Thursday, February 12, 2009

Culture and its respective hero

Everyone who knows my stories under the name of Aasiyah Qamar knows I write culture-base fiction.

You would then expect me to write cultural heroes. Right?

True and False.

I'll start with False, because it is my heroines who are the ones who hail from a different culture, while my heroes are the regular, European/American/Australian guy.

True, because there's a distinction between the European, American and Australian hero.

Whatever origin you give your hero, his country's culture will shape who he is and how he should be portrayed.

Culture is something intricate and pertinent to a region, a country, an ethnic origin, a family environment. Each of these, as well as all of these together, give you a different canvas on which your hero is painted.

So, how does this affect your hero?

Imagine you are creating a hero.

Who is he? Say he is a modern guy.
Where does he come from? Say England.
Is he urban or not? Let's say urban.

Easy, right? You're done? No!

Depending on where in England he is from, he will be different. A region has its own accent. A region has its own manner of speech. Depending on his family origins (Irish, Welsh, Scots, Londoner, immigrants from India or the former eastern European block), he will operate in a certain way. Depending on these origins too, his values and definition of life, responsibility, love, all will vary.

And here you thought you were taking a Joe out of nowhere and planting him in the picture.

Another important aspect of culture is when writers pen foreign heroes. Oftentimes, someone from inside that culture knows the hero is not sketched properly, as many (and unfortunately, most) writers rely on stereotypes to pen a foreign man.

A foreign hero is probably what makes readers' hearts beat faster in the realm of romance. But painting him right is not as easy as it looks. You cannot simply read a few travel guides and check an online translator to find out what he'd say in his native tongue, to get this man down accurately.

I'll list some examples here.

French men are charming.

True. They are usually very gallant and almost always have a smile on their face when they deal with a woman.

But, French men are not sweet talkers. They don't add a 'sweet' word or name in every sentence. The ones who do that are the cads!

One thing that irks too is when writers do not get the speech pattern right, literally translating from what an English-speaking hero would say. British men say 'dear' as a love word. Translated to French, literally, it becomes 'chère'. Still sounds normal? Here's where it hurts. In French, you never say 'chère' by itself. It's always 'ma chère'. And where it hurts even more, is that it is a stuffy, 'old man' way of calling someone, especially as a endearment. No way will a man under sixty call his woman 'ma chère'.

Another one who is often represented in awry ways - the sheikh.

In fact, it can even be said the sheikh has evolved into a completely unique category in itself in romantic fiction. Why? Because an Arab man would never really act like that. Arab men are the ultimate Alpha, and monogamy, as it is interpreted by the Western world, is not something they really consider. An Arab man is allowed 4 wives simultaneously, and since he is little, he has been taught that as long as he isn't to cheat on his wife, he has a way out - he marries the other woman who catches his fancy. A single partner is almost inconceivable in this setup. Another aspect not touched upon is that the Arab society is mostly driven by women, namely the mothers/matriarchs in the household. An Arab mother will never allow her son to take a foreign bride. He may fantasize about the foreign girl, but he will rarely make her his wife, and also his only wife.

If you look at other emerging heroes, you will notice too how culture plays in.

The Indian hero, for example. Most Indian men are brought up to be male chauvinists. Extended families, with a grandfather, his wife, his three sons and their wives and each son's children, live in the same house. Each couple has its own bedroom, but that's the extent of privacy you have. Familial pressure also plays in a lot. A man will rarely go against his family for his wife. This culture is a collective one, and men and women still marry in arranged alliances without even knowing their partner before the wedding night.

You may say I'm reaching to the far corners of the world to illustrate my point, but consider this as well.

A Yankee is not a Southerner, and vice versa. A Briton is not a Scotsman. An Aussie is not like an American or a Briton.

Each is different. Each is unique.

Pay attention to your hero's culture. In the end, your readers will thank you for it.

I'm curious to know about your take on the cultural hero. Feel free to elave me your comments.

Aasiyah Qamar - Cultural romantic fiction, with a twist
With stories set amidst the rainbow nation of Mauritius, a multicultural island in the Southern Indian Ocean, author Aasiyah Qamar brings you tales of today's young women battling life on all fronts and finding love where they least expect it. Indo-Mauritian culture wants to stifle them in traditions, customs and antiquated morals while the world is opening its arms of modernity and globalisation. Where do these women belong? And more importantly, with whom?Find out more about her first release, The Other Side, here.


Chicki said...

Z - You made some very interesting points.

African-American men have a unique sense of cool, even if they aren't overtly sex. Just look at President Obama.

Angela Guillaume said...

Lovely post and makes one think. I always laugh at how they portray Italian men, for example. They can be charming, but they can also be cloying. Many Italian men are "mama's boys" or "metrosexual" - a far cry from the drool worthy smooth operator. That said, most also have a family-centric mindset depending on what region of Italy they're from. The Northerners are typically more polished and erudite than the Southerners. So even within the country we find differences.

Thanks for this blog!

Sandy said...

Great post, Z.

To think the Shiek stories I have read in the past were so inaccurate in depicting the hero. They were romantic though. Grin.


Z(Aasiyah/Nolwynn) said...

Thanks for the comments, ladies.

Chicki - Lol, President Obama has got to be one of the sexiest guys in the world currenly. The man has a sense of presence and a charisma that is unrivaled.
It is very true that African-American men have a unique 'way' about them. They're cool, without being over the top.

Angela - You caught it right on. Even in a single country, the men will differ. And most people apply the stereotype when thinking about the men of a country/region.

Sandy - I could tell you a lot more about the sheikh heroes. They are romantic in the story, while romantic is not exactly a 'good' trait for a man to possess in that setup. Just goes to show how much the sheikh is a truly fictional character.