I was privileged to read Engaging the Enemy a few months ago and it has just got better and better!
Cultural Clash and Characters
Our perception of the world is defined by attitudes, values and beliefs imbued in us from birth and which we hold to be ‘true’, usually at the expense of others whose world view differs from our own. People have a need to feel that the ideas they hold dear are ‘right’ and those who don’t accept the same view must be wrong. If the majority of people they know believe the same (the ‘bandwagon’ effect), that validates the belief while adding a layer of comfort in belonging to the herd. When ‘everyone else is doing it’, there is not a lot of potential for our protagonists. One way to add layers of conflict is by drawing on clashing cultural ideas and values.
I love travelling and have a fascination with different cultures and exploring how people of other ethnicities from me think, how their world has been shaped. I studied several languages in my youth but became reasonably proficient in only one. Nevertheless, I think those studies added to my understanding of the cultural differences between nationalities. You cannot learn a language without learning something of the culture as well; the two are inextricably tied together.
Some of my stories bring together characters from different places. Then I add a touch or a dash or a lot of conflict drawn from their cultural differences and stir. How those characters interact and deal with their differences intrigues me, both as a reader and as a writer. Expectations will be different and instinctive reactions may also differ. Imagine a Logan bogan greeted by an Italian kissing him on both cheeks. Unless the Italian is a modern Sophia Loren à Conflict potential!
White Ginger, my debut novel, is set in Hawaii. Arne (Keanu) is French Hawaiian and proud of it but his ex-girlfriend dumped him because of his ancestry (and her own shallow inadequate personality!) Arne is aware of the potential for disaster based on racial prejudice. It is one of the key themes in South Pacific based on James Michener’s novel and one of my favourite musicals. While less of an issue today, cultural differences are still an excellent source of conflict.
My new release, Engaging the Enemy, brings together an Irishman who is now boss of his own development company in Melbourne and Aussie girl, Andie (Andrea). Now you might think Irish and Australian cultures are similar; they share many ‘British’ elements and there is much in common. In fact, I chose to use their shared sense of social justice to give them common ground. As an Irishman, Matt is likely to have strong feelings about historical British injustice, which can be applied more broadly to local social justice issues. But I had some fun with language differences!
Writing a character with a different style of speech requires balance between enough idiom to capture the colour of the language but not too much to make it difficult to read. There are also different sentence constructions that identify nationalities. Think ‘Star Wars’ as an example. “Difficult to do it is” immediately identifies Yoda but think how tiring it would be to read an entire novel with a Yoda-like main character! The best rule to apply is ‘a little goes a long way’. So while Andie hasn’t got a clue what Matt means when he refers to ‘bairns’, Matt cannot use ‘kids’ when referring to children as he thinks of goats; however, it’s enough of a point of difference to begin to reveal a cultural divide.
As a writer, I have to be aware that there may also be a cultural divide between my reader and me. Our personal understandings of language as well as culture may lead us to read the same story in different ways. In the end, all I hope is that I have crafted a story that will touch their heart and characters they will want to cheer for, even after the bairns or kids have gone to bed.
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