Write Realistic Foreign Characters: Six Tips

 

When a member of my writing group asked how to make her British character authentic, I knew just who to approach. My good friend, Rebekah Millet, has done an amazing job creating a genuine, foreign hero. And I’m thrilled to share her advice with you here!

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Oh, those charming accents! The clipped speech! My favorites have always been the English and Scottish. But then along came Chris Hemsworth, and I quickly added Australian to that list.

I love foreign characters and their inflections so much, I just knew I had to have a hero with a swoony accent when I was crafting my first book, Under Southern Stars. Since I had long adored the self-deprecating Hugh Grant (especially in Notting Hill), I chose an Englishman as my hero and immersed myself in British culture.

Below are some of the preparations I completed in creating my main character and his family. I hope they will prove helpful to you in your writing journey.

Find people to research

Other than Hugh Grant, I also focused on David Beckham, Alex Pettyfer, and Colin Firth. It was a tough job. 😉 At the time, these men represented the general age and/or profession of my main character. With this list of Englishmen to research, I set off on my grand adventure.

Listen

There are tons of podcasts done in all sorts of manners. Some are structured interviews, but many are not. These unstructured recordings are where people tend to feel the most relaxed. Maybe because they don’t have a camera pointing at them? I’m not sure, but I do know this was the best way I picked up genuine conversations about home life, traditions, and slang.

Watch

Pay attention to video interviews. They reveal interesting things like mannerisms and the facial expressions that go along with the vernacular being used. I’d also suggest finding a reality show in the culture you’re writing about. For me, that was The Great British Baking Show. It was a wonderful way to observe a plethora of emotions, complete with authentic reactions. I also spent a lot of time on YouTube watching videos of the places my characters would visit in London. Google Maps’ ability to view the “street level” gave me the pedestrian outlook of the roads my characters walked.

Read

Articles and books helped me pick up on dialect (and the correct spelling), as well as other culture-specific details. Through an editorial, Hugh Grant taught me how to prepare proper tea, which I used in my book. I also frequented British news websites like the BBC.

Social Media

Tweets and Instagram posts tend to be very casual. I gleaned lots of great lingo from these social media outlets.

Friends

I’m blessed to have two friends who live in England. They read my manuscript and provided feedback on the right and wrong use of words. They were my local “five senses” when I couldn’t use my own. Their friendship also opened my eyes to issues they face, from politics to schools and employment. Because of that I was able to lend an authentic feel to my character and the problems his father faces with having a serious disease and receiving treatment for it within the UK’s healthcare system.

In the end, if I had to pick one rule to follow in writing a foreign character, it would be to love their nationality. You’ll be spending a lot of time in it.

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Rebekah Millet is an award-winning author of contemporary Christian romance novels. Although she considers herself a plot-driven writer, her characters have a tendency to hijack her plans. A New Orleans native, she loves infusing her colorful culture into her stories.

You can find Rebekah on all social media platforms where she frequently interacts with followers, and fangirls over her own favorite authors.

 

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Rebekah’s agent, Bob Hostetler, is currently pitching her first novel to prospective publishers, so please join me in sending up a prayer for her. And if you enjoy swoon-worthy romance that feeds your soul then stay connected with Rebekah by signing up for her newsletter.

12 thoughts on “Write Realistic Foreign Characters: Six Tips

  1. Hi Rebekah and Robyn
    This is a fun topic and I love research. And I love England. My daughter spent two years in England studying with the British Horse Society. I laugh because to this day, anytime she teaches a riding lesson her voice slips into a British accent. She has no idea it happens! Blessings

    Liked by 2 people

    1. LOL, that could come in handy if you ever write a British character. I know how she feels. My first year of college, I attended Tarleton State, a “cowboy” school in Texas. After I moved away, I kept the accent for years! Thanks for commenting, Barbara!

      Like

    1. Hey Beth! Great question! I wish I had some specific podcasts to recommend, but it was pretty much a hodgepodge of whatever I could find. I basically went to my iTunes podcasts app and searched the specific person’s name. If you go this route, be sure to open your search criteria to “all podcasts”. Happy hunting!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. An excellent article with excellent tips. I studied Russian for three years in college, and also visited Russia when it was still part of the Soviet Union. One of the peculiarities of the Russian language is that it does not have our language’s articles: a, an & the. Thus, our English-speaking guides in the Soviet Union often omitted these little words. So, if a writer wants to depict a Russian character who speaks English, I’d leave out these articles. For example, when my tour group was ready to return to the tour bus, our guide always said: “We go to bus now,” instead of “We’re going to the bus now.” Just thought I’d share this little tidbit for whatever it’s worth.

    Liked by 2 people

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