The Effects of Culture on Writing
Whilst writing my first novel, I have learned many things. I have written about some of them and this article will show you yet one of the many life lessons that I have learned whilst writing. At the moment, I am facing something of a quandary and it is linked to the last factoid that I wrote on profanity. If you have absolutely no clue what I am talking about, then click here and have a read and tell me what you think.
One of the key lessons that I have learned is that deciding that you want to write a book is easy. Actually doing it and being prepared for all the work that goes into it is something else entirely. Now multiply that by two when you are writing with someone else...then it gets tricky. Someone who you have not met...getting trickier. Someone who has some decidedly different ideas and opinions....you see where I am going. If I had the choice again, would I have done it? Very much so, but I would have built more of a foundation first. The biggie and the focus of this article is the profound effect my background and culture has had on the writing of this novel and what you, as an aspiring writer, should look out for.
If you have not guessed, I am black. African to be precise. (Proud) Nigerian to be even more precise. Born and raised in the United of K. When I was younger, this did prove a little problematic for me, partly because we moved around a lot so settling down was not easy, but mostly because the culture in the UK is, in a lot of areas, at odds with the Nigerian culture. Anyway, this is getting slightly off the point and the point I want to make is very important. I have always been proud of my background and heritage and it has shaped and guided me into the person that I am today. The writing of this novel, like I have said, happened organically and a lot of work has gone into it. As it has developed, I have seen the influence of my culture more and more – in the characters, in the plot, in the way people interact and speak even in the title. I have not realized it till now and it has shocked me as I have read through it. I will list these and briefly describe what I have found.
The characters – I was responsible for one of the main characters (as well as co-writing and co-developing the others) and her background, what she does, how she speaks, her relationships are almost a mirror image of what happens in the African culture. Without divulging too much, she has a strong academic background, including a Masters; she has relocated from her country of origin somewhere else; she is a strong individual but with the insecurities especially when it comes to relating to the opposite sex; the pressures of her culture when it comes to marriage and a strong religious faith. There is more but I will leave it there for now. Some of these are generic to most women but a lot of them are specific. I did not mean for it to turn out that way but it has. I believe that the story and the character are stronger for it.
The plot – there are quite a few things going on in the story but it is about love – romantic love, strong love, tough love, unconditional love. The first paragraph of the story tells a lot and attempts to draw the reader in (which I hope that it does) and even here, the effect of my culture is evident. I would tell you, but then I would have to kill you and killing one’s potential audience is not the way to go when trying to promote a novel. I think I am allowed to say it involves a girl and a church. I will leave the rest for you to read.
Interaction / speech – in the parts of the story that I have written, there are some strong words, opinions, points of views expressed even some very very mild profanity but you will not find the f-bomb there and other words which I consider strong profanity there. When one reads it, it will be very easy to tell which parts that I wrote and I hope that you will enjoy it. Just to make things interesting, my little sister, a hugely talented writer is all for profanity and I have seen her work. It somehow works for her . Africans are known for being strong as well as having some sort of religious background. Combining this can produce some interesting results especially in fiction.
So what should you do if and when you face this dilemma? That is not really my place to say because everyone is different, every project unique. But I will try and give some general advice and things that I have found useful.
* Think about things – do you want them to, in some way, mirror your culture and beliefs? Or do you want to go completely the other way? In some areas of the book, I have done the latter because the story has demanded it. If you want to do this, consider carefully.
* Before writing a novel, write other stuff on a range of subjects – fiction, non-fiction, articles etc. See what your writing style is and what works for you. Are you conformist to the ‘norms’ of your culture? Or are you completely not? Then when you start working, you will know what you have in your cultural, artistic and literary background to help you? My sister is mostly non-conformist, I am, mostly conformist. That does not make anyone of us better than the other, it just makes us different.
* Consider a pseudonym - choosing it is fun and may help to determine what kind of influence, if any, your culture/beliefs play in your life.
The strength of my convictions has led to some creative issues with regards to the novel (although most of it has been written and it is being edited as we speak) but that does not mean that it will be the same for you. Being true to who you are and being passionate about what you want to do are the strongest keys that will help you in your (blossoming) writing career.
In the meantime, keep watching this space....
© Angelique Fyre – October 2009