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

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    When the character is of another religion.

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Link the Writer, Aug 19, 2010.

    Okay, this may get very heated, so I'll let the mods take the appropriate measures in case it does. And let me say personally that I am not trying to cause offense. If I do offend, I apologize. It was not my intention at all.

    Basically, I had a thought of making Heridon Copper a member of the Jewish faith. It's still the same genre and setting (mystery, modern times, etc), only Heridon's religious faith is different. (It's not a big part of the story, but I might include scenes like where he and his family celebrate Passover)

    Is it a good idea if I (who does not pratice the Jewish faith) do this?

    A part of me doesn't see why not as it makes no difference what a character's religion is. All that matters is the character themselves and how I can make them not flat. No one would care if Heridon were Jewish. It'd just be a part of his life.

    Yet another part says there are things I should not do simply because some might think it controversial, like if I wrote from the perspective of a black person (but I'm not black).

    So, what do you think? Good idea? Bad idea?

    And again, if I offended anyone, I apologize. it was not my intention to offend.
     
  2. zeem33
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    zeem33 Member

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    I'm curious to know, why would this be offensive in any way? I've read dozens of books by white authors with primarily black characters, I've read dozens of books by black authors with primarily white characters, I've read dozens of books by authors of every ethnicity dealing with characters of another ethnicity.

    As for the Jewish thing, if it doesn't make much of difference to the story then is it really that big a deal? Make the character however you want to make it - why would any Jewish person be offended that you have a character with their religion?
     
  3. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'd just worry about doing enough research to make the character a believable Jew. For example, if his family figures in the story, Jewish traditions might make a difference to how they are described.
     
  4. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Because I have no clue about how they celebrate Hannukah (sp?) or Passover. What if I get something wrong? What if I had another character attempt to give Heridon a present while saying "Merry Christmas, Heridon!" even though Heridon doesn't celebrate Christmas?

    Plus, I have severe anxiety, so I'll find things to worry about regardless of how grounded to reality it is.
     
  5. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    If you have no clue about Jewish traditions, which are a pretty major part of their lifestyle, then why would you try to write about one? Unless you plan on engaging in a lot of research first? Which just seems like a waste of time given that by your own admission it's a tiny part of the story.

    There's nothing offensive about a non-Jew writing about a Jewish character. There is something offensive about anybody writing badly about a Jewish character.
     
  6. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Good point. I can always skip them and mention it in passing.

    I don't know why I worry so much about these things. I blame political correctness.
     
  7. Show
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    Show Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, is the Jewish person reformed or devout in their faith? If you plan to make them devout, do the necessary research but see what you need to know given the context of the story. If the character is merely Jewish but their religion doesn't figure heavily into your story, I don't see it as a problem.
     
  8. zeem33
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    zeem33 Member

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    But that's not an issue of religion or political correctness or anything like that; that's an issue of researching properly :)
     
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  9. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Even if you reduce it to mentioning Hanukkah in passing, being Jewish will still flow through every fiber of your character and reveal itself in personality and actions as the traditions, beliefs and philosophies of his cultural heritage would be deeply rooted in him.

    Personally I'd never dare writing a main character that comes from a culture so different from my own. I think it's risky business.
     
  10. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    How do you dare write about characters of the opposite sex then? ;)
     
  11. thewordsmith
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    thewordsmith Contributing Member Contributor

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    Link, as Islander pointed out, the key here is RESEARCH! If you know nothing about the Jewish faith, regardless whether you include a Jewish character in your story, you need to do some research - learn more about the world you inhabit.

    As a writer, I cannot imagine not being curious about the world around you to the point of trying to learn about things such as religions and beliefs of other people. In the case of including a main character in a manuscript who has differing beliefs/faith, approach the subject as you would any other factor in your story about which you are unfamiliar. Do your research. Read! Talk to people! If you have Jewish friends, you might even go so far as to ask them if you could join them at worship. If you don't have Jewish friends, go to a nearby temple or synagogue and talk to the Rabbi or the people there. Introduce yourself and your purpose. Explain that you want to learn more about the Jewish faith and beliefs. Tell them that you are trying to learn about rites and practices and holy days so as to present the religious aspects of your book faithfully and in keeping with the Jewish faith. They will be more than happy to share with you. And ... you might even gain new friendships along the way!

    Hahahahaha
     
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  12. HorusEye
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    HorusEye Contributing Member Contributor

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    Because I've been surrounded by women all my life. If I had many jewish friends and knew them extremely well, I'd not have a problem writing about one. But it's not the case and I suspect it's not the case for the OP either.
     
  13. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    Beautifully put. That's what I should do. And if I don't know any Jewish people IRL/don't know where the nearest synagogue is, there are still ways to find out. I can still read about the Jewish faith in books and the internet.

    I have a friend on here that is a Jew, so I could also talk to her about it too. =)

    Once I gain a complete understanding of the Jewish faith, then I won't feel worried about accidentally offending them.
     
  14. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you believe that you could write an atheist, an Christian, a punk rocker, a German garndmother, a hill-billy, or animal rights activist or whatever view that effect the lifestyle with respect etc, I'm pretty sure that a Jew wouldn't be harder.

    Research and respect.
     
  15. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Research is really the key here, as nearly everyone has already said.

    But don't just google. Talk to Jewish friends about what Judaism means to them in their daily life. You can even visit a synagogue and speak to a rabbi - most of them are very willing to talk about Jewish life, it's kind of part of the job description.
     
  16. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    I agree.

    But how do I ask them? I can't exactly say, "Hey, are you a Jew?" as it'd be somewhat rude.

    *Suddenly remembers he's in college*

    Oh, I am so stupid! I can simply see if there's a group/club thing about religion and I could ask if there's a Jewish one. Then go from there.

    I really do like the idea of visiting a synagogue. I'll have to look to see if there is one in the area.
     
  17. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    Hold on a minute: why do you want him to be a Jew?
     
  18. Sang Hee
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    Sang Hee Contributing Member

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    As long as you don't claim it as a truth you can write about basically anything. Just look how so many authors of books, movies, comics, or anything else rip-off christian beliefs. So many stories with angels, demons, God, etc. have totally twisted its fundaments to the max and everyone gets away with it.
    But yeah, research is in place if you wanna appear legit.
    Btw, you will always find some people who find everything controversial. You can't please everyone.
     
  19. erik martin
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    erik martin Contributing Member

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    I am highly offended...no wait, wrong thread, sorry. (What's this about? Mmm hmm, I see...okay.) Nope not offensive. As many have said research. Go to temple, find out where the closest one is to you. There are indeed southern Jews, where I used to live in NC had a pretty sizeable Jewish community. They won't bite if you go to a service. I'd probably go talk to the rabbi on an off day, introduce yourself. You'll probably find him welcoming and helpful. Jewish people are no different from most people in that they respond positively to someone trying educate themselves about differences of culture and religion. Most folks are tickled pink to share things about themselves as a people. Just go in with an open mind and you will be fine. (Just don't fix pulled pork plates for the synagogue bbq.)
     
  20. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    But I think the result is usually better if they do their research well, then twist it. Like Neil Gaiman, for example.
     
  21. Phlogiston
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    Phlogiston Member

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    I was going to say something about research, but I see that has already been covered :p

    I would, however, like to second this:
    I remember when I had to teach Judaism to high schoolers. Despite having a large number of Jewish friends in school I still felt nervous about 'running' a seder meal. Mentioning this to a friend of mine, he and his family promptly invited me to their home a week or so later to join them for the seder meal.

    By researching these aspects of your book you also add to your own life experiences. Never something to turn away from. Good luck!
     
  22. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    Some people who aren't Christian do celebrate commercial Christmas. Or so I've heard.

    Like others have said, research.
     
  23. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    i have to echo stu's question:

    "why do you want him to be a jew?"

    if you don't have a good plot-related reason for doing so, you probably shouldn't...
     
  24. HeinleinFan
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    HeinleinFan Banned

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    Some ideas that might help:

    * When you encounter a scene that involves details you don't know, mark it and make a note. Later, offer to buy a friend from that culture lunch or a nice dinner in exchange for an explanation of the rites, rituals, customs and odd phrasings that would occur in such a scene.

    * If you use outlines, take the opportunity to do research for scenes you know are coming but where you don't know enough.

    * If you use loose outlines, you may find that as you do research, you will make connections and find neat ways of solving plot problems. An example can be found in The Protector's War by S.M. Stirling, where one character, a Wiccan who believes in visions and omens, interprets a murder attempt as a nudge from a god or higher power. This allows the characters to remain allies even though the attempted murderer was weak enough morally to try such a despicable act.

    * Good-faith attempts will generally not tick people off, although you have to hold up your part of the bargain and do enough research to get broad details right. Not everyone is devout, or has the same interpretation of scripture as other folks, so you can have a moderately religious Jewish character as your main focus, and as long as you show that he / she knows people who are more conservatively orthodox and you get those details right, most readers who pick up on errors will justify it with, "Well, obviously this character just isn't as involved with the synagogue and the Jewish community as some of the secondary characters."

    * You're the author -- you can choose to make it easy on yourself. Meaning, you can choose to make the character ambivalent about religion, or someone who grew up in a very orthodox community and who has distanced himself for whatever reason, or someone who has other reasons to ignore some of the very-conservative things -- like no meat and dairy in one meal, no clothing of mixed fiber types, no touching an unrelated woman at all ever, wearing one's hair a particular way. You don't have to make the character devoutly religious if you're worried you won't get it "right."
     
  25. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    As long a it's the character's mistake, not yours, it's fine :)

    It may even work to your advantage. If the mistake is pointed out, it will tell the reader that you (the writer) are aware that there are differences between Jewish and Christian culture, and they will be more forgiving of any other mistakes you do.

    It may even give you an alibi for future mistakes. If Heridon goes along with it just to be nice, or says something like, "Thanks, I'll make sure to give you a Hanukkah present later!", the reader may assume that other small discrepancies are due to Heridon wanting to fit in, or not being so serious about his heritage.
     

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