Archive for the ‘Personal Ramblings’ Category

Writing Australian Characters…Correctly.

 

Fellow Australians, I’d like you to think for a moment.

 

Who is the very worst Australian character you’ve ever seen (or read) in a movie or book? As in, they just don’t come across as an actual credible Australian.

 

 

I ask because this has been a topic of conversation this week on Codex Writers Group where a couple of (American) writers were asking for advice on Australian syntax and vocabulary. They did this in order to make their Aussie characters authentic. I cannot tell you how much I respect them for asking. Ok I can: I RESPECT THEM VERY MUCH!! Thank you, Rick – Thank you Darja! Thank you for asking and for listening.

 

 

As an Aussie, I’m probably as sick of wierdly redacted and contorted caricatures of Aussies in the media as Chinese people were of the kinds of “Ah so” characters we used to see so often in 50s, 60s and 70s movies.

 

 

Having said that, it’s not all that easy to write a character from a place or people group you’re not familiar with. And I have read writing (Kevin Ikenberry’s for example) that portrays Aussies with great accuracy. There have also been Australian characters in movies and TV which have been wonderful, simply because they’ve been scripted with “normal” lines and no ridiculous Aussie-isms such as “Cripes”, “ruddy hell” or “ain’t”. The Australian woman in the first Transformers movie comes to mind, as does the Aussie doctor in House. (Sorry I can’t recall their names off the top of me ‘ead, guv’na).

 

 

That guv’na comment leads me into the two areas where I think non-Australian writers/directors get Aussies wrong:

 

1.They present them as suntanned Cockneys (see the half-cockney, half-Aussie character in Tango and Cash, and the James Coburn character in The Great Escape, using words like ain’t and dropping their “h’s”)

 

2.They base their character on a redaction of the kinds of country folk that may (or may not) have existed in 1930s Australia. (Using words such as “Galah” and “drongo”)

 

A problem for non-Australians (who don’t know a lot of Aussies personally) is the ridiculous portrayal of “typical” Aussies in movies like the horrible Crocodile Dundee trilogy (which should have earned Paul Hogan permanent expulsion from Australia, lol), Baz Lohman’s abysmal Australia (ok, I’ve only seen a couple of scenes from it, but they were enough to make me physically ill), or Kangaroo Jack (very funny movie, but hopelessly inaccurate depiction of Australia).

 

I’ve rarely met a person who sounds anything like Mick Dundee or his mates. And they invariably annoy me, because they come across as trying to be Australian, instead of just being Australian.

 

 

A warning for writers about internet-based research: it’s often crap. Sounds obvious, I know, but it needs to be said. Apparently, some of the advice on the internet my writing friends received was that Aussies are fond of words like “Cripes”, “Crikey,” “Galah” and “ruddy” (as in “Get that ruddy car out of the way!”).

 

 

Aussies walking around saying “Cripes” or “Galah” or “ruddy” or even “she’ll be right” would be a little like an American walking around talking like they’re from a 1930s Chicago gangster movie, I’m guessing — a 1930s Chicago gangster movie written by South African teenagers in the 1980s! Anyone walking around south-east Melbourne where I live and saying things like “Crikey, you’re a ruddy galah, cobber” is seriously gonna get bashed for acting like a tool.

 

 

For reference (and in my humble opinion), most of the differences I can see between Aussie and American English these days are in intonation and a few vocabularly differences. Probably our senses of humour and irony too. A lot of us still call the “john” a “dunny”. We call erasers “rubbers” (which always seems to break Americans up over here — or horrify them when a schoolkid asks them for a “rubber”). Reckless drivers (or those who break the law in cars for fun) are called “hoons” (like loons but with an “h”). We seem to like finishing statements with an upward inflection, turning them into questions (and I did hear a linguistic term for this during the week, which I’ve promptly and helpfully forgotten!)

 

 

Once again, I respect my writerly friends for asking real life people for their advice. It made me more aware of my own need for feedback. When I write women, I need women to read the character and tell me where I’m stuffing it up. When I write Chinese characters (as I did with Kevin recently) perhaps I should be asking Chinese Americans or contacts in Singapore how the character’s coming off. None of us are immune to misrepresenting a person who is “different” to us…and this is just one reason why I love writing fantasty where I’ve invented the culture and nationality!

 

 

So please, writers who want a charming and quirky Aussie character in their next story: charming and quirky is fine, but pleeeeeeez get their language right!

 

 

….Oh, and about that question I started with? For me, the examples that come to mind are Ugly John on MASH, the Aussie bad guy on Tango and Cash, any Australian characters depicted by Bazz Lohman (or however you spell his name), our current Prime Minister Julia Gillard, and the entire constellation of characters in Muriel’s Wedding. And then there was the bloke who runs into the pub in a scene in the recent Tom Hanks series The Pacific, yelling “Hello Cobbers!” (SHUDDER).

 

1 June 2012: The Week in Review

 

Aye, it’s been a grand week for me, writing-wise. Finishing anything always gives me a great feeling of “Yeah, baby!” This week I’ve finished (finally) editing the 3rd chapter of my current novel project. But not only that, I got a short story written from scratch and polished and submitted to a competition, all in five days.

 

For this last, one I have a few people thank:

  • Lee Maston who made me aware of a thriller short story competition (weird thing is, the competition didn’t allow you to write anything related to crime, violence, swearing or danger…so I submitted it to another competition with double the prize money up for grabs! But thanks, Lee, for sparking this for me)
  • Ian, Rachel and Kev for very quick turnarounds on critiques. You three were so responsive, it kept the fire alive in me for the piece

 

Hopefully, come August 31st, I’ll be crowing about another publication! (And I’ll have some free copies in the mail to four of my friends).

 

This week, I also had one of those conversations with a teenager (in my day job) where I was both thankful for the normality of my own life and realising afresh that many people live in their own private hells day in and day out. My heart went out to a somewhat twisted but nevertheless courageous young person wrestling with being someone she could be proud in the midst of an insane family life. I was reminded afresh that we have the chance at any moment to add light and encouragement to someone’s journey, and I continue to pray that I remain switched on enough to do just that.

 

Happy reading, happy writing, happy days!

 

Welcome!

Welcome! You’ve arrived at the official site for Pete Aldin, speculative fiction writer, Chelsea FC supporter and lover of movie soundtracks.

 

My writing has given joy and excitement to literally dozens of people over the years. Here’s hoping you can become one of them. 🙂

 

You can also read my musings on parenthood for blokes here, and on personal development and career here.

 

A huge thank you to Lydia Kurnia of www.lydiakurnia.com for the website design!