Why We Should Consider Cultural Development for Character Dimension

ImageI have been working on a novel for a little longer than I had expected because I tend to over-edit and feel as if what I have written is never enough. I spent much time working on each character’s personality to great lengths. My aim was for the reader to feel as if my characters could walk right off the page and into real life-( a wonderful book on character development is Building Believable Characters by Marc McCutcheon). I fell in love with my characters (what writer doesn’t?) but I felt they needed more dimension-something more. Something different. So I decided to give them a bit of cultural flair for better character development.

I did the research and applied what I had learned into some of my characters and it really made them come alive. For example; I made my main character Gabrielle  live in the 1920’s and  be of Norwegian descent. I had a lot of fun learning about Scandinavia and the cultural habits of that region which I then attributed to her. Gabrielle had lost her parents when young and at the start of the story was living with her cold, irate octogenarian grandmother who only understood the Norwegian language and customs. I learned so much about the language, customs, region and foods of that nation. I found it fascinating. In the novel, Gabrielle exchanged some authentic dialogue with her Aunt Gunilla and we as readers learn a little about her influence on Gabrielle. After her grandmother died, Gabrielle took it upon herself to keep those traditions alive and we often find her cooking up cultural meals, comfort foods like lefse, a Norwegian crepe that is cooked on a special griddle and flipped with a flat wooden stick and filled with cinnamon and sugar. She enjoyed a drink called glogg (pronounced glug) which is a mulled wine with cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon and served warm with almonds and raisins. At Christmastime she would dress in a traditional Norse costume and invite friends over to enjoy the customs of her heritage.

Image In the latter part of the book Gabrielle goes to live in Great Britain and I made her new family English. I researched into their way of speaking, the accents and jargon that are so intriguing and oftentimes hilarious. Throughout the book, we get to learn along with Gabrielle about British English. (I found a wonderful book on this, British English A to Zed, by Norman W. Schur). My English character, Russell was often found exclaiming things such as “blast” or “I must beetle-off (hurry away) and we find him often drinking champers, which is simply another word for champagne. He fixes things with a spanner (a monkey wrench) and when his beloved boat sunk in the ocean, he exclaimed that it had “Gone to Abraham’s bosom” which meant that it died. He became a charming character, perhaps my favorite in the book who enjoyed drinking (a little too much) out of Gabrielle’s bottle of Norwegian aquavit (a fascinating drink, look it up!). They often spend their time in Bournemouth, in the south of England where wild ponies roam and pebbly beaches abound.

I thoroughly enjoyed delving into maps and cookbooks, languages, history and cultural habits for the development of my characters. It really does enhance writing and builds atmosphere. Ultimately you can become a more worldly writer! I am visiting Norway soon, after I fell in love with it after all my research. I can’t wait. And as I am not quite finished with my novel perhaps I will learn firsthand some more intriguing facts during my travels to apply to my book.

God Dag! 🙂