1. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Realism-check for character from a SMALL minority.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Commandante Lemming, Jan 4, 2016.

    So I've been posting a lot if threads lately but I guess New Years has me looking at new aspects of the project.

    I'm hitting the revision phase and as many of you know I have a major character who is an Indian-American and practices Jainism. Problem: I don't know any actual Jains, and they are a very small minority within the Indian community.

    I can do all the research I want (and have done a good bit) but right now I don't have an easy way to get a "Realism check" to revise out stereotypes and such. I'm sure I could find an Indian-American to look it over, but I'm drawing a blank in terms of getting perspective on the Jain aspect, which is a major part of the character.

    I've emailed some Jain organizations before for research material and they've been helpful but that's different from having someone beta-read chapters.

    I do live in a big city, so there is actually a Jain temple in town, and I've thought about seeing if I could just sit in the back row for a service or something after I have a revised draft. But again, that's different from actually asking people to READ my fictional Jain character and tell me everywhere I messed up.

    Any ideas? I know how I'd approach this if I were writing a Black or Hispanic or Muslim character....beg friends or fellow writers who are of that ethnicity or religion. But I'm less sure how to approach a group that is very small and to which I have no direct connection.
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2016
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  2. BayView
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    BayView Contributing Member Contributor

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    When in doubt... the internet?

    Is there any sort of Jainism message board where you could post and ask for help? Or, in a more old-fashioned version, is there a physical bulletin board at the temple in town?

    I think it's awkward to approach an individual in person and ask for a favour - too hard for them to say 'no'. But making a posting somewhere seems like it might work?
     
  3. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    You have a Jain Temple there? Then go talk to the people who run the place, ask if you can attend a few (and yes, a few, not just one) services. Maybe for a year so you can get an idea of all their holidays and festivities. If you're lucky, you may befriend one of the folks there who will be willing to read your character and give you their honest opinion.

    Hope that helps. =)
     
  4. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah Internet is a start.

    Yeah and I'd never straight up ask someone like that....awkward!

    I've looked for Jain message boards before and had bad luck but haven't looked in a while.
     
  5. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Youtube is your friend. ;) That's where I go when I need information.
     
  6. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    That's protagonist-level commitment and thankfully Vinya is NOT my protagonist. She's the sidekick.

    But I'm definitely going to try and interact with my local Jain community...once I get to a level where I can say I've actually written book in the past tense. Which is slightly less of a weirdo move on my part :p
     
  7. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Been there. Done that.

    Lots of stuff on Jainism and it's history in India. Next to nothing on modern Jain-Americans. Although Young Jains of America did send me their PDF newsletter archives which were awesome.

    Although at this point I'm not so much worried about getting research as it is checking a character who is already written...and who frankly has a lot of issues...she's a bit of a wild child.
     
  8. Ben414
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    Ben414 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I can relate. For a piece that's been on hold for a while, I had to research Maya in Guatemala. Unsurprisingly, I wasn't able to find any local Maya who could talk about what it was like for them to live in the western highlands in Guatemala.

    Academic articles in sociology/anthropology/religious studies can be surprisingly informative for matters like these. I'd give them a shot, especially if you have access to subscription databases through your work or alma mater. Professors would be great people to contact, although it may be hard to get a response. Other than that, it sounds like you've exhausted your sources unless you're able to find something in-person.
     
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  9. Hubardo
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    Hubardo Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've used this resource more than once.
     
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  10. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    You could beg friends to beg friends. My SO has several coworkers who are Jain--which I say not to offer his coworkers, but to suggest that it might not be that hard to find someone who's one degree of friendship away.
     
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  11. jannert
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    I wouldn't be too shy about asking somebody in the Jain community you're planning to visit for help. Anybody who is a minority ...ethnic or religious ...is usually very interested in NOT seeing their community misrepresented in literature. If you take that tack, that you're anxious to portray an accurate view of them, I imagine you'll have Jains coming out of the woodwork to help you.

    It would be sensible to isolate the bits with your Jain character in them, and print them off, so your helpers aren't asked to read the whole novel. (After they see the quality of your writing, they may well ask to do so! :)) If there is some aspect of the subject that needs more of an overview ...such as how other characters see this character ...perhaps you can formulate and write down the questions you would like them to address.

    I think if you go in armed and prepared they'll know you're serious, and will probably provide exactly the kind of help you need. Good luck!
     
  12. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I second this. While this wasn't for research material for a book, I remember going onto a forum where the memberships were predominately people who happened to be homosexuals and asking in a curious, polite way, for clarification about misconceptions that I had. The responses were amazing. They came into my topic and were more than willing to help me really understand. :)

    So don't be shy to ask, Lemming. You'd be surprised about how eager and willing people are to talk about themselves, especially if their group is so misrepresented in popular culture. How often do you think someone from a majority group goes to a group of people from the minority and asks to the effect of, "I want to write about you all without the stereotypes or misconceptions we see all the time."

    Just go to some of the forums and ask. Make it clear you're trying to write them as accurately as possible without the misconceptions and stereotypes. I'm sure they'll be delighted to assist you in any way possible.

    EDIT: Hell, that's what I'm probably going to have to do in order to write a character with a neurological disorder. So let's both wander that mysterious path together, you with the Jain culture and me with that neurological disorder I know little about! :p :D
     
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  13. oTTo
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    Of course internet, libraries, community groups, each are great sources, but nothing beats submersion. Why not attend the temple? Become a part of the community. Become, in essence, your MC and gain perspective.
     
  14. LostThePlot
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    I'd definitely look towards speaking to people more than trying to live in their world. Not that there's anything wrong with getting seriously method for certain things but unlike many movements, religions are typically life-long commitments and the really important background stuff will come in the characters childhood or teens; times that you can't experience. Especially as a non-believer 'living the life' can feel like an imposition; no meat, no caffeine, going to services you don't care about, wearing specific weird things but to a believer all of those are things that make them feel like a good person and they wouldn't want to live without even if it's not so important. To you having to order something else at the coffee shop or buy different groceries will annoy you but certainly not your character.

    So talk to people. Most temples are more than happy to help you out, and perhaps most helpfully to you they also run social occasions that you could tag along with and just have a chat. Doesn't have to be a big deal, just ask questions of people about the same age as your character and see how they feel about their background, their family, their lives and how their faith effects that. Ask them about the stories their parents told them too; those are different in every culture and a little reference to them can really help the authenticity; help any Jain readers see themselves in those shared experiences.
     
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  15. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah I'd definitely do interviews rather than "going method" so to speak. I already have a religion and that takes up enough of my life :).

    Although the good thing about practicing Messianic Judaism is that I can map a lot of my own experiences onto Vinya's Jainism. I don't know much about being Indian or being Jain, but I do know a lot about being part of a really small religion that you constantly have to explain to outsiders (I think there are actually more Jains in America than Messianics), dealing with dietary restrictions that make no sense to your friends, not fitting in with the minority everyone thinks you belong in (mainline Jews in my case, other Indians in hers), the problems that arise from not conforming to a small community's internal self-stereotypes, and occasionally wishing you could have a "normal" religion that wasn't so othering.

    So, yeah, I can deposit all of that experience :p The similarities between Jews and Jains is what attracted me to the character in the first place (the beliefs are radically different but the two communities have evolved to play extremely similar roles in the West and the East).
     
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  16. LostThePlot
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    Definitely having your own views to draw on will help a lot. I think that the really critical thing for you to nail is that feeling of being in a small but committed group and having that personal experience having to roll your eyes and explain every time you meet someone new will go a long way. One minor thing to be aware of; in India the Jain have typically been reasonably well accepted and some of their traditions were folded into other Indian beliefs that came later including Hinduism. As a strictly non-violent religion mostly rulers throughout history just ignored them. But I don't know how well Indians who grew up outside India would necessarily know that. Perhaps to an Indian who was born in America the Jain would seem like 'the weird cousin' but to Indians born in India they might feel more accepting. Something to think about.
     
  17. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    All good stuff - I definitely want to ask some American Jains about how they perceive themselves fitting into the broader Indian-American community and how that works being a minority within a minority (I have no clue but my gut tells me that's got to be a little weird). At the moment I don't have any non-Jain Indians that Vinya can interact with - so the outside reactions to her come from the mostly white people she works with...who pretty much have absolutely no concept ("Oh, so you're Hindu?"..."No, my last name is Jain, I'm Jain. Two plus two equals four!") That and she mostly just messes with people's concepts of what an Indian American is supposed to act like - she's aggressive, loud, hyper, has anger issues, speaks in Southern California dialect, has a tendency toward materialism, occasionally works as a DJ, and is absolutely obsessed with fashion and pop culture.
     
  18. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Good points - I talk to (and/or lecture) people about how to approach my own affiliations all the time so I assume other people will be similarly inclined. Although in that case I'm certainly going to try and revise into a bit more of cohesive product before doing that. That and I know exactly what it feels like to have someone arrive at your congregation and announce they've written a book about your people...that actually happened at my synagogue. Guy showed up of the street, had used a fictional version of our synagogue in his self-published religious fiction, and clearly did not do his research. I was so steamed - both as a Messianic and as a writer.
     
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  19. jannert
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    Well, I KIND of get how that feels ...every time some numpty who has never been here (or has only been here for a two day holiday) announces that they've written a book of fiction set in Scotland—because it's SUCH a romantic location. (Diana Gabaldon, take note....)

    I had no idea till I moved here how many misconceptions there are about this country, and its people. And the way they talk, and think. And their history. I'm an outsider from Michigan, but at least I live here (in an unromantic part of it) and have done so for the past 30 years. Long enough to know how much shite gets written about the place. And the accents ...don't get me started. There is no such thing as Brigadoon, or a 'Scottish accent.' Scotland (like all the other countries that make up the UK) has so many distinctive regional accents it would make your head spin. And then there are the people who think an Irish accent (again, no generic one exists) is a good substitute. Yikes. Ireland is another country that gets badly misconceived by tinpot writers from elsewhere.

    I think I can forgive errors, but I have a much harder time forgiving happy-clappy misconceptions. You know ...those ingrained ideas that would be called prejudices if they were more negative in tone.
     
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  20. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I think I'm beginning to understand how you feel when non-UKers say that all Scottish people speak this way, or all Irish people speak that way. In Fallout 4, there's a companion named Cait who's supposed to be Irish but even to my non-Irish ears, her accent just screams ‘FAKE IRISH ACCENT!’ Her voice actress is Scottish with Irish heritage, in case you were wondering. :D Granted I'm sure there are Irish folks who do speak in the typical Irish accent (where do you think stereotypes come from?) but not all of them do.

    There's no one singular, generic accent for any country, at least I think. Sure some speak in the typical accent of the country, but not all of them do.
     
  21. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    My daughter, living in Australia, got criticised by a native for "the worst fake British accent" he'd ever heard.

    She didn't bother putting him right...she is British, lived here until she was 30...
     
  22. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Yeah it is always funny how people think there's only one accent for anywhere (or worse, Americans who think they don't HAVE an accent).

    And specifically in terms of Scotland - the Glasgow accent has to be my favorite but so many people would never recognize it.
     

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