character How do you write an ethnic character?

Hello everyone,

I think Theodore Sturgeon said that science fiction was populated by a preponderance of American characters, so even those with exotic names tend to act and speak like Americans. Anyway, I'm fascinated by ethnic characters, such as the Irish and the Italians in "The Untouchables", as well as the Italian-Americans in the original Godfather series. I can write that my character, had a thick northern accent, or that he spoke in a guttural manner. But how else can I show his ethnicity? Perhaps in the foods he eats, I guess, but any other way?

Your help would be appreciated.
 

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Props, set dress descriptions, etc. In an Irish household you might see books by James Joyce, and Irish flag, a black and white photo of and older white gentleman on the wall in front of a pub with an Irish name. Is this too on the nose? Nope. I've been to households like this. :D
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
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If it's only one person and he is younger he could be wearing a football (soccer) jersey from his country, etc.
 
Props would be good. Clothing would be good.

in the Godfather, and also in Star Trek, the characters spoke in their native language, being Italian and Vulcan/Klingon. How do you think I would write that?

>>>>>>He said in their native Martian, "I hope they fixed their ship's FTL drive."

"I hope so too," she replied, also in their native Martian. "But you know these Venusians are procrastinators - that's just their planetary culture." <<<<<<

How's that, just off the top of my head?
 
Anytime you Intro a character in your screenplay, you can give us a bit of the character's personality... This sets up your character in the world you've created for us to read. From there, you can easily keep peeling back the layers of this character to keep emphasizing who he or she is. That can be consistent use of their language, food, clothing, and even a bit of exposition (from other characters and the character him/herself) here and there to keep reminding us WHO the character really is down deep. Even behavior if there's any specific behavior your character might have.
 
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Anytime you Intro a character in your screenplay, you can give us a bit of the character's personality... This sets up your character in the world you've created for us to read. From there, you can easily keep peeling back the layers of this character to keep emphasizing who he or she is. That can be consistent use of their language, food, clothing, and even a bit of exposition (from other characters and the character him/herself) here and there to keep reminding us WHO the character really is down deep. Even behavior if there's any specific behavior your character might have.
Thanks, but how would I do that? IOW, I can say he snickered and he gave a cunning smile, but how would I show that he is, say, a mafia hack from Sicily? That's the Godfather, of course.
 
How would you do that? You have to KNOW your character inside and out. You need to know his backstory. If you want to show he's a mafia hack from Sicily, you need to do some research and find some things about the mafia in Sicily that we've not really seen before... In other words? Don't be cliché by peeling back layers we've seen a thousand times before. Make this character UNIQUE.
 
I can't believe you're serious... Geez. What did I get myself into?

Just remember... This AIN'T my story. This comes right off the top of my head.

EXT. SICILIAN DINER - DAY

ELIANO LOMBARDI (33) sits at a small table in the village of
Savoca -- sips espresso.

At six feet, his weathered face reveals a much older, experienced
man. An inch-long scar under his left eye tells us all we need to
know about him.

He observes a YOUNGER SICILIAN MAN approach from the street.

YOUNGER SICILIAN MAN​
(in Sicilian)​
May I sit?

Without meeting Young Sicilian Man's eyes, Eliano nods at the one
empty chair across from him. Sips more espresso.

YOUNGER SICILIAN MAN​
(in Sicilian)​
It's been a really bad week. I don't
have all your--

Eliano's eyes meet the younger man's. He raises his right index finger
to his lips as if to say SHHHHH but doesn't utter a sound.

Younger Sicilian Man freezes -- eyes wide.

Eliano's right hand gently guides Younger Sicilian Man's left hand to
the table. As soon as it flattens, Eliano stabs a knife through it with
HIS left hand.

ELIANO​
Cani abbaia e voi pasci.
(in English; subtitled)​
Dogs bark and oxen graze.

--Okay... Again, off the top of my head with no real research. This gives you a bit of the character's personality. We've placed him in a Sicilian village. We know he's in charge of SOME kind of criminal enterprise.

--If I were to keep going? I would CONTINUE to peel back layers of his personality... I'd back it up with things he does that are vehemently Sicilian and criminal so that we totally understand this is somebody not to fool around with. He rules with an iron fist.

--Hope that helps.
 
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LOL. Yeah... Kind of stuck my foot in it I guess. It's interesting... I'm always getting people to try and get ME to PROVE if I can really WALK the WALK. I get so into this stuff that I don't realize that at some point? People want examples. LOL.

So hey... If it helps? I'm down.
 
Thanks for the input, everyone. I will be writing my story in prose form - ie, novel or short story format - and then have someone put it into script form. At this stage of my development, I have no interest in script-writing.

As for the ethnic characters, after reading this, I think I should do research into fiction and biographies of people in the area. To use examples, maybe read Luigi's "Story of a Sicilian farmboy" or Maria's "Biography of a Tuscany school teacher" - I just made these up. That would give me a flavour of how to write an Italian character.
 
That's a great tool, but, like many software programs that try to churn out legal documents, they can be good but not quite as good as viewing examples or having a lawyer do it. IOW, the questionnaire is a good start, but I think I still need to do research on books that I just mentioned, as well as get feed back and guidance from established writers.

I'm open to comments on what I just said.
 
I'm not endorsing the software. I don't use it at all. I also do not use character worksheets or questionnaires. What I personally do is give each character his or her own THEME. I boil that theme down to an adjective. Based on that adjective? All the character's behavior and dialogue stems from within the context of their theme. I then perform research about that character's background but I don't do very much. I pride myself in hitting the ground RUNNING and figuring the rest of it out along the way.

Most newbies usually benefit from worksheets like these... Even if it's just gleaning enough questions you can answer about your character to begin writing.

Being an established writer, I can do that... LOL.

Good luck!
 
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