, old fashioned Greco-Roman comedy, five chapters. Chapter one, boy sees girl. Chapter two, boy meets girl. Chapter three, boy challenged by her father. Chapter four, boy quests to earn her love, both in here eyes and her father’s. chapter five, wedding day. How can this be so hard?

Writer’s Block

The conundrum of Writer’s Block is not knowing what comes next, because I know that. I have the whole book outlined, with all the characters described on the inside and the out. Writer’s Block is more than not knowing what to say next. It’s more like a phobia in that it’s an irrational response to the irrational need to write perfection, and in a first draft, at that.

It’s a good thing I have such worthwhile outlines of everything. There are some who write without such outlines. They fly by the seat of their pants, so they are called planters, as opposed to us planners. I don’t see how pantsers escape the Block.

Now What?

How do I overcome the Block? There are a few things I can try. Talk about it with your friends who know that you write. Simply speaking of it puts things down a different set of wires in your brain. This rerouting may force something up to the surface. Also, you never know what other people are going to say.

Another thing you can do is to write something completely different, like non-fiction. That’s what I’m doing with this blog post. All writing is not writing. It takes different skillsets and creative aptitude to write novels as opposed to essays or even poetry. Like with the discussion angle, shifting to non-fiction tells the story in yet again another mode. These options bring up may options. Maybe one of them will help.

I’m trying all of these and one more. I’m finishing my draft backward. Rarely do I start with “Once upon a time,” and finish with “they all lived happily ever after.” Because the beginnings and ends are so important, I usually write and rewrite these several times in my first draft process. This time, I’m going to write the last chapter, then the penultimate chapter. That’ll bring me with a novel sandwich, four slices of chapter bread all done only needing the meaty middle to be done. By that time, I should have my mind right. I should.

You know that when Telemachus is done, I’ll let you know. You can pick up your copy and read it for your own and decide if this worked. I hope it will. Moreover, I hope this helps all those who suffer from the occasional Writer’s Block.

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Top Ten Of My Most Favorite Lines From “Fawlty Towers”


One of my favorite comedies is the British show, “Fawlty Towers,” staring John Cleese from Monty Python fame. Not only did he star in the lead, he wrote the show with his ex-wife, Connie Boothe. She also starred in the show. The setting is a beachside hotel in Torquay, England. It’s a mom and pop shop, twenty-two rooms. Cleese is the pop and most of the comedy is trying to get away with things, mostly hiding them from his wife. It is equally well-written and acted. It only lasted for two seasons and a dozen episodes. So my top ten favorite lines from this series is one line per episode while leaving out two of the shows. And of course, my favorite really means the funniest, but only in the context of the show. Here we go.

10 “He’s from Barcelona.” every show – This is a catch phrase found in every episode. Whenever Manuel, the Spanish waiter, goofs up, this is the excuse given to the other guests.

9 “A lemon fizz, orange and gin, and a scotch and water.” season1, episode 1, “A Touch of Class”  – In the second half of the episode, a family tries in vain to place their drinks order, so it’s repeated many times, but never filled because of the main action.

8 “It’s always a pleasure to meet someone who appreciates the boudoir of the grape. I’m afraid that most of the people we get in here don’t know a Bordeaux from a claret.” season 1, episode 4, “The Hotel Inspectors” – Basil tries to impress a guest who knows wine, but almost accuses him of being a lush. Also, the Bordeaux is a claret.

7 “If the good Lord wanted us to worry, He would have given us something to worry about. He has, my wife.” season 1, episode 2, “The Builders” – O’Reilly is a builder that Basil likes because he’s cheap, but Sybil hates because he’s a screw-up. After his latest botch, he minimizes it, only for Basil to frame the seriousness correctly.

6 “Is this a piece of your brain?” season 2, episode 1, “Communication Problems” – An elderly lady complains of everything and tries to get her bill reduced. The funny part is that she’s hard of hearing and doesn’t use her hearing aid because it runs the battery down. After she banged her head on a shelf, Basil asks this delicious question.

5 “If they don’t like building cars, why don’t they get themselves another bloody job, building cathedrals or composing violin concertos?” season 2, episode 4, “The Kipper and the Corpse” – Basil has just delivered breakfast toa guest in his room. Basil is complaining about the latest strike. He hasn’t notice that the guest is dead.

4 “You do have rats in Spain, don’t you, or did Franco have them all shot?” season 2, episode 6, “Basil the Rat” – After a hotel inspector threatens to shut down the place, Basil sees that Manuel ha a pet rat, which Manuel insists is a hamster. The pet’s name is, of course, Basil.

3 “What is a Waldorf? A walnut’s that’s gone off?” season 2, episode 3, “Waldorf Salad” – A Dirty American and his British wife check in just as the kitchen closes. The guest pays to keep the kitchen open, but Basil keeps the money and tries to run everything himself. He’s flummoxed when the American orders a Waldorf Salad.

2 “Duck’s off.” season 1, episode 5, “Gourmet Night” – Basil’s gourmet chef gets drunk on the inaugural night of Gourmet Night and has to order out from a local restaurant. This changes the menu to duck, only for the food delivered to a mound of ground liver. When asked about the duck, Basil replies succinctly.

1 “Don’t mention the war.” season 1, episode 6 “The Germans” – German stay at the hotel, just after Basil in hospitalized for concussion. He warns the staff not to mention WW2, which Basil does continually in his concussed state. Remember, this is the 70s and Hitler was not too far in the past still.


I hope this encourages you to watch the show, or rewatch it. it’s one of the best ever.


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Five Ways To Boost Your Creativity


If you are an artist, you know how bound you are to Creativity. Without it, we have no idea what to write about, sing about, paint about. Artists know above all things that Creativity is difficult to keep at a constant high level. There are some things you can do that will boost your Creativity you can do every day.

Fear is the Enemy

Artists live with fear. That will never stop. The best you do is manage it. the strongest fear is not the dread of what others might say, but what we say to ourselves. The constant harangues of “I’m not good enough,” “I’m not talented,” “I don’t have enough training,” or “I don’t have time to create,” will cripple our Creativity.

Create something just to do it, and without any self-judgment. Try a different field than what you wish to try. If you’re a painter, write a story. If you’re a singer, paint somethings. If you’re a writer, sings a song. Make sure you do this with no judgment.  When you’re done, say it’s good, even if you know it’s not. You convince yourself in and out of approval. Maybe your painting will give you an idea for a story, or your song may make you thing of a paint subject.


One of the best ways to silence your negative voice is to take steps to counteract their claims. For example, “I don’t have enough training,” is simple enough to address. Just get more training. And while formal training is indispensable, so is the exercise. While I was learning to craft of Creative Writing, I wrote many short stories. Mot of them were specific exercises to work on one aspect of writing. Even now, I do the same on a much larger scale with my novels.

You can keep your mind in a Creative state even when you are not creating. You do this by learning to experience Life like an Artist. There’s no doubt that Artists look at life differently from the non-creative type. Artists look at the small things. They also examine cause and affect on the very small scale. Artists notice nuances in color, the variety in movements. Artists look for these things. Train your mind to do likewise and your sense of Creativity will soar.

Claim It

I cringe when I hear someone say, “I’m an aspiring writer.” Don’t short sell yourself. If you write, claim it. tell people with no hesitation, “I am a writer.” Just like with dealing with your own critical and negative inner voice, you can talk yourself into believing a lot of things. The more you say, “I am a writer,” the quicker you come to believe it. you may not think that they when you first start, but fake it until you make it.

A Frederick’s of Hollywood catalogue ad because famous for printing in Writ Large the banner “Don’t Dream it, Be It.” Dream to be an artist. Claim that you are. But don’t stop there. Be the Artist by creating things, stories, music, images. Say “I am an Artist,” and leave the aspiring out of it. and then, Create something Artistic.

Be Original

One of the best instructors are the Artists themselves. I learned so much from my college Creative Writing classes, but I have also learned from Hemmingway, Chekhov, and Goethe. The best writers are firstly readers. I can learn poetry from reading Dickinson and Eliot, and playwright from Shakespeare and O’Neill. Always learn from the greats, but don’t copy them.

A copy-cat is not being Creative. I’m not going to undermine Intertextuality, which is the practice on laying one’s story over an older story. It helps tell the story by duplicating or foiling the previous work. As long as the second story is completely original, the Intertextuality works. For example, we all know that “West Side Story” is based on Romeo & Juliet. Likewise, Joyce’s Ulysses lays on top of the Iliad, but turns it on its head. This can help you tell the story and also how to tell the story. Learn form the masters, but don’t copy them.

Take Notes Always

Sometimes, the most Creative person is mostly observant. I don’t know how many times I’ve seen or heard something, and I think, “That’s going in a book!” I jot it down and work it into a novel later. I make sure that it suits the character, or it’s useless.

Take it from someone who’s learned the hard way, don’t make these notes on receipts or envelopes. I can’t count the bests of observed brilliance did I write down on something loose and before long, I lose it. some Artists carry a dictation device and others leave themselves a voicemail. My phone has a notepad function, and that’s what I use. Everyone once in a while a take what’s on the notepad and transfer it to a file oi keep on work. When I’m working on a story, I go through my list of observances and use the ones that work. Try it, you’ll like it!

Creativity is indispensable for the Artist. Our brains are wired differently. We think in ways different from the normals. But it’s okay, this abnormality is our highly developed sense of Creativity. And when our Creativity wanes, there are ways we can boost our Creativity.

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The Lil’ Engine That Could Write

lil e

We all have people in our lives who support us no matter what we try. If we weren’t Creative Writers, they would tell us how good we are at music or painting. Likewise, each of us has friends and family who are really good at telling us what we can’t do. In fact, we all have folk who love us and want the best for us who will tell us in detail why Creative Writing is not a worthy pursuit. Either we are not talented enough or it’s a waste of time or something like that.

As well intentioned as they are, and as dear to us as they may be, their opinion is toxic. And to drink full from their words will hemlock your dreams until they are as dead as Socrates. If you want to be a writer, then be a writer. Tell these people, that although you love them and they love you, they need to Shut Up!

Creatively Minded

Creative Writing begins in the mind before it ever reaches our fingertips. And by the mind, I mean more than thinking of a great story plot executed by interesting and individualistic characters. It is our attitude that serves as the starting point. You need to think of yourself in terms of Being a Creative Writer (and I mean Being in its fullest Existential sense).

Other people may encourage or discourage you, but in the end, each and every one of us as Creative Writers have the greatest potential to build ourselves up or tear ourselves down. The first positive voice you need to hear is your own. In order to Think Like A Writer, you must maintain the proper Focus and Confidence. These two mutually feed off each other. The greater your Focus, the greater your Confidence, and the more Confident you are, the more Focused you will become. It is the perfect compositional perpetual motion machine, creative and artistic, and it is beautiful.

Chug, Chug, Chug

We all grew up hearing the tale of The Lil’ Engine Who Could. It was designed to encourage young people to feel self-assured in their abilities. But just because it is a children’s story, that doesn’t mean that the meaning is childish. It affirms a truth that endures as long as you do. The Creative Writer who develops his Focus and his Confidence can then Think Like A Writer in the fullest sense of that phrase.

This may involve finally taking a Creative Writing class or getting around to writing that novel you’ve always wanted to compose. It could be any number of things, and will become a great number of things all at once when you’ve fully committed yourself. It all begins by being a lil’ engine who thinks he can, and then gets to tracking. And once you’ve topped that mountain and cruise into that literary valley of fulfillment, you can remind yourself that you got yourself there because all along you thought you could.


I was inspired to write this article after looking back on one of my older non-fiction books, Think Like A Writer. If you want a copy, you can click here and he taken to its page in Amazon.



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My Top Ten Favorite Plays Made Into Movies


A lot of great movies began as outstanding plays. The transition from stage to screen is not an easy one. There are things that can be done in movies that can’t in plays, and it works the other way around, too. Those who have made the great transition have made today’s list. I am not including musicals. They are great, but they are really a different animal.

10 The Madness of King George, Alan Bennett. This was made into a movie by Nicolas Hytner in 1994. The king’s lunacy is mere pretext for the political maneuverings of the king’s friends and foe, everyone from the supportive Pitt to the scheming prince regent.

9 Rope, Patrick Hamilton. One of my favorite directors, Alfred Hitchcock, turned this play into a fascinating film in 1948. You know all along who done it, but the question is will others learn what you know.

8 Amadeus, Peter Schaffer. In 1984, Milos Forman made this charming film. I can’t think of this movie without hearing that insufferable laugh by the maestro.

7 A Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Eugene O’Neill. This has been put to screen twice, but the one I’m thinking of is Sydney Lumet’s 1962 adaptation. We are moved from scowling at the father to crying with him.

6 A Bronx Tale, Chazz Palminteri. Robert DeNiro directs and stars in this 1993 film along with the original playwright. DeNiro plays a bus driver and leaves the gangster role to his co-star friend.

5 Glengarry Glen Ross, David Mamet. In 1993, James Foley directed the film version of this play. For those who never knew that coffee was for winners, this was your education.

4 The Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller. Lazlo Benedek directed this 1951 movie. This may be the saddest story I know.

3 A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Tennessee Williams. Richard Brooks directed this in 1958. I could have selected one of several Tennessee Williams plays, but this may be my overall favorite. Originally it was supposed to be in black-and-white, but Brooks decided the eyes of Paul Newman and Liz Taylor need to be filmed in color.

2 Henry V, William Shakespeare. The old bard had to be somewhere on this list. While many may go with one of the many versions of Hamlet, I chose Henry V. As part of the Great Performance series, PBS produced the Hollow Crown Series. Thea Sharrock directed this in 2013.

1 12 Angry Men, Reginald Rose. This play has been rendered twice into a movie. The first was made in 1957 by Sydney Lumet, and the second was by William Friedkin in 1997. They are almost frame for frame identical. If I like the second one better it’s only because George C. Scott barely edges out Lee J. Cobb as the angry 3rd juror.

This is my list. It is very unofficial. Feel free to make your own list. What did you put on that I left out? And which of mine would you omit. Let me know in the Comment section below.

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“Truce,” a Christmas Short Story


Every day above earth is a good day.” (Earnest Hemingway)

The 17th Caledonian Regiment of His Royal Majesty’s Army dug their grave-like trenches through the cabbage patches of Southern Belgium at the start of the Great War. They kept the Germans from advancing further, but they also were unable to advance. They called the middle ground between the two lines of trenches No Man’s Land, but that’s a lie. It was everyone’s land. Anyone was welcome there, and the accustomed hospitality was a sudden conveyance to endless summers or burning sulfurs, whichever best suited the man.

When December drove the unbearable conditions beyond tolerable standards, the inward stress pressed down on the soul of each man with even greater cruelty. On a particular ferocious evening, the wind sounded louder than distant bombs. The stout men of the 17th Caledonian did their best to fortify themselves and each other. The delivery of rations had been delayed, so there was no meat and no bread. For two days they foraged near the back outside of the trench for nuts and leaves, and on these fed the athletes of England and Scotland.

The British High Command, in order to improve morale, ordered a massive push for the 19th of December. The thought was that a grand victory against the enemy Hun would lift the spirits. In the trenches before the fight, garbed in uniforms of penitence, the only thing in greater shortage than food was priests. The offensive was a tremendous failure and it had the opposite effect on troop morale than the High Command anticipated.

By the evening of the 19th, less than half of the 17th Caledonians were still alive. Few were wounded. Almost all touched by the fighting were killed, it seemed to many, mercifully. That evening the enlisted men sat about a small fire trying to warm their bodies and their spirits. None of these enlisted men survived into the next winter, so they will remain nameless here as a courtesy.

“I didn’t sign up for this.”

“Nor did I.”

“We were promised that this would all be over long before Christmas.”

“That’s not going to happen, mate.”

“I remember there was almost a carnival atmosphere at the beginning.”

“I’m afraid now the winter is a bigger enemy than our enemy.”

“We’ve lost as many to frostbite and gangrene as we have to the Germans.”

As so was the night, as many before and to follow. As Christmas approached, all 300,000 British soldiers received a gift from Princess Mary. Moreover, most received parcels from home that contained trinkets and food and cigarettes and most importantly letters from loved ones. Men would reread their letters and then swap them about and everyone read everyone else’s letters from home. This added another rasp to the sinking homesickness that rubbed a rash on the inside of the men already there from the realization that they would each be missing Christmas at home that year, and possibly for years to come.

On Christmas Eve, no one said a word. Each kept to himself in his own misery. A slight dusting of snow began about twenty-one-hundred hours. Soon after that, the men heard a noise coming from across the No Man’s Land. Every man strained to hear it.

“They’re singing!” said one man.

They words were indistinguishable, but they tune was plainly O, Holy Night. When it finished, a few of the British soldiers sang it back to them in English. The Germans sang O Tannenbaum and the English sang O Little Town Of Bethlehem. The highlight of the evening was when one German tenor who sang as if he could have performed Tristan or Siegfried at Bayreuth performed a solo.

Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Alles schläft; einsam wacht
Nur das traute hoch heilige Paar.
Holder Knab’ im lockigen Haar,
Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!

Schlafe in himmlischer Ruh!


Stille Nacht! Heil’ge Nacht!
Gottes Sohn, o wie lacht
Lieb’ aus deinem göttlichen Mund,
Da uns schlägt die rettende Stund’.
Jesus in deiner Geburt!

Jesus in deiner Geburt!

He sang six stanzas altogether. No one sang for some time afterwards. Eventually the caroling resumed, both sides singing simultaneously in their own languages. The performances were more solemn than festive, but it did improve the moods of all men, if not for one evening.

The snow continued for the night and the men awoke to a White Christmas, but not at all like they were accustomed. They sky was a single canopy of a dirty silver and the snow on No Man’s Land looked like pewter-iron. They drank dirt coffee and finished off their rations of powdered eggs.

“I had a dream last night,” said one soldier, “I dreamed that this morning was bright and beautiful. And I looked out into No Man’s Land and a fella ran through waving a telegraph in his hand. And he gave it to me and I read it. It said, War’s off, go home, George Rex. But there’s no telegraph this morning.”

Soon after that, a man shouted that someone was climbing out of the trench on the other side. The commanding officer, Jack Drummond, ran out his billet and to where the man spotted the ascender. Drummond was flanked by his two German Sheppards, Burton and Speake.

“Fire, man, fire!” said Drummond.

“I’m not sure that I can.”

“Why not?”

“He’s got a Christmas tree with him, sir.”

Drummond looked through his field glasses and saw a young German enlistee holding nothing more than a twig with a few branches. But each small end had a lit candle and there was no mistake what he carried.

“I can’t shoot a man carrying a Christmas tree, sir.”

Heads usually kept under cover peeked out to see. When the German was a fair distance from his trench, he held up his Tannenbaum and even across the expanse everyone could see his smile.

Fröhliche Weihnachten!”

One British soldier climbed out of the trench. Drummond called him back, but he went on. It was not long before a few more on each side came out and stood in the middle of No Man’s Land just staring at one another. Eventually, the first two out shook hands and then the rest. There was a bit of reticence as would be expected, but soon a comfortableness and even a familiarity settled in, as if all were old friends. When Drummond saw the German officer climb out, he made his way to the middle as well. All enlisted men on both sides parted like the Red Sea for Moses as they approached. The German officer stuck out his hand.

“Kapitan Anton Kutchner.”

“Captain Jack Drummond.”

They shook hands and all the British soldiers shouted in unison Captain Jack! Drummond’s two dog leapt out and flanked him. Kutchner looked down at the pair.

“They’re here to translate,” said Drummond.

Kutchner was not sure if he should be offended or amused, so to cover both contingencies he laughed and smacked Drummond on the shoulder but with quite a bit of strength. Drummond also laughed and all men joined in the mirth.

It was somehow assumed that every German knew every person in Germany just as every Brit knew everyone who lived in England. One German asked a man from Brighton if he knew his cousin living in York. And to be fair, these British soldiers asked this Saxon regiment if they were aware of people living in Prussia, Bremen, and Hamburg.

“Any of you from London familiar with Belgravia?” said one German.

“I’m from there.”

“My uncle is a barber. He has a shop on the end of Buford Street.”

“My father and grandfather are tailors there. In fact, I think your uncle is right next door to them.”

“Yes! He bought many suits from them. Fine suits.”

“I spent as much time as I could while growing up in their little shop. And I know I’ve had not a few haircuts next door.”

One young British private whispered to his fellow Brit, “These are Germans? They look just like us.”

“Of course, they do.”

“They aren’t monsters.”

“What’s that?”

“I was told they were monsters. Pictures in King & Country showed them with fangs and claws and that. I heard Germans went around killing nuns and children. I’d wager not a one of them had ever killed a nun.”

“Fair cop.”

“Excuse me,” shouted the private, “any of you Jerrys ever murder a nun?”

After a stunned pause, they all laughed and the British soldiers joined them. To be sure, the Germans were definitely told just as villainous lies about the English people. Both sides exchanged some of their profit from Princess Mary and home. It was agreed that the Germans had better chocolates but the British had better tobacco, probably because it was American. It was further agreed that German chocolates were preferable to English tobacco.

It was not long before it was lunch and both sides shared rations. As pleasant as the day had been going, it was soon obvious although unsaid that there was a bit of unpleasant business that needed tended. No Man’s Land was littered with frozen corpses. They took the time to bury their dead and the dead of the other side. Echoes of the Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm in both German and English swelled over the shovels and upturned dirt.

When the digging was done, both sides rested and talked some more. In time a worn leather football made its way onto the field. They played a proper game with both Captains as officials. Burton and Speake ran after the ball, but could never get it before someone passed it to a teammate. Three of the Germans played for their home eleven, and it showed in their play. The German scored three goals before the British scored their first. The 17th Caledonians had more Scots than Brits by two-to-one. The British wore proper trousers, but the old highlanders wore kilts, even in the winter. When a Scot scored the first British goal, all of the Scots turned around and hoisted their kilts and smacked their rear ends toward the German. These Saxons had never seen this particular Celtic taunt and each man laughed at the impropriety of gaining an impudent glace at a Scottish posterior. The Germans lead 6-2 when the ball struck some barbed wire from an errant kick, and the test ended just that quickly.

For the remainder of the day, they sat about and sang carols, but in the full company of each other. The German tenor sang a few solos. As the sun set, both Captains ordered their men back into the trenches. Everyone shook hands and returned. The last two balancing No Man’s Land were Drummond and Kirchner.

“We’re being replaced by Bavarians after the new year,” said Kutchner.

The Captains shook hands.

“Give them hell for us,” said Kirchner, “we hate the Bavarians.”

The men saluted and returned to their trenches. Burton and Speake leapt down before Drummonds could descend the old wooden ladder. Drummond removed his sidepiece. From across the way, the 17th Caledonian regiment heard three gunshots.

Bang, bang, bang!

Drummond raised his pistol and fired thrice.

Bang, bang, – bang!

Ha paused before his final shot because he knew it would officially end the Christmas Truce they enjoyed that day. There was no such Truce the next year, nor the next. This was a singular even in the time of the Great War. And even then, it was not all along the Western Front, but just in rare pockets where this terrible treason was agreed upon. Many part of the Front saw fighting just as any other day. And occasionally, one side sought some seasonal armistice only to be shot dead by the other side.

While most people think the 20th century began with 1901, some argue it began in 1914, and the Truce is the faultline between two different worlds. I can’t help but wonder if soldiers on both sides didn’t look back during Christmas of 1915 or 1916 and think Why can’t we stop fighting again? What did we have then that we don’t have now?

And now as we stand at the front of the 21st century, we can look back over the distance covered on that battle-pocked field. We can consider what could have been with the Truce. We can contemplate the Wasteland of the 20th century that followed it and everything that the Great War wrought. We all know now that the Western Front was just the beginning of it all. And now things are mended, and we can come together and shake hands, but No Man’s Land is still there.


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