1. njwh
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    njwh New Member

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    How do I mention a Norwegian in a book set in a fictional universe?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by njwh, Apr 5, 2013.

    I'm Australian, but don't want to set my novel in Australia as international audiences may not empathise with it. Likewise I don't want to set it in Britain or America as I don't live there, and don't want to research these places merely for a setting.
    So I've devised a parallel universe of sorts where it's Earth, but not quite. None of the names of places are the same, and it's slightly dystopian.
    Problem is, I want to have a main character who is Norwegian.
    How do I go about introducing this; and to that matter any international country, race, or language?
    Must I rename all relevant places? What about accents? Could I just say he's scandinavian?

    Or...am I being naive. And there's actually no harm in setting it in Australia? Will it hinder the books popularity if people cannot empathise with the location?
    What are the benefits and downfalls of real-world vs fictional-world universes?
    I am open to setting it in real-world if someone's convincing enough. I just don't know if audiences worldwide really want to read about countries other than their own, America, Britain or a particular country necessary for a plot (i.e. Afghanistan in order to tell the story of an Afghan orphan). My setting, other than being 1st-world, isn't necessary in advancing the plot.
     
  2. SwampDog
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    SwampDog Contributing Member

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    How can you possibly know that? Write the book, and if it doesn't work because of location, then it doesn't work. But the last thing you want to be doing is pre-empting your potential readership and making decisions for them.

    Go for it. In Oz!
     
  3. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    I would rather read a book set somewhere else that I have never been that read a book set in my hometown. Literature lets you travel, and if an author homogenizes and boils all the life out of the setting, I feel like the story suffers for it.

    People are people no matter where you go. Emotion, desire, relationships and interactions; those are all things that everyone, no matter where you're from, can relate to. They're also the things that make a story truly powerful, the human element that everyone, no matter where they're from can relate to.

    If you can manage to capture that in your story, it doesn't matter where it's set.

    And also, there is that saying, 'write what you know.' Well, sounds like you know Australia :D

    Anyway, hope this helps! :D
     
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  4. TimHarris
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    TimHarris Senior Member

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    If it is supposed to be a parallel universe, there are no reason why Norwegian people cant be speaking English.
     
  5. Xatron
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    Xatron Contributing Member

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    It may be too weird for some readers if you have some places with their appropriate names and some with alternate names.
     
  6. Tea Sipper
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    Tea Sipper New Member

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    I say if you want to set the story in Australia then go for it. If you want to place the Norwegian in Australia then go for it. It's your world that you're bringing to life. For instance I'm writing about a Swiss who grew up on a farm in Switzerland, moved to an American mining territory in the 1800's and is forced to stick around until modern times.

    Which poses a question, on this parallel world would the Norwegian be in Australia or Norway if it were Earth? Or something or someplace all together different?

    Where does your mind's eye take you? Don't be afraid to go down a rabbit hole or two. You may like or may not like what you see there. Besides, think of all the other novels that have been published where the main characters are from one country interacting in an other. Personally I think your Norwegian interacting with the Australian culture could lend a bit of realness to the plot.

    Hope this helps.
     
  7. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    YES! YES! YES! To Pheonix. Absolutely. If you know Oz, set it in Oz. I've read plenty of books set in Australia. Also, Steig Larsson's trilogy didn't seem to suffer at all, being set in Sweden.

    Why do you want your MC to be Norwegian? Are you of Norwegian descent? If a Norwegian living in Australia is familiar to you, by all means go for it. Your story will be richer for doing so.
     
  8. shadowwalker
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    shadowwalker Contributing Member Contributor

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    People don't empathize with locations - they empathize with the characters. I've read tons of books set in New York City, but I've never been there. Curious though why you want a Norwegian. (Not that I have anything against Norwegians - most of my ancestors came from there :D)
     
  9. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I don't think so at all. It would be intriguing.

    Empathizing with characters, definitely the draw in most stories. I enjoy some travel accounts for the location (canoeing from LA to Guatemala in the 20s, and all the travel accounts of Tibet from that same era) because I love to travel vicariously through books. But even in those books if the traveler was someone who I didn't like, I'd have little interest.

    I love parallel universes and I also love Australia. And I see no reason a Norwegian couldn't just be plopped down in either place.

    I too am curious, njwh, why do you think people don't like stories set in Oz?
     
  10. aspidistra
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    aspidistra Member

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    njwh, I am Australian and I totally understand where you are coming from. Without seeming too harsh to the country I love, Australia is a kind of cultural backwater. If you set a novel here and make it realistic, it would probably come across to the rest of the world as a 'genre' piece in the vein of Crocodile Dundee or The Castle. I can very much see why you would want to avoid this, as Australiana colours the writing in a way which might detract from it overall. I think this is one of the reasons Australian film struggles to find an audience internationally and at home.

    The other downside of using a real country, whichever it is, means you have to use history how it actually is, or invent ways of explaining why in this parallel universe the Berlin Wall did not fall or Nixon stayed in power for three decades. Otherwise, it needs to be set in the future.

    To answer your main question: I don't see any reason you couldn't mention Norway. There have been many films and books which take place in a fictional country with the rest of the world remaining basically how it is. This could be really useful if you want to make an allegory of a real situation.

    BTW, I am working on doing almost the same thing, a novel set in an imagined country where the rest of the world is more or less true to fact. I realised very quickly how awkward it was writing in 'Straylian and the limitations it would have on writing style, character interactions, etc. The common aussie is not renowned for his poise and elocution, and if that's what you want in your writing it would be hard to have your cake and eat it too.
     
  11. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    Haha, have you met a Norwegian? They speak better English than most Australians.

    There seems to be a lot of this going around these forums. Self-deprecating 'strayans. Your writing doesn't need be a string of Australian similes to be Australian. For every bogan, there are 10 more people (at least) who are culturally aware. I asked someone else on here this question: Where are you from? I've lived in Melbourne's inner city for almost 8 years, and I've never had a problem finding something to do. Music, theatre, film, art, it's all here, you just have to know where to look... Why can't you write a story about the artists, musicians, historians, writers, scientists, soldiers, etc, we have? Why does an Australian novel have to be about backward hill-billies?

    I don't know anyone who relates to buildings. As Shadow said, characters are the key. If people had to have a physical attachment to a setting, there would not be a market for fantasy.

    My best friends are from the Norde, I've been there once and am heading back at the end of the year. I literally have no idea what your story is about but I'm already interested... Why do you want a Norwegian protagonist? Aside from the fact they're an awesome people.

    EDIT: Asp is from Brisbane, perspective understood :p.
     
  12. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Let him/her be Norwegian.

    There's nothing wrong with that. I'd love to learn about Australia from this Norwegian fella's point of view. If it excites you to put this setting in Australia, then let it be so.
     
  13. Drusilla
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    Drusilla Active Member

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    I recommend you to research everything about Norway.
    Here is a list of towns and cities in Norway: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_towns_and_cities_in_Norway

    You should also read about Norwegian first names and last names.

    Feel free to ask me questions if there is anything you wonder about. I am a Norwegian (who is living in Sweden) and I have a Dutch character. There is nothing wrong with having a character who is not the same nationality as you.
     
  14. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    This makes no sense. If there is no Norway, what is the point of a Norwegian character? What is it about Norwegians that make them uniquely qualified to audition for the role of D. Mayn Character?

    That is what you need to answer for yourself. Instead of a Norwegian, what characteristics do you wish your character to exhibit? What features of his or her homeland need you retain for your story?

    If you feel a need to create a different world, you have to accept that you will also have to sketch in any cultures or populaces you need. You can model them after real examples. In fact, it's unavoidable.

    You chose the path of an alternate world, so that is where you must tread.
     
  15. AVCortez
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    AVCortez Active Member

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    Worst advice ever, and missed opportunity to promote Norway's not exactly thriving tourism industry :p. I'd say live there for a year. As an Australian you can get a 1 year working-holiday visa without too much trouble. I've only heard of one person who did it, they lived in Tromso and got horrifically depressed, but since returning have apparently spent a lot their time trying to find a way back.
     
  16. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    We've never heard back from the OP as to why he or she wants to make the character Norwegian in the first place. So, some of this depends on that reason. I assume the OP has some connection to Norway. If not, it does seem like a random choice.
     
  17. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I don't think it's random to put a character from another nationality in another country. One of my Westerns has an Irish character whose family came from Ireland to the US shortly after his birth.
     
  18. Pheonix
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    Pheonix A Singer of Space Operas and The Fourth Mod of RP Staff Contributor

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    I agree, I don't think it would be random either. And it doesn't seem like the focus of the OP's question was whether or not he wants a Norwegian character, but how to incorporate him into the setting. He seems pretty well set on having him in there, so much so that he was willing to move it from a real world setting to a fictional one. So, questioning that aspect doesn't seem that constructive. Just saying.

    It all depends on how it's written and explained. Even if it's set in an alternate universe, it could be a parallel history instead of a full out different world. If that was the case, geography, countries, even names could be the same, or at least very similar.
     
  19. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    I only mentioned that it seemed random, IF the OP has no particular connection already to Norway. People started talking about how he should research Norway, or go live there. I pointed out that we've never heard back from the OP as to why he wants the character to be Norwegian -- for all we know, he's lived in Norway for 50 years and moved to Australia 2 years ago. He's awfully quick to give up Oz, and the whole planet, even, but he wants to keep the character Norwegian. I have no real opinion at this point on whether it is a good thing for the character to be Norwegian. From where I sit, it's fine if he is and just as fine if he's not. But it must matter for some reason to the OP. The reasoning for this might also have some bearing on whether the setting might be better in Australia, or somewhere else, or in the real world or in some other world. We just don't have sufficient information.

    Usually, if someone wants to have a character a particular ethnicity or nationality, there is a reason for it. If the OP doesn't have some particular connection to Norway, I am curious what, specifically, it is about Norwegians that he finds particularly compelling and important for this story.
     
  20. njwh
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    njwh New Member

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    tl;dr - I vaguely touch on why the setting and ethnicity were important. And talk about some of my personal thought processes.

    Okay... wow this escalated in the wrong direction. I'll try and explain as best as possible.

    This may be a let down to some of you, but..
    I originally had typed German, inspired by this guy I recently met. However, I wanted to be able to generalise the area he's from, and rather than saying "Germanic" (as it has the word German in it) I changed it to Norwegian purely to use the generalisation of "Scandinavia" in my earlier sentence: "Could I just say he's scandinavian?". I also have a Norwegian friend, which is why I didn't say Finland or Sweden, but other than those reasons.. That's It.
    I changed the nationality so I wouldn't have a clunky sentence.

    Some books have an unreliable narrator. I guess you could refer to me as an unreliable OP. Don't expect me to reveal much qualitative information about my ideas, you'll have to wait until they're on the shelves.

    I live in an Australian city. It's much like most 1st world countries, nothing too special.
    To those saying they love or would love things set in Australia, name me one piece of literature or film set in Australia that isn't totally stereotyped. Australia is MUCH more normal than you'd think, quite British & Americanised, and really isn't exciting without the stereotypes. There are wild regions, but doesn't every place have these? A book set in an Australian city, despite a few colloquialisms, wouldn't really be that astoundingly different from anywhere else.

    The novel requires a generic city with not so generic surroundings. So, really, it can't be any current place. When I brought up Australia most of you jumped to the conclusion that I was writing some diary of a Norwegian traveller or something of the like; when really I'm thinking about global marketing.

    You can deny it's importance all you want, and preach that books are to come from the heart, but you're also hindering your chance at actually getting noticed by doing so.
    Like it or not, I want my works to be marketable globally. There's a lot of chance and gamble in writing books, and sometimes you have to follow the trends to get off the ground. Don't follow them by the book, of course be ambitious! But keep them in sight--cause evidently, they work.
    As I previously said (unless the location is imperative to the plot) people mostly empathise with America, Britain and fictional settings; it's no fault of our own, these places have been shoved down our throats since birth. You're all writers, so you like to believe that you'd enjoy a tale from just about anywhere, however there's a big crowd of non-writers who also read and they're quite a bit more sheepish.

    The Norwegian/German is one of multiple main characters and plays a crucial role. Although, it isn't crucial that he be a particular race, more from that particular part of the world. If it's a different world, perhaps this isn't entirely necessary.
    I could try re-asking my original question (the title of the thread), but no one really attempted to answer it, nor understood it in the way I intended, and you were all quite a bit more interested about the Norwegian himself.
    Plainly speaking, I like having characters of multiple ethnicities as it reflects the real world and it's fun! No other particular reason. I'm not Norwegian, I'm not of Norwegian decent... Norwegians are cool (as are Germans). I like writing about things that are cool.

    Nevertheless, you have all been a great help in my answering of these questions.
    Hopefully this time around I wasn't so ambiguous.

    All my opinions, statements and novel in it's entirely are completely subject to change. Do not perceive them as fact or inevitabilities'.
    Cheers for reading. :)
     
  21. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is precisely why it's fine to set it in Australia. I mentioned Steig Larsson earlier, whose blockbuster books were set in Sweden. Sweden was similar enough to the US that it didn't bother me in the slightest, and apparently didn't bother most other readers, either. Australia is even more similar to the U.S. than is Sweden, so I see it as a non-issue. The most recent novel I read that was set in Australia was The Light Between Oceans, which took place just after WWI. Since it's set in a different time period, perhaps the differences weren't as important, but it didn't make any difference to me that it was in Australia. Geographically, it had some relevance, and I had to keep in mind the opposite seasons for relevant months, but the book didn't seem to suffer at all from being set in Australia instead of the US or Britain. It was just released in paperback, and seems to have been very successful for a debut novel. Likewise, I don't think a writer could hope for international success greater than Larsson's, and his books were not set in the U.S. or Britain.

    As far as the Norwegian -- in light of what you say, you should absolutely get to know not only Norway itself, but you should really research, research, research, and if possible, visit a particular part of Norway where your character is from. You need him to be believable, so you need to know where he grew up, what type of school he went to, what type of house he lived in, what weather he deems "typical," what the landscape looks like, what food he ate, etc.
     
  22. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Make him a chef and let him say things like Hurdy Durdy Burdy Gurdy! Maybe he gets a job on a Street called Sesame...
    Or does that only work for Swedes? Oh well, close enough.
     
  23. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yup, go for it. If you feel like writing Norwegian, by all means! Heck, we're writing a Swede, and my writing partner and I are Finnish (but like many Finns, with Swedish ancestry). Plus, Norwegians are friggin' awesome.

    How to mention it? His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman is set in a parallel universe, but he's got Norwegians/Norway there all right. The names are similar, the landscape, the culture, so the reader gets the picture. Of course, making him/her a blue-eyed blond or a black-metallist is a cliché (not saying you would), but that sure would get the message across:D

    Sometimes it saddens me that the big audiences could be bothered by a novel set in a more... obscure country. Good thing Stieg Larsson didn't compromise with his choice of the country. Or the language.
     
  24. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    "Bothered" was the incorrect word for me to use. Perhaps "noticed" might be better. I meant only that the fact that the location was not in a country that is familiar to me did not in the least take me out of the story or distract from it in any way. I prefer stories set in different locales, so I can learn about them. The OP was concerned about folks who won't read books set outside of their own home country, and felt that Australia was in some way too exotic for comfort. I used Larsson as an example of a very successful author whose story is not set in the US or UK. So, even if you discount my opinion, because I like to read about societies that are different from my own, the concern was about commercial success. And Larsson certainly achieved that.
     
  25. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Oh no, sorry if my post looked like criticism towards you! Not my intention at all! I know people get bothered by "exotic locations", and some just notice it yet don't find it as a negative thing, some are psyched about it. Your example was fitting, considering Stieg Larsson broke to the mainstream. What also saddens me is that we have to even take it into account; that our own country as a setting would alienate the masses. Australia was the setting for Tomorrow series by John Marsden and many other 21st century success stories. Sure the first book was published in 1993, but still. I'd love to read more books set in Australia. And more books set in parallel universes. Whatever the author is most comfortable with.
     

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