1. Edgelordess

    Edgelordess Member

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    Questions about race and culture

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Edgelordess, Jul 24, 2018.

    I'm writing a series in which a group of women between the ages of 16 to 23 are a team of magical superheroines. Each of the characters come from a different nationality; Carmin is haitian adopted into a jewish home, Leilani is polynesian/vitenamese and has some background with Native American shamanism, Erica is Greek/Italian, Maya is from Bengladish, Aria is from Norway and Yuki is a japanese Christian. I want to represent these characters that aren't sterotypical, but still resemble their heritage, without looking like a racist or insensitive to other cultures.

    I'll post more questions as I dive deeper in the storyline, as I am in the process of chapter one. But the question I have at the moment is how do I describe voices, diction or accents that different characters have? The way I described their voices seems a bit choppy and I need some ideas how to word them better.

    Carmin has a loud Los Angels accent with a hint of creole whenever she is in a positive mood. Her creole accent is more prominent whenever she is angry or sad.

    Yuki's voice is a nasally but moderately soft spoken. She has a Los Angels accent, and occasionally use valley girl lingo. No where in her voice can anyone detect that she is japanese, despite both of her parents being immigrants.

    Maya has a loud and thick bengali accent, but she is fluent in english.

    Aria has a soft but thick Scandinavian accent. English is her second language, but she can still understand it. Occasionally she will mix up words. (i.e: She has a habit of calling Maya a bagel, when she means to say Bengali)

    Leilani's native language is vietnamese and she speaks broken english. Like Aria, she is still learning the language but isn't as fluent like the other characters. She speaks in short choppy sentences, as her english isn't that great yet. (i.e: I like school. My name is Leilani. I am eighteen.)

    Erica has a prominent Italian accent and speaks perfect english. Her voice is loud an eccentric.

    (These are not how introduce the characters how they appear. However, when they first meet each other, I want to distinguish to the readers that these characters come from different backgrounds)
     
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  2. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    Hello, Edgelordess! It sounds like you've got a pretty complex situation here!

    Accents and dialects can be somewhat difficult to describe in text; unless you go the Hagrid route and just skew your text to READ as close to how you want it to SOUND as you can. But I wonder if it wouldn't be just as good to write the actual dialogue plainly, and hint at the different voices and accents in the dialogue tags instead? For example, if you wanted to show your reader that Erica has an Italian accent and is loud, you could emphasize as she speaks that she's waving her hands around, rather than making the text read "eyyy, whassamattah wichu?!" That way you don't run the additional risk of looking, well, untoward, haha.

    Maybe something like this:

    "I just wanted a cup of coffee," Erica nearly shouted. "Is that so much to ask for? What has a girl got to do to get a cup of coffee around here?"
    Her hands flailed wildly about before finally crossing over her chest.
    "For crying out loud."
    Yuki, with an quiet smile, nodded a soft apology to the bewildered waitress.
    "Sorry," she muttered.
    "It's fine," the waitress stumbled, standing with her pen as though she'd just been hit by a truck of verbiage from the Italian.

    I don't know, that's what springs to my mind. I hope it helps a little!
     
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  3. Siberian

    Siberian Member

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    When it comes to voices you need to keep in mind the character/narrator that is listening to the other character's voice. This will help you understand how to write each character's diction and accent. Your descriptions are great for building your character so you know what to look back on but when it comes to the story you don't want to say "Los Angeles accent with a hint of Creole" because as a reader, if I lived abroad and had no real experience hearing what an LA accent or creole sounds like it disconnects me from the story because you're telling me what they sound like rather than showing me what they sound like.

    For example my second MC is Scottish and she has a very thick Glaswegian accent. Now if you've had no experience in hearing a Glaswegian Scottish accent you could have no idea what to make her sound like in your head. So, by addressing this issue when my other MC's come into contact with her their narration of how she sounds doesn't say "She spoke in a thick Scottish accent." Instead I describe it to readers like this:

    • Alex frowned. "Uh, I apologize, but could you repeat yourself."
    • Emma laughed and spoke again. Alex tried to keep up with her but the only words he could make out was "Right", "Down there", something that sounded like 'Nate', and "Canna". Her inflection changed from low to high and back again so fast that even though she was speaking English it was as if she was rolling every word together, making up new words, and barely pronouncing others.

    Notice how I describe what the accent would sound like to someone who's never heard it before (Alex). The same would go for your characters. Describe what the accent would sound like to the other character and add in slang/lingo from the language (I added in 'Canna' which the Scotts tend to say a lot instead of saying 'Can't. ((ex.) "I Canna hear what you're saying!)) that would be known to the character speaking but completely new to the rest of us.

    EDIT: Also take note that I explained that even though she was speaking English it was still like Alex was hearing a different language. This lets readers know, without saying directly, that Emma's accent is very thick because if it weren't Alex would've been able to pick up on more words considering they both are speaking English.
     
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  4. Dragon Turtle

    Dragon Turtle Deadlier Jerry

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    First of all, I think it's cool that you're trying to write this sensitively, so good on you for asking. :)

    There's a stereotype that Asian-Americans don't speak English fluently. This is true even of Asian-Americans who were born and raised here and don't speak anything but English--people will compliment them. "Oh wow, your English is so good!" Even though there's no reason it wouldn't be. So, I think it's good that you have an Asian character who's a native English speaker. You'll want to be careful with Leilani, since oftentimes attempts to render an Asian person's non-native accent and grammar can come off as offensive. This is because just about any Asian person* who's learned English as a second language has had to deal with people mocking the way they talk. If you really want to make sure you're doing it non-offensively, your best bet is probably to find a Vietnamese-American sensitivity reader. That said, if Leilani speaks with more or less correct grammar, just in short sentences, you're probably fine.

    *and English learners of other races, but for some reason Americans love to make fun of Asian accents in particular, in a mean-spirited way.

    I'm with @Infel in that I think it's better to describe an accent in dialogue tags than to try and actually spell it out in the dialogue. That kind of thing is hard to read and gets old fast. A lot of authors successfully throw a bit in here and there, though, like @Siberian's example with "canna."
     
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  5. Siberian

    Siberian Member

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    I agree. With languages it can be really annoying to continuously try to read and pronounce foreign words so don't overdo it. With the Scottish accent it's easier for me to add in a bit of slang because it's still English so it doesn't break the flow of the book much. However, to execute it perfectly so that it describes the character and maintains flow you need to have more of what @Infel said about adding in the common behavior of their nationality in descriptions with sprinkles of the language.
     
  6. Edgelordess

    Edgelordess Member

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    Thank you for the supportive messages. I do have a habit of telling my readers certain details of the story. I can write some diction, but I guess my problem is I haven't heard the accent enough times to mentally hear the characters voice in my head. Does anyone know a good resource where I can hear certain accents, so I have a solid idea how my character should sound? (as in like a celebrity from that ethnicity, who has that sort of voice. I live under a rock)

    So should I not present that Yuki is japanese? (As in I wouldn't make character hints when it comes to her voice, and more focus on her enviorment to distinguish where she comes from. As in her parents speaking japanese to each other, but will speak english to Yuki)

    I have a few idea on how I want to handle Leilani's verbal skills. I was thinking that a reoccurring character is the translator between Leilani and the other five protagnist. And maybe add a touching scene near the climax where Leilani says something in english, almost perfectly, which would be an "aw :love:" moment. The only question is how would I go back in fourth with the language duality. Becuase I don't want to write "Leilani told Reyes (the translator) "(insert sentence here)" in vietnamese. Reyes turned to Carmin, Yuki, Maya, Aria and Erica and repeated Leilani's sentence in english.' Every time they try to exchange dialogue.
     
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  7. Infel

    Infel Contributor Contributor

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    I was looking up how to do a Scottish accent yesterday on YouTube for... reasons ._. A ton of results popped up, some with people pretending to do the accent; others were native speakers trying to explain how theirs worked.

    Just type in the name of the accent you want and you'll get more videos than you know what to do with!

    Also, I don't see any reason why Yuki can't be Japanese: just do your research, present it as accurately as you can, and make the character as good as she can be! The day we're so obsessed with keeping things PC that we're not allowed to write outside our bloody nationality is the day I shoot myself -_-
     
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  8. Edgelordess

    Edgelordess Member

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    What I meant was, as an author, I wouldn't show or tell that Yuki has an accent compared to her five friends, who have some sort of accent to them. The only things that would imply that she was Japanese, aside from her name, and mabey facial features (gotta learn how to phrase that so nobody gets offended) would be her upbringing.
     
  9. Dragon Turtle

    Dragon Turtle Deadlier Jerry

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    Why yes, actually! The Speech Accent Archive. (No, I haven't wasted hours of my life on this site, why do you ask? :p)

    I think you should definitely let the reader know she's Japanese, but yeah, not by her voice. Because she'd just sound like anyone else raised in America, right? Or more specifically, any other young woman raised in LA. :) I love your idea of having her occasionally use valley girl lingo to get this across.

    Oh boy, I have OPINIONS on this! There are a lot of ways to handle having a translator in a scene. In part, it depends on whose point of view the scene is from, and what language(s) they speak.

    I have an example, actually. This is from a scene I wrote first from a monolingual character's point of view, and then rewrote from a bilingual character's point of view, so you can see how it turned out both ways.

    This is from a fantasy novel with fake languages, but you'll get the idea. Miko is monolingual; he only speaks Tehian. Taji and Sayan are both bilingual; they speak Tehian and Joniyan. Rasil is monolingual, he speaks Joniyan. So the translation needs to go between Miko and Rasil.

    First version, Miko's monolingual point of view:

    Then Rasil pointed at Miko and said something. Heads turned toward Miko expectantly.
    "He wants to know what you do," Taji said.
    "Oh, um." Miko struggled to find an accurate explanation. "I'm the prince's sorcerer."
    Sayan translated, and Rasil nodded and went back to his food.
    "Odd," Taji said in a low voice. "Sayan said you were a soldier."


    Second version, Taji's bilingual point of view:

    After the next lull in the conversation, Rasil nodded at Miko. "Who are you exactly?"
    Heads turned toward Miko expectantly, and Miko looked to Taji.
    "He wants to know what you do," Taji translated.
    "Oh, um. I'm the prince's sorcerer."
    Taji opened his mouth to translate back, but Sayan beat him to it. "He's one of my finest soldiers. An elite bodyguard."

    Sayan's lying, in case that's not clear. A good translator obviously will not do that, lol. And that's the next question, is what kind of interpreter Reyes is. Is she a part of the group who's going to do some of her own talking, or is she purely there to translate for Leilani? If she's actually part of the group, she might have to clarify when she's talking for Leilani.

    "Leilani says she's hungry for lunch," Reyes said. "I could go for a cheeseburger, myself."


    If she's just there as a translator, she can kind of disappear.

    "I'm hungry for lunch," Leilani said through Reyes. -
    or- "I'm hungry for lunch," Reyes translated for Leilani.

    In fact, she can disappear completely, as the reader comes to understand Leilani is speaking through her:

    "I'm hungry for lunch," Leilani said through Reyes.
    "Oh, me too," said Carmin. "What are you in the mood for?"
    "Cheeseburgers!" said Yuki.
    "I don't eat red meat," said Leilani.

    A good rule of thumb is that if you find yourself saying something over and over and over, the reader probably doesn't need you saying it anymore. Establish the way these characters talk to each other, and then write the dialogue as you usually would.

    I'm going to stop before this post gets obscenely long. But obviously I love to talk about this so I'd be happy to continue chatting in PM if you like. :)
     
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  10. Dragon Turtle

    Dragon Turtle Deadlier Jerry

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    Writing with Color is a good resource for learning how to describe PoC characters appropriately. I think the biggest takeaway, if you're writing a novel set in contemporary America, is to just be blunt. "Yuki was Asian." Then when you want to be more specific about her heritage, her name and the fact that her parents speak Japanese will make that clear. In other words, don't feel like you have to be vague and give the reader a bunch of clues about your characters' ethnicity. Just say she's Asian, it's fine. :)

    Another thing: White writers often have a weird fixation on Asian people's eyes. IMO, it gets weird and Orientalist when you describe them in too much detail. They're just eyes. They're probably brown. Say that and move on. Don't spend a paragraph describing them unless you're doing the same for a White character, you know?
     
  11. Edgelordess

    Edgelordess Member

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    YESSSSS, Thank you. I need dis!

    Its funny you mention your example being from a fantasy novel. The story I am asking abouut is an urban fantasy mixed with magical girls and its also a coming of age story. The way I can best describe it its Sailor Moon, Mortal Instruments, Soul Eater, WITCH and Teen Titans blended together.


    Reyes is the Artimes character. (If you haven't seen Sailor Moon, he is one of the mentor mascots of the series, along with Luna, and Diana.)

    Reyes is a speacil breed, as he is considered an anthrospirit. (sometimes called anthros) What anthros are in the universe of my story, are artificial intelligent beings created by a deity(They aren't machines, but they aren't made by procreation. They simply exisit from a deity's magic.) Most anthros are given the ability to understand any language spoken. They can understand Chinese, English, Vietnamese, Clingaon, Alien, etc.

    Reyes and Leilani are in this dubious romantic relationship. Reyes is also hotheaded and is quick to jump to conclusions, so he goes back in fourth being a "purist" translator and he is part of the group.
     
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  12. Stormburn

    Stormburn Contributor Contributor

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    You are now one of my heroes.
     
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  13. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I wanted to chip in with a general caution... I think less is usually more with this sort of descriptiveness, especially since each one of your characters seems to be ethnically distinct. If you introduce a character by saying she just got off a plane from Norway and struggles to have the immigration officer understand her accented English, that's enough. We're done. I don't need a phonetic representation of her accent, I don't need to be reminded of details of Norwegian culture (unless they become important for story reasons), I don't need to have her referred to as The Norwegian. She's Norwegian. I've got it.

    On a related note, I'd suggest not getting too attached to any individual idea about your characters. I think this sometimes happens when people do really exhaustive character descriptions before they start writing, and then feel as if they need to include everything from the character studies into the finished story. Sometimes the end result feels more like an extended character study rather than a story. So for your first draft, sure, include the bagel/Bengali confusion, but make sure you don't start thinking of it as something that has to be in your story. You can still know that about your character, and still use your knowledge to shape the way your character behaves, but the detail (or any other) may end up not having a place in the finished version of your work. Make sure you're prepared to kill your darlings if they get in the way.
     
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  14. NoGoodNobu

    NoGoodNobu Contributor Contributor

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    I'm a fluent English-as-first language speaker, but my mom's family are not and speak broken English.

    I read this bit yesterday, and it didn't sit well; then woke up today and still feels uncomfortable.

    I think for me it's that it's part of the climax. If it were just a random moment in the book where Leilani said something more complex well and the others got excited, it wouldn't really bother me. But the placement makes the scene seem inherently more significant and consequently comes across as underscoring, at least to me, the necessity for non-native speakers to achieve fluency and as though it's a pivotal moment of character development.

    And that just irks me, even when I'm absolutely sure that you aren't intending that at all.

    It's just that a lot of non-native English speakers get flack in US for their accent, their sentence structures, and even speaking their own language amongst their family & friends in a public setting. Like to be a true American, to be accepted here, you must speak fluent English always, which is absurd. I can't count how many times I've been out with my obaasan and people quietly snicker or even openly make fun of her way of speaking, sometimes being intentionally difficult to confuse her or purposefully misunderstanding anything she says. Or how many times random strangers from six or more feet away will yell "You're in America, speak English!" to friends or coworkers having a private conversation amongst themselves in their native tongue at a restaurant or in a shopping plaza or wherever.

    I feel like for Leilani saying a near perfect English sentence that is made a big deal of by the other characters to be situated at such a significant juncture in the story, it would need to be representative of something else—a measure or symbol of achievement for a different goal or personal growth.

    Because a touching scene near the climax is sort of a place of prominence in a story and by these stresses is telling the readers that this moment/achievement is significant and means something more.
     
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  15. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Contributor

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    I agree and you make a good point. It just might be a bit on the nose, even though in international company it's common to start comparing cultural quirks, which kind of brings people's nationalities to the forefront. I met a bunch of colleagues this spring, all of us from different countries (you could've made a joke out of our meeting: a Russian, Israeli, Hungarian, Czech, French, Swede, Dane, Belgian, Dutch, Brit, Irish, German, Colombian, Portuguese, Austrian, Spaniard, Finn and Greek go to a bar... for about a week :D) and we became fast friends. Probably the funniest conversations we had were about our cultural quirks - how the Russian girl was supposedly working for the mafia or the Irish woman was a complete and utter drunk (her words, not mine) and the Swede and the Finn should not be touched or hugged because Personal Space is love, Personal Space is life. But yeah, probably shouldn't be the focus of the character, and of course there are stereotypes to be mindful of.
     
  16. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    It's not that your characters wouldn't have that conversation - it's just not what your story is about, right? I mean, people usually talk quite a bit about what to have for dinner, too, but we don't include that conversation in our story unless it contributes to what the story is about.

    If your story is about a bunch of people from all different cultures meeting up and comparing cultures, then you're all set. But if your story is about a team of magical superheroines fighting evil (or whatever), then the cultural-comparison conversation may be one of your darlings that doesn't really earn its keep in your story.
     
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  17. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    I must echo what @NoGoodNobu said that this is extremely offensive. As someone who is British Chinese who has adopted English as my native tongue and whose parents speak English as a second language with a thick Chinese accent, this just sounds awful to me. That you present her as someone who isn't totally fluent and then goes on to say she needs a translator throughout the book makes me think you don't know what it means to speak a second language. Also the fact that you can very well say something in perfect English without even speaking the language. Just get a phrase book. That she should speak near-perfect English as a climactic "aaww" moment implies that near perfection in English is something important - which, frankly, it is not. One also does not have to have perfect fluency to be understood. And it also makes a big deal out of nothing. "I am Leilani" is a perfect English sentence. So is "I love you".

    It reeks of the self-importance English native speakers often have, as if the world should speak English or feel second class. A far more touching scene might be the other protagonists actually giving a damn and trying to learn Leilani's language, and getting it stupidly wrong. But they are trying. You accept each other for all your differences and flaws, not only when you speak someone else's language to near perfection.

    If you are serious about portraying a vast variety of cultures without being racist, I suggest you hang out with more foreigners. Your post comes off as well-meaning but quite inexperienced.

    To add, you know what a friend of mine says when someone makes fun of his accent? He says, "Yes, I have nine accents, actually. I speak nine languages. How many do you speak?"
     
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2018
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  18. Mckk

    Mckk Member Supporter Contributor

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    This reminds me of a video I forgot to watch in full. It was this guy saying that tolerance is a bullshit concept and true acceptance is where everyone can make fun of each other's cultures and not be considered racist. Seems, from your example, the guy might be onto something. I need to go back and keep watching that!
     
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  19. Edgelordess

    Edgelordess Member

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    Yeah..I'm starting to realize that. What I started doing, as a side project (but it still correlates to Elemental Goddess, the story in question) is doing one of those character snapshot bio templates that I found on deviantart. This way the characters aren't 2 dimensional, and still have some life to them. And then afterwards once this side project is done, I'd go back and ask "would this be relevant to the story? And if so how, how would I incorporate that without being a random detail.

    I wasn't planning on the culture subplot to be a big deal. (even if this post makes it seem that way) But at the same time, I don't want the reader to be confused by saying "If Leilani speaks another language entirely at the beginning of the story, how the hell did she learn another language in the span of two days?" It was mostly because I want to learn how to handle various cultures without being offensive and how to properly address it in writing. If dioulage and hint isn't what I need, I will accept that and only use culture as a minor detail. The only question is, how do I do that...?

    The idea of Elemental Goddess would be for young readers between the ages of 10 to mabey about 15. And I wanted to create a series that could include everyone when it comes to culture. Not something like an anime, where it only reflects Japanese characters. And I didn't want to use the token system like most western magical girl shows. (As much as I love Winx Club, there is so many character tokens, that can be a bit cringey) I wanted to make a magical girl series that not only aims young girls for following their dreams to be like their favorite magical girls. But to say be who you are and not a token sterotype.

    @NoGoodNobu, I am sincerly sorry if what I said seemed offensive or crude. It was not my intention. The whole reason why I made this post, is so I could properly understand how to write different cultures (as a minor detail) without offending anyone. The climax idea was just an idea and it will be crossed out in a big black sharpie, since I know now that action in the story (let alone the idea itself) is rude and awful. Once again, I'm truly sorry.

    Yeah, I live under one giant rock, where its just white people with american accents. I'm trying to get rid of my ignorance by learning.
     
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2018
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  20. NoGoodNobu

    NoGoodNobu Contributor Contributor

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    I also want to be clear that I personally wasn't offended by you, nor did I think you meant to be offensive.

    My intent was only to explain why that scene comes across poorly, even with the best & purest of intentions.

    It's great that you're open to discussion and willing to listen.

    (⌒◡⌒)
     
  21. Sam 69

    Sam 69 New Member

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    I totally agree with the view that accents, speech patterns should be used sparingly. Use speech tags to say something about the background of the character and then let the reader imagine what the voice sounds like.
     
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