1. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    Quirky Mentor/Mother Figure

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by ChaseTheSun, Apr 9, 2017.

    I've realised that I need to create a mentor/confidante character to fill in the gaps in my MC's arc. Eleanor isn't close to her own mother and I think she needs a strong, empowered, quirky older woman to give her the affection, emotional safety and honest tough love that will propel Eleanor through her journey of self-actualisation. I can see in my mind's eye that this woman needs to be sharp and fast and genuine and she needs to steal readers' hearts. She loves Eleanor (MC), and seeing Eleanor through her eyes will help readers have more compassion for the MC, who can be a bit standoffish.

    In addition, I've been looking for a way to explore the cross-cultural elements of 20th century rural Australia; specifically, the tensions surrounding indigenous rights and immigrants' status within the Anglo community.

    So I have two questions:

    1) Would it be tokenism to make this mentor figure a non-Anglo ethnicity (perhaps a Greek immigrant or Australian Aboriginal woman), to provide a gateway to explore these cross-cultural themes?

    2) I don't know any quirky, confident, wise, sassy older women. I'm in my 20's. I have a great imagination for characterisation but that will still only get me so far when I'm trying to create authentic dialogue between Eleanor and Ms X, when I don't have first hand knowledge of how such a character would think, speak, offer advice, hold back, speak her mind, etc... can anybody help me with this?

    Thanks in advance!
     
  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    1) I don't think I'd worry about tokenism but I might worry about stereotypes. There's the "magical negro" cliche to avoid, and I feel like the Greek ya ya stereotype may be an issue, too. I'm not saying you couldn't make this character effective and non-stereotypical, but I think it would take some care.

    2) There are certainly lots of fictional models to draw on - there were a few years there where every damn chick lit novel had sassy older women in it. The Ya-Ya Sisterhood, Fried Green Tomatoes, Driving Miss Daisy, etc. I'm not sure if this is an effective tool or not, but... it might be!
     
  3. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    Hello Chase,

    1. Don't worry. My MC is an Irish Catholic and her mentor is a Lous Buddhist; the pairing of these two is a rather tragic and heartbreaking tale, but it works well within the context of the story.

    2. Two of Bayview's suggestions I'd like to echo, The Ya-Ya sisterhood, and Fried Green Tomatoes (I've not read Driving Miss Daisy.) Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman would be another book I add to that list.

    I wish you the best of luck,

    -OJB.
     
  4. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Banned Contributor

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    Easily, quirky turns into annoying and sassy turns into jerkass and empowered turns into preachy. When you set out with these big expectations of having great sassy comebacks and stealing the audience's hearts, you end up trying too hard and making something cringe worthy. Words like sassy,empowering, quirky etc are critic's buzz words. What are her traits in concrete terms?
     
    Last edited: Apr 9, 2017
  5. KaTrian

    KaTrian A foolish little beast. Contributor

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    No, not in and of itself. If you craft a multidimensional character whose personality and behavior are not dictated by traits you think belong to members of the group you have in mind, you'll be fine. Complaints usually stem from stereotypical and thin characters, and cause ire in readers if said character(s) exist to develop the (usually white) main character.
    You could check TV Tropes... Search e.g. "Eccentric Mentor" and "Stern Teacher" for examples in different media.
     
  6. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    I haven't heard of either of those stereotypes, so did some quick googling to understand what you were referencing. Thanks for pointing them out! I really don't want my work to come across as cheap or stereotyped or convenient. I want the story to be rich with intentional characters, complex relationships and purposeful plot developments. I can see after doing a bit of research on the 'magical negro'/Greek yaya stereotypes that it might be hard to pull off. I'm keen to give it a crack, though!

    Yeah I literally have never read one book of chick lit (despite being female in my 20's). So I'll take your word for it. Thanks for the book suggestions, I'll have to visit my local library when I head back to my hometown this week!

    Yeah, something like this is sort of what I'm wanting to create! How did you go about establishing an authentic voice for their relationship? Do you have first-hand experience of Buddhism? I can see in my mind's eye that Eleanor and the other character have a vibrant, deep, at times heartbreaking, at times breathtaking relationship. I just don't know if I have the tools to do justice to the image in my mind.

    Thank you for those suggestions. I will definitely look into all of them!

    I mean, that's why I'm here. To learn how I can do justice to the picture in my mind: a picture of a rich, nuanced, complicated, beautiful relationship between two characters. Being a young woman (ie no first hand experience of how an older woman thinks) and not having access to the kind of older woman that I'm wanting to emulate in my book, I turned to WF for some insight on what sort of characteristics, behaviours, etc would add layers of authenticity to this character.

    I don't know her traits in concrete terms, yet. I only had the lightbulb moment last night. I thought about it for a little while, turned it over in my mind and realised I'm not sure I have the knowledge or tools to do this character justice on my own without external input. So I came here. She's a very un-developed character, as yet. Those words, sassy, empowered, quirky are not buzz words. They are genuine descriptions of her personality so far, descriptions of the way she fills my imagination with her laugh, her sombre wisdom, her brutal honesty, her capacity for unconditional love.

    Thanks for your thoughts. :) Definitely want to avoid turning her into a convenience character, a stereotype used to further the MC's story. In a way, I almost wonder if characters will end up loving her more than the MC! Haha.
     
  7. Apollypopping

    Apollypopping Member

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    I would go with an Aboriginal woman, and on that note, every Aboriginal woman I've ever met has spoken her mind freely. So quirky and sassy would fit easily into that. I once lived next door to an Aboriginal woman with one leg. We'd have dinner together sometimes.

    She was honestly, so so hilarious. Very genuine and super crass. All round fun times were had.
     
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  8. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Banned Contributor

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    Sassy, empowering and quirky are not really traits but are rather the end results of multifaceted and idiosyncratic steps the writer has to pull off successfully. They're challenges. Pull it off and you get those. Fail and you get rude, annoying and preachy. It's like saying her personality is "inspiring" or heart stealing. Not objectively and the writer doesn't have the objectivity to determine that. For that reason they're critic's words. These are not things with a bullet point list that can be written to. These things have to be discovered organically out of the writing. If one sits down and says they want to design a sassy empowering character that's going to steal the show... nothing happens. Nothing will happen. You have to treat her like any other character. She's no better than any of your others at this point. Not endearing, she just is.Take her or leave her.
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
  9. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    I really like this point. You're so right and I hadn't thought of it that way before. Thanks for elaborating on your previous comment. :)

    I love this! That sounds amazing. You must treasure those memories. Could you elaborate more on what that relationship was like? How does a younger person build a relationship with an older person in that way? I've never done it myself, nor known anybody who has (outside of blood relations, ie person being close to an aunt or grandmother, etc). What did she bring to your life that your own mother or primary female role models didn't bring? What sort of cultural cross over did you experience? How did other people view that relationship?
     
  10. Apollypopping

    Apollypopping Member

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    She would alarm me with her language ;)

    It started because she would always be sitting on her veranda, smoking. Whenever I left the house, there she was. I thought she was really interesting, so I'd always stop to talk to her.

    Me being a white teenager living on my own in government housing, there were a lot of cultural differences. She swore like A SAILOR. It still blows my mind. but she would bring me food/cigarettes, and I would help her with her food shopping in return. Her children were grown and WILD. They were no help to her.

    A few times she told me off about the company I kept (I smoked weed a lot with the guy at the other end of the cul-de-sac, she told me he was 'scum of the earth,' I should have listened to Bette ha)

    She died of liver cancer, too much alchohol.
     
    Last edited: Apr 10, 2017
  11. Apollypopping

    Apollypopping Member

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    As far as what other people thought of the relationship, it offended my actual mother, no one else really batted an eye.
     
  12. ajaye

    ajaye Senior Member

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    I'd love to read this.
     
  13. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    @Apollypopping Thanks for sharing those memories about Bette. It's helpful to have insight into real experiences, to improve the authenticity in my writing. :)

    @ajaye Well thank you! That's encouraging! If you'd like to check out my first chapter, you can go here. Obviously a shameless plug. Feedback welcome. ;)
     
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  14. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    Talk about stereotypes!

    I used to play squash with our local Catholic priest; he told me about when he was in seminary in Italy. They organised rugby matches against teams formed of the crews of visiting RN ships; and the time when one tough stoker turned to his Petty Officer and said "Did you hear what that priest called me?"

    I've usually heard it as "...swore like a trooper..."
     
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  15. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    What did the priest call him? Am I missing something obvious??

    I've heard both phrases, "swore like a trooper/sailor."
     
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  16. OJB

    OJB A Mean Old Man Contributor

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    To create an authentic voice you have to first understand how the two character's feel towards each. For simplification, I will say that my MC adores her mentor, and the mentor views the MC as the daughter she never had. This relationship is born because Azure (the mentor) is a detective that saved Bartlett's life (the MC) from a killer when Bartlett was a child. The conversation between the two of them is a mixture of love and conflict. Azure and Bartlett have a love for each other, but their personal philosophies and goals conflict with each other. Azure's dilemma is that she knows the MC's goal will lead to nothing but pain but is also aware that nothing she says or does will deterrent Bartlett from her quest. In the end, all she can do is guide Bartlett along a path that will do her the least amount of harm, and help prepare Bartlett, mentally and emotionally, for the heartache that Bartlett is about to experience.

    It would be too simple to say that their views are one of a Catholic and one of a Buddist as some of their views and desires are the same, but what is important is how Azure attempts to help Bartlett with her own spiritual crisis (Bartlett is Bi-sexual, but also a Catholic. Her faith and sexuality conflict with each other, and Azure helps her see it from a different point of view due to her being Buddist. This is just one of many examples of Azure guiding Bartlett.)

    Not sure if that answers your question, but to be fair it is a very in-depth question, to begin with.
     
  17. Phil Mitchell

    Phil Mitchell Banned Contributor

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    Let me guess, the mentor dies?
     
  18. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    Is it just me or is the word 'azure' really bloody hard to say? Might be my Australian accent. Haha.

    I like the way you step this out. Thanks! I love the idea of conflicting philosophies and goals. That would make for a dynamic relationship. B & A's relationship sounds special. I need to figure out how to create this kind of depth between Eleanor and the as-yet unnamed, nonexistent mentor character!

    Not sure if you're responding to OJB or to me, but so far I don't have plans to kill my mentor character. Key words: 'so far.' ;)
     
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  19. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    Yup!

    I tried saying it with an Aussie accent, and it was hard; tried in my normal accent and sounded so Received Pronunciation!
     
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  20. Homewriting

    Homewriting New Member

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    Tokenism is really more or less just placing a non-white character in a story just because without giving them any depth. As long as the character is essentially a person, there's no problem at all. Though as one poster pointed out, becareful of stereotyping. So far though it looks like everyone else has been giving you some good advice though!
     

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