Wednesday, September 8, 2010

I am not what I do

It's Write Away Wednesday. Today, I'm going to talk a bit about characterisations. Because characters are my favourite thing about a book.

I live in Japan.

I hope you've realised that by now, but just in case you haven't, there it is. I don't know what you know about Japan, but one of the most striking things is that it's so Japanese.

I know that sounds silly, but let me explain. Most of you live in multicultural countries. Maybe one of your neighbours is a different race, or your son's teacher immigrated. In Japan, that is very not the case. More than 99% of the citizens are Japanese. In the remaining one percent, most are Chinese or Korean.

I happen to come from a fairly monocultural country myself. In Barbados, 94% of people are black. But we're up to our necks in tourism and we get tv programming from the US, UK, Canada, Australia, Africa, etc. Here that doesn't happen.

It means that the moment I came to Japan, I became "the foreigner."

In my students' minds, that's all I was. I can't count the number of times I've been in the supermarket, only to hear a gasp.

"Ah! Kurea-Sensei da!" (OMG! It's Claire-Sensei!)

As if the fact that I'm an English teacher means I only exist at school.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to one of my students, Haruto. He had a Naruto pencilcase. (Haruto and Naruto! You know I love this!)

Me: Do you like Naruto?
Haruto: I love Naruto!
Me: Have you seen the new movie?
H: Not yet.
Me: I saw it. It was so cool!

Suddenly, I wasn't just that person who happened to grow up on the other side of the world. Who spoke English and was a different skin colour. Suddenly I was someone who loved Naruto.

But I'd always been.

This is true for all your characters. Just because someone is the villain, it doesn't mean they don't have a family they love. A gay character has an existence outside of being gay. A Christian character can have favourite books and movies which aren't overtly Christian.

And it's up to you to show that.

I'm just starting my 3rd year here, and the longer I stay, the less I am the Black female English speaker from the Caribbean. More and more, I become the girl who knows the words to Kiseki (a Jpop song), likes dancing and meeting people and helps out where she can in the community.

It's no fun being one dimensional. I didn't like it. And your characters won't either.


Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Whoa. Another fine post. You quite often amaze me with your ability to tie together bits of life with writing. This makes a vivid and valid point. Thank you.

Jen said...

This was a fantastic post! There are times we get caught it up in one another's differences, colors, sterotypes, all the things that DON'T make ALL of who we are, only a part of us. It's nice when you are able to look past that and find the likes and dislikes.

Shows you have somethings in common. That's what's most important. Way to be out there and be proud of being different and showing the world with differences there are simliarities!

Marsha Sigman said...

Awesome post! People have should your characters.

Alleged Author said...

I agree that characters and people are like onions! They have layers and ALL OF THEM should be explored!

Judit said...

Wow! What an amazing article. I could't say it better. I live in Slovakia but I visit school in Czech Republic. We have similar languages, similar culture, lot of us have even similar roots. But sometimes I feel like a foreinger in my class. Don't get me wrong,I have many friends there, but I can feel some reservations towards me asi if they are afraid to speak with me because they won't understand some word. I think it will never disappear completely, but I guess I'm ok with that. I kind of like beeing an outlander :)

Anonymous said...

ABSOLUTELY amazing post, I really really loved it. My favourite thing in a novel is the characters. So I absolutely eat up three-dimensional characters.

Claire Dawn said...

Thanks everybody.

Tricia, that's one of the crazy things my mind does- make connections where there aren't any.

Shari Green said...

Good post, Claire -- great way to make the point! Thanks. :)