1. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Need help developing an Eastern-European character...

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Link the Writer, Apr 5, 2014.

    A part of me is somewhat afraid to make a new thread about developing a character/plot, because god knows I've done it so many times before, you all are probably thinking, For the love of God, why are you asking? (I kid, I kid, but honestly, I have done that a lot in the past...)

    So basically, after watching the Despicable Me movies numerous times, and reading mystery/suspense novels, I've started brainstorming a mystery/suspense novel set in America with an Eastern-European character. Trouble is, he has bits and pieces of Gru (the main character from the Despicable Me movies) in him.

    Here is what I have thus far:
    ++ He's college-aged, a transfer student from either Estonia or Romania.

    ++ He doesn't like history (he finds it too political and boring), but is excited about literature and has a position at the university library.

    ++ He's in his late 20s, early 30s. I really don't know when he came to America, or why. I don't even know his name, and the one I have for him probably doesn't work. His name for now is Maurice Petrakov.

    ++ He keeps contact with his girlfriend who is in Europe.

    ++ He has a Youtube channel where he reviews whatever he wishes: books, movies, videogames, you name it.

    ++ He's a bit of a daredevil.

    Is this enough development for right now, or should I develop him a bit more before I start his story?
     
  2. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    What's the novel about if you don't mind me asking?
     
  3. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    @Mackers - That's the other problem. I have no real idea. This is what I have in mind, though.

    The plot basically deals with xenophobia, the fear of foreigners. Specifically, either Maurice's boss, or one of his co-workers dislikes him because he's from Eastern Europe. I want to try and examine xenophobia through both angles, how it hurts others, and how difficult it is for the one doing the hating to just stop hating everyone. Maurice is the narrator, but there are two other protagonists of the story that he comes across: two young college freshman students in their early 20s, one of whom is the child of Maurice's boss/co-worker and is fascinated with Eastern-European history and wants to know a lot about Maurice's homeland.

    The other part is me simply thumbing my nose at all the coming-of-age stories I read as a child where someone died at the end, because apparently the only way to learn a life lesson is to have someone die. The lesson they all learn at the end is basically the same 'treat everyone equally, regardless' thing, only none of the main characters die, though they do narrowly escape death a couple of times.

    That's the general plot, though. The meat of it, I hadn't even started thinking about it. It's likely to be mystery/suspense/thriller, but knowing that Maurice likes to explore creepy buildings looking for ghosts, should I throw in the paranormal as well? Or should I just leave that part out and come up with a good mystery/suspense/thriller?
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2014
  4. Mackers
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    Mackers Contributing Member

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    You should just write the first couple of chapters to see how you get on. Post it in the novel section and get some feedback on it?

    If there's strong themes about xenophobia where does the mystery/suspense come from? Sounds a bit like you don't really know what it is you're going to write about. You should always be careful at over-thinking the premise(s) of stories, and then over-looking actually writing them.

    Anyway, hope it goes well for you, whenever you do get started. Good luck :)
     
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  5. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Link the Writer : That sounds like pretty decent initial character development. I'd just add a couple of things. 'Maurice' is a French name, I wouldn't expect anyone from Eastern Europe to be called that. I'd pick a nationality, research the culture which can help you with characterisation, and then find a male name that starts with M. Make his name that, but he could have changed his name to 'Maurice' when he moved, to fit in better, and he can think of himself as Maurice instead of, say, Miloš. Obviously, his accent will always betray him so he'll be facing prejudice nonetheless, but it could help with job applications and such. Make him a character arc. How does he fundamentally change between the first and the last page. This will drive the narrative and possibly define a theme.

    As far as the term 'Eastern European' is concerned, it usually encompasses Southern as well as Eastern Europe, Baltic states and Russia. There are several different 'cultural profiles', this being an ancient part of the world, with cultures dating all the way back to the earliest civilisations (such as Vinča culture), so so the mentalities are fairly deeply set, I find. Slavic nations, who are dominant in the 'Eastern bloc' reside in both Eastern and Southern Europe, alongside with others, but to my mind, typical 'Eastern European' that is portrayed by Hollywood, has Slavic mentality. Countries that belong to that group would be Russia, the Balkans, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Moldova, and to an extent, Czech Republic. But within 'Eastern Europe' concept you also have Estonia, which is a Baltic state. Those areas tend to have slightly different mentality, sort of in between Russian and Finnish, almost Scandinavian. They share the language and culture with the Finnish and Hungarians. On the other hand Poles are in between German and Russian, also a unique mentality, more 'cold' or 'reserved' then the typical portrayal of the hot-blooded 'Eastern European'.

    Young Eastern Europeans who emigrate usually do so for several reasons. Some are criminals, mafia, they look at opportunities, These are very rare but make up the bulk of Hollywood portrayals. By far most common are people who are looking for a better paid job and better living conditions. Due to wars and long-term antagonism with the West, some Eastern European states are rather poor. Also, we tend to have a lot of corruption, stemming from socialism which was entirely public-sector oriented, so, nepotism, having to belong to the party in power in order to get a job, bribes in health, education, law and politics are common, and even political persecutions (also persecuting gays to an extent) all motivate young people to leave and look for a better life elsewhere. A lot of these people are highly educated, typically to a postgrad level, or have mastered some trade or a skill. They flourish in the West, because they are knowledgeable, grateful and hard working. Then you have kids who moved with their parents, they tend to lose the accent by the time they are adults and take on the qualities of the Western culture completely. You have people marrying foreigners, and also people who do postgrad studies, research or some type of work and then decide to stay.

    Hope that helps with the characterisation, the when and the why. Good luck!
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2014
  6. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Thanks, I'll write the first few chapters and post it for feedback. :)

    I think maybe since the theme is basically about xenophobia, the plot should relate to that, too. Whether it's xenophobia in the past (maybe Maurice uncovers a mystery relating to a couple that was murdered shortly after WWII for the crimes of the husband being from Germany and having fought in WWII, and the wife for daring to do such a thing) or in the present, that's going to have to be what the plot revolves on.

    Thanks for the information. I currently have this man pegged to be Estonian, so I'll research Estonian history/culture and see how that defines him, and considering he's in his early 30s at best, I would have to research what was going on within his lifetime to get an idea. I originally called him Maurice because I had his father being French, while his mother was from Estonia, but he'll have a name that's more Estonian.

    On that note, I should also develop the major antagonist, the guy who started this entire problem to begin with. So far, with him, his excuse for mistreating the main character is this: he believes that goodness is wasted on the wicked; he'll treat those who are nice to him with kindness, and those who weren't with the same level of meanness. He mistreats him because all he had to go on for people from Eastern-Europe was his experiences studying abroad in Russia where he was picked on and belittled. So he assumes our character is Russian and treats him exactly that way. As the story progresses, both men change. Not saying the two will be best friends at the end, but they'll change.
     
  7. Waitingfordeath
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    Personally, and this will probably be majorly disagreed on, I think this sounds like a deeper underlying concept within the novel, rather than a storyline. The storyline could focus on issues like his relationship or career, with the underlying theme being the exploration of xenophobia in the Western society.

    Anyway, just my two cents; good luck!
     
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  8. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @jazzabel you practically wrote most (and more) than I wanted to :)

    @Link the Writer I'd just add that, beside actually researching Estonian culture, you should do (a lot of) research on the general problems of immigrants, especially in the country/region/surroundings of your choice. There is a wide array of possibilities there, and a lot of little aspects to take care of. I have friends and family as immigrants to many "Western" (and "Eastern") countries, and not one of them is a comparable position to others. Some were integrated, some faced xenophobia, some found peace and meaning of life, some live in strife and fear. Some are treated like second-class citizens and others are respected professionals. It's really hard to create a typical, stereotypical image of an immigrant in today's world - things changed a lot in last 40 years.
    Also, while you research the native culture, keep in mind that ethnical/national/regional background and actual individual's culture are different things. When I look at what is shown to foreigners to represent my culture, I trully can't find myself in it. Especially for a 20-30 year old in modern world, who for most of his life was heavily exposed to "western" culture through mass-media, internet etc. Instead of concentrating on national culture, I think you should also pay close attention to youth culture, and your character's actual milleu - you may found that a 20+ guy in Estonia has much more incommon with a 20+ guy in England than with a 40+ guy in Estonia :)
     
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  9. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    um, eastern European who goes to university to study literature? Riiiiiight
     
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  10. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @123456789 How may I help you? :)
     
  11. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's all math computer sci and med school with them!
     
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  12. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Speaking as somebody who has written a novel containing a person from an Eastern European background ...Hungary ...you may need to grapple with language issues as you write.

    My novel is historical, so I was less concerned about what a modern-day immigrant would face, but needed a basic grounding in how the Magyarul sounds and works. If your character speaks English as a second language, at some point his primary language may come into play. Also his accent will become important. The way he speaks will impact on how other see him.

    For example, while you don't necessarily want to reproduce his 'accent' he is likely to have one—unless he's a second-generation American-born child of immigrant parents. What would a person from his country, who speaks English as a second language, sound like? You will need to know.

    I found YouTube an excellent source of this kind of thing. If you can find a person from that background being interviewed on TV, either a news programme or a chat show, and pay close attention to what they sound like, you'll learn a lot. Do they roll their 'r's, do they have trouble pronouncing any particular letters or groups of letters, does their accent sound gutteral or sibilant, will they speak with perfect English grammar, or will they struggle? Will there be times when their own language resurfaces, and they have trouble enunciating a concept in English? What are their idoms like, and are any of these likely to work their way into their English conversations?

    Of course there is NO substitute for actually knowing somebody from that background, well enough to ask them questions. If you do, you'll be laughing here.

    And do research about their home country. LOTS and LOTS of research. It's fun, if you're actually interested in your character, and it will give you tons of story ideas as well. Research never limits you, I reckon. It expands your vision. Instead of just having to stick to your 'imagination' and whatever is there, you can add reality. You'll discover things you didn't know were true, and they'll spark your imagination much more than just trying to think things up on your own.

    I think you've chosen an excellent theme, but it will need lots of work, dedication, research and empathy to pull it off. Good luck!
     
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  13. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @jannert in a way, while the accent-thing is definitely an important issue, there is still a range of possibilities there to work with and have fun with. For example, a friend of mine started to work for an American-based firm recently, and most of his contacts are from the States, and his accent switched dramatically to mimic theirs. On the other hand, most of my professional contacts were always British, so my accent tends to mimic the poshy Public School accent. However, when I write I still mix the two normatives, so you'd find both "films" and "movies", "sabers" and "sabres" in my posts :D

    An interesting interview with rebooted Chekov:
    http://trekmovie.com/2009/05/08/exclusive-interview-with-anton-yelchin/
     
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  14. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    By the way, Walter Koenig's accent (and by consequence, the accent of this kid impersonator :p) has absolutely nothing to do with Russian, but may come from his Lithuanian-born father...which is close enough to Estonian :D
    @Link the Writer about "Maurice Petrakov" - Maurice is damn cool name even if he's not from a mixed marriage (I just met a girl named Evelin, which is hardly a typical Serbian first name!). But I hope you did away with Petrakov if you've chosen Estonia as his origin - except if you wish to make his family background important to the story. His parent(s) might be part of a Russian minority in Estonia, his grandfather might be a Soviet officer, etc. If not:
    www.google.com/search?q=estonian+surnames&btnG=&client=ms-opera-mini&channel=new&gws_rd=cr
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2014
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  15. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    @Burlbird , @jannert = Thanks so much for the additional tips. :D I agree, it'll take dedicated research to pull this off well, considering it's about an immigrant trying to find his place in a small community while facing prejudice because he's from another country.

    Speaking of accents and English as a second language, I knew two professors in college who were from Japan and Germany respectively. My Japanese professor had an extremely heavy Japanese accent, though that may have just been because he had only lived in the US for a decade at that time. I don't remember him slipping up on words, though he did give stronger pronunciation on syllables that didn't need them. My German professor, however, didn't have as strong of an accent, though she did slip up on English words a few times, so I think it all just depends on the individual. Some non-native English speakers may have difficulty pronouncing English words, while others don't. This will be an interesting subject to research. :D This may also mean I'll have to learn the Estonian language.

    I'll most likely do away with 'Petrakov', because it would suggest he's from Russia, and I'm not really sure I plan on having his parents (either mother or father) being from Russia. Maurice? He'll likely pick it himself because he thinks its a cool name, and he'll let people call him either by Maurice or his actual Estonian name.

    @Waitingfordeath - Agreed. The underlying theme is xenophobia, but the actual story is just him finding his place within his community.
     
    Last edited: Apr 6, 2014
  16. jannert
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  17. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Thanks for the link, jannert. :D

    True, I'll keep that in mind. He can very well be a Russian living in Estonia, maybe one of his parents is Russian and other is from Estonia? There's all sorts of possibilities.

    EDIT: er, is it cheating to consult a baby naming site for tips on Estonian names?
     
  18. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Link the Writer he might be a Russian from Estonia :) There are almost no ethnically clean borders in Europe - it seems strange for a continent that practically invented the word "nation", but it's a fact...
    And don't burden yourself with "learning Estonian", that's hardly something necessary for your (or any) story. Think about the character, his story and plan how to present it to readers. If you ever get to see it turned into a motion picture, the actor who plays Maurice would have too learn tha accent :D
     
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  19. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Thanks, Burlbird. :D And thanks again everyone. :D Your posts were very helpful.
     
  20. Burlbird
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    Burlbird Contributing Member Contributor

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    @Link the Writer "baby naming sites" - knock yourself out, there's no cheating in using every available resource you have.

    French author Michel Houellebecq copy-pasted whole pages from wiki - now that is cheating :)
     
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  21. jannert
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  22. aikoaiko
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    Jazzabel made some excellent points about the eastern European outlook. Since Socialism and Communism have been the main forms of government since WWII, many of the people there tend to be very poor, and the quality of life is nowhere near what it is in the west. My father is from Hungary and I have many relatives there. Much of my family had advanced degrees (like Jazzabel mentioned), and came to the US on temporary teaching assignments for universities or to do consulting. Without exception they worked very hard, and were usually floored by the availability of products and services here. They did not take anything for granted and were very grateful for everything they got. My uncle worked at a college here in the 90's and was stunned at the size of the apartment they put him up in. In Hungary he had been living in a place the size of a shoebox in with his wife and three children.

    During the time Hungary was communist the citizens were not allowed to leave without permission. Even when it was granted they had to leave family members behind to ensure they would return, and when anyone came to visit they could not bring anything back since their luggage was searched when re-entering the country. I remember that my aunt purchased a crystal here, and she had to hide it in the case with her false teeth to smuggle it in:).

    Also, you have to consider that an accent will not come into play unless someone enters a country past the age of 15. My own parents emigrated to the US after WWII as children (aged 9 and 10), and do not have accents as a result. A first generation American after them (myself or my siblings) would not have an accent either, but would usually be raised with elements of the old culture in place, and will have foreign speaking (Hungarian, in this case) grandparents. The first children who emigrated would be bilingual, obviously, but the first generation would only occasionally speak the mother language.
     
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  23. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I think it's a good idea to plan the character thoroughly, but you can also get right on with the writing and start exploring the dimensions of xenophobia as the character will also grow and develop while you write. You have to do plenty of research though, so I hope that doesn't eventually put out your enthusiasm. I like the idea of him being from Estonia as he'll be difficult to label. I'd imagine Americans don't know much about Estonia, so there are less stereotypes at play unlike with Slavic immigrants/exchange students, especially if they have a Russian surname and a strong accent.

    Estonians are pretty close to Finns, language and culture-wise. There's a stronger Slavic vibe, as they kind of fall into the crossfire of the Baltics, Russia, and Scandinavia as @jazzabel explained. A lot also depends on which Estonian city or town he's coming from -- the country is still far from the welfare state it could've become if Communism hadn't happened. Surenames can sound Russian or they can sound Finno-Ugric. Maurice might be Mauri, and his surname could be something completely weird-looking to Anglophones, like Ilves. Your name is fine too, of course. When they speak English, the accent will be difficult for an American to pin-point.

    I suggest you find someone from Estonia to help out with the research and give you tips. It's always exciting to delve into a new culture, which is just one of the reasons why I love writing...
     
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  24. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    <sees that it has names for Ancient Egyptian and other cultures I hadn't even thought about>

    OK, I'm bookmarking the crap out of that link. I also was toying with a story set in Ancient Egypt, so that's perfect! :D <ahem> Let me go look up a few good names for this man. :D I want to give him a name first because if I keep calling him 'that Estonian man', I might be doing what my antagonist is doing. ;) What I'm doing now is looking at the names and checking the meaning. There are a few good names I've seen so far like Paavo, Koit, Andrus, and Duscha. I'm not sure if that's how you're supposed to do it when picking out character names, but I'm just looking for a name that closely fits his personality. He's a gracious, humble, likeable dude, so a name that means power and ruler probably won't fit him.

    I honestly had no idea Estonia was a country until I heard about it on Vlogbrothers. Originally, he was going to be either Russian or Romanian, but after I heard about Estonia from Vlogbrothers, I decided that would be where he would come from. Can't wait to start the research! I'm going to go jot down some questions to answer during the research (the way I used to do research papers back in college.)
     
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  25. KaTrian
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    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Just a word of caution, these lists sometimes contain names that can sound weird to a native even though they're listed as names of this and that origin. I often tend to check the Finnish name lists to get some idea if it's a good website ('cause I know which names are in use and which would be deemed non-Finnish). For example there the Finnish name list has names I haven't heard before or can right away tell they aren't in accordance with our naming system, vowel-consonant agreement etc. It doesn't mean the name couldn't be used, but it might matter to the character to have a name that is unusual, or even unpronouncable for their fellow countrymen and women. E.g. there was the name Kivi for a boy. It means 'stone'.The shit that kid would get for the name in school might be important for the character's development.
     
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