AAVE, Black Characters, and Code-Switching
You ain’t writing about me, are ya? Haha, well first I’d suggest you familiarize yourself with AAVE. Learn how it’s regionally spoken and hear people speak it. Like, a lot. If you want it to be “authentic” and not have Black folks reading your characters’ speak, laughing and shaking their heads.
It’s an ever-evolving tongue and essentially where mainstream culture gets all its “cool words” from (and actually, cool in the sense of something “impressive” is a word created by Black people, amongst many others words, such as “hipster.” You’ll notice a lot of the slang you hear in the past and now is really Black English).
Think bae, turnt, shade, hunty, bruh….now using these certain ones might date the story as usage changes with time fyi. The only word I’d say to avoid is the N word, as Mod Najela discusses here.
If your characters grew up in white-dominated upper middle class, I’m supposing they’re learning AAVE from either a parent, or family or friends who speak it. I grew up in the city and moved to the burbs when I was entering 4th grade. I didn’t have any AAVE-speaking Black friends at school for several years, but as I remained in contact with family members who spoke it and as my sisters and I did amongst each other and also watched Black tv and movies, my aave stayed relatively flexed.
Living among and as friends to mostly White people (even in the city) my speech is influenced by both with a heavier influence of Standard English than AAVE. Depending on how comfortable I am with the non-Black, non-AAVE speaking individual, more AAVE may intermingle. That’s how it is with my sisters usually; we typically toggle between the two, otherwise are daily speech is in standard.
I didn’t even realize how easily I can slip into BE once i’m comfortable with the [non-black] person until this time at college. The school had added some new feature and I’d casually said "they shoulda been done that.” My friend just looked at me confused and (snarkily) said “English please?” Of course, he’s wrong, since AAVE is a real language with it’s own rules, but I really didn’t realize i’d said anything he might not understand.
I suppose an SA equivalent to that sentence is “they should’ve done that a while ago.” I honestly couldn’t explain to him what I meant at the time because what I’d said in AAVE was the only way I knew how to explain what I meant.
I’d say determine your characters’ histories. If they’ve never been exposed to AAVE-speaking Black people and just happen to speak it, that’d be a bit odd, so you’ll probably want to determine where it comes from as well as whom they speak it around, and how often.
- Black in Upper-class White Society
- AAVE is not SE with Mistakes (pdf)
- Tumblr: Black Proverbs (so damn accurate)
Anonymous said: I’m currently scripting a horror/superhero graphic novel of sorts and have an African character who discovers he has powers whilst he is a slave in the 1900s, upon using his powers to attain his and his fellow plantation slaves freedom he is revered as a Voodoo King amongst the community. Now his powers aren’t related to voodoo at all, they have a more sci-fi explanation BUT I was wondering how should I approach writing about the Louisiana Voodoo culture/religion and his status as a Voodoo King?
In addition to my Voodoo question, could I ask about the differences between Haitian Voodoo and Louisiana Voodoo? I’ve done some research but I’m finding conflicting material on practice and belief systems. Something I’m confused about is whether or not Loa are a present and relevant aspect of Louisiana Voodoo like in Haitian Voodoo. Thank you for your time, this blog has informed me of so much.
When you research, be aware of the following:
Due in part to the initiation these belief systems require, you will encounter deliberate misinformation while researching, especially on the Internet, particularly regarding spells/conjures/rituals.
You will run into hoodoo. You can use it to corroborate, but you must do so with a keg of salt because it is an acculturation of African, Native American, and Scots-Irish beliefs. It has lost all aspects of liturgical worship so it is not a valid source for religious anything. It is a good source for sympathetic magic ideas, however, and it does have echoes of African folklore, like foot-track magic.
Voodoo as a religion is a bit of a misnomer in that people mistake the lwa/loa as deities when really they are servants. Its followers tend to be religious in some other capacity such as Catholicism. The lwa are just spirits. They navigate between the realms, so to speak, as intermediaries between the distant, transcendent God and the earth which can not reach Him. One serves the lwa in order to motivate it to serve them back. Think of it like believing in ghosts you can interact with.
Because your protagonist has powers not from a “voodoo” origin, FWIW, these two beliefs work with possession, which is not seen as a demonic thing but a desirable, pursued thing. Supernatural power comes from the agency of the spirits you invoke.
As for the differences between the two traditions, since you don’t appear to intend to go into a lot of depth about the details, they should be similar enough that you can take artistic liberties with confidence. Voodoo and Vodou in this context are more like sisters than cousins. They come from the same cultures whose beliefs and traditional clergy were not completely assimilated, and then in Louisiana the two practices blended during 1809 (the Haitian Revolution ended in mass emigration, a truly stunning amount of Haitians ending up in New Orleans).
Why were they not assimilated? In general, while the various ethnic groups of West Africa had language barriers and cultural differences among themselves, their beliefs were so integral to their ethnic and personal identities that they could not and would not be replaced. But then there is the more sinister element: the mortality rates. In Haiti, the Dahomey, Yoruba, Kongo, and other heritages were not forgotten by the next generation of slaves…because often there was no next generation. They died too quickly. Instead of a next generation, there was a next influx. More slaves to replace the dead. That severity of tragedy needs to be understood.
A brighter subject: The Lwa (Loa). Yes, the Loa are a relevant aspect in Voodoo. To what extent? Well, Vodou is my bailiwick, not Voodoo, but for your character, they probably were part of his daily life just like in Haitian Vodou.
Lastly, a reading list. As for the rest of these writings, I have chosen them because they are from the era you’re studying. They may help you more effectively. Due to the era the nature of the subject (slavery and racism in the 1800s), please be aware that there is offensive material to be found if you follow the links. You’re reading biased information, here, so get your salt.
- A.B. Ellis’s various writings such as her article, On Vodu Worship in Popular Science.
- The Southern Workman, entirety of which is right here. It definitely contains offensive material, you’ve been warned.
- Alcee Fortier wrote Customs And Superstitions In Louisiana.
- Voodoo Tales by Mary Owen.
- You’ll want to peruse the Journal Of American Folklore because you will find things like William Wells Newell: Myths Of Voodoo Worship And Child Sacrifice In Hayti, Reports Of Voodoo Worship In Hayti And Louisiana and Black Superstitions Of European Origin.
Based on the questions I get I know that a lot of non-male writers struggle with developing and writing male characters. There’s no straight-forward guide to writing a male character, but I can offer some insight based on what I read.
I’ve noticed that a lot of male characters, no matter who wrote them, tend to have a lack of insecurities. More accurate would be to say that lots of male characters have a lack of insecurities that are not related to a physical skill or leadership, especially when these male characters have a major role in the story.
If you have trouble developing your male characters, give them insecurities beyond not being able to fulfill their prophecy or not being able to hit a home run.
As with all characters, insecurities should impact your character’s behavior, thoughts, and decisions. Integrate their securities into their being. If your character doesn’t like the way they look or if they don’t like their body, their body language should reflect that when talking to people (such as avoiding eye contact, looking down, crossing their arms, etc.). Some insecurities will have greater impacts than others. They might even create conflict for your character or prevent them from resolving an issue.
When it comes to male characters it’s important to show that males can have certain insecurities without being “less male” because of it. More than a few times have I had writers ask if a certain trait is unrealistic for a male character because it’s “unmanly”. So if you ever think a certain trait or insecurity is “inaccurate” for a male character, ignore that feeling and write it.
However, a male character hiding insecurities can be accurate (especially among children and teenagers) because not being a masculine male makes you a target, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Anyway, here are some insecurities I don’t typically see in male characters:
- Appearance & Perception: I rarely see this one. If I do see it, the author never goes into detail or the insecurity is about something quite small. Most of the time male characters mention it once and then forget about it for the rest of the story. I almost never see male characters insecure in the way others perceive them, which does not always relate to appearance (e.g. their voice or the way they walk).
- Fears and Phobias: Having a fear or phobia of something other than “what if I don’t defeat the antagonist” or “what if my actions end up hurting/killing my friends” is nearly absent from male characters. They’re never afraid of themselves dying or of anything that could prevent them from achieving a goal.
- Self Worth: Again, most of the insecurities in male characters that relate to self worth are about being a good leader or fulfilling a prophecy. Explore other options. Maybe your character thinks he’s not a good son or that he’s a terrible friend.
There is a lot to consider. Think about:
- Where do they come from? What is their origin story? Are they a magical species, or a nonmagical creation? Were they brought to life in a lab? Did they evolve from something we might recognize?
- What is their folklore? If they have been around for a long time, your monsters may be an entrenched part of your world’s folklore and mythology. What are the stories mothers tell their children about these monsters? Are there legends surrounding them?
- Where do they live? If your monster was going to be featured in a zoo, what would they need to be happy? What is their habitat like?
- How intelligent are they? How do they communicate? Do they have a language of their own? Do they have a form of government, or do they work on a pack/hivemind mentality? Do they use a spoken language/vocal cues, body language/visual cues, scent marking/smell cues, etc.?
- What do they eat? How do they get it? Are they hunters, gatherers, foragers, scavengers, etc.?
- How has the monster species changed and evolved since it was first created/discovered? Are there subspecies within the broader classification of [monster]?
- Can they be domesticated? Why/why not? What do humans use them for? Can they be kept as pets, companions, hunting aids, guards, etc.?
- What do they look like? Feathers? Fur? Skin? Scales? Something else? Are there regional/subspecies/other varieties that vary from the “normal” look?
- How does it behave? Does it act differently around humans than it does around animals or other monsters? Is there a family dynamic? What does courting/mating/etc. look like? For that matter…
- What about babies? Do they reproduce quickly with lots of offspring per birth, or do they reproduce slowly?
- How about predators? Are they low on the food chain, or do they rule the roost? How do they fight off/avoid predators?
- How do they get sick? Are they especially immune or susceptible to certain illnesses? Is there a disease that only these monsters can contract? Can it spread to other species?
Check out these other posts around the Tumblsphere:
- Making lore behind fantasy creatures
- Do you have advice for creating breeds for a fictional creature?
- Worldbuilding: Flora & Fauna
- How to build a bird
- Worldbuilding: Deities and other mythologies
- Giant post of recommended reading about folklore, mythology, and occult
Without knowing more about the kind of world you’ve created and assuming your characters are human beings, let’s explore this some more.
First, think about the types of injuries your character has sustained. Is there a lot of head trauma? Chest trauma? Was it blood loss? Was it something that shocked him and caused his heart to stop? Was it smoke inhalation? The types of injuries your character sustained will help you sort some of this out. Once you get a vague idea of your character’s injuries, begin researching. WebMD and Wikipedia have good stuff, but Youtube has many videos made by medical schools for educational purposes. Just so you’ve been warned, the videos and pictures are graphic.
Necromancy, using magic to revive or reanimate the dead, is not without limits and repercussions. In the Greek and Roman tradition, reviving a person involved shoving their soul back into their body. Many ancient texts describe in detail the excruciating screams of the person who has been revived. Remember, just because you have been brought back to life, does not mean your injuries have healed. Furthermore, necromancy wasn’t a permanent fix. Typically, it was for a short period of time- a few moments, usually- to pass along a message or convey information then their soul would be released. Reanimation is a little different in that that person’s soul (or energy, or whatever you want to call it) isn’t involved. Up until 50 or so years ago, this is how zombies were “made”. The virus is a new thing.
If you feel comfortable doing research into necromancy (it’s okay if you don’t), I’d be wary of the internet. Daniel Ogden is a professor of ancient history in England and he’s written a number of books on magic and necromancy in Greece and Rome. I’ve read his books and I recommend them highly. Another book you may want to read is Forbidden Rites: A Necromancer’s Manual of the Fifteenth Century by Richard Kieckhefer. Basically, a university in Germany has a 15th Century necromancers manual written in medieval Latin, and Prof. Kiechkhefer translated it and added more information to it. Those books are available on amazon, but you may be able to get them through your library. If the world you’ve created aligns more closely with another culture or tradition, search on Google scholar. You’ll find better information.
Ironically, modern medicine runs into some similar issues when trying to revive someone whose heart has stopped. Lack of blood flow to the brain, for any amount of time, causes brain damage. Full stop. There are all sorts of medical procedures to keep oxygenated blood flowing to the brain to prevent further damage, but they can only do so much. In short, anything longer than a couple seconds, and you will have complications. Just as unrealistic it seems to have someone die and be brought back through magical means, it’s equally unrealistic to have a character be clinically dead for several minutes to have them make a 100% recovery. If your character miraculously survived the trauma (no heart stoppage or brain injury), do they have plates screwed to their bones or scars? It is exceedingly rare to make it through a life-threatening injury without a scratch or scar.
After you’ve done some research, write a couple pages with each scenario. This doesn’t have to be perfect, it’s just a writing exercise. When you’re done with both, don’t look at them for a few days. You want fresh eyes and a clear head. When you come back to them, think about what fits best with the world you’ve created. While realism can be a great thing, consistency is just as important. If you have magic in a world, you may need to address why they don’t use necromancy. Pick what you feel is best. Celebrate your awesomeness.
With that done, you’ve got one last thing to do. Follow Faulkner’s sage advice and “kill all your darlings.” You say you grew so attached to your character you brought him back. Write a few pages about how the other characters react to this death. Take some time and imagine how the plot and storyline will change. Walk away for a couple days, then sit and think what makes the most sense for your story. The results may surprise you.
History lesson cause this is like saying reverse racism exists!
Being seen as lighter was good in Victorian eras and women would use lead powder to achieve a whiter look because that meant they didn’t need to work outside and be in the sun, since that was a slave’s job. Whiteness was an indication to where you are in the social classes.
NOW white people go tanning and it’s seen as ideal cause tan = sun which means they have more time to be outdoors instead of being stuck inside, working in an office. So it’s the opposite for white people. Still a symbol of social status.
BUT being tan is only ideal if you’re a white kind of tan. Not if you’re a tan PoC. Then you’re just dark.
And whitening/bleaching products are known to have harmful and carcinogenic ingredients, but people still use it because of European colonialism in Asia and modern white standards of beauty still imposed all over the world today. So while white people can tan, everyone else with darker skin times are still taught that lighter = better. We are taught that being pale is the only way we will be seen as beautiful.
So the argument that what’s the big deal with saying someone looks better lighter, when white people go tanning to get darker, is completely invalid cause you fail to recognize the history and racism that comes with it and how colorism affects all PoC.
Honestly, I’ve spent a lot of time just staring at this question, wondering how to answer it. Because that’s the rub, isn’t it? How the Hell do you write a realistic story about a group of people in a war-like situation? If they win all the time, there is no sense of urgency, no real reason to care, because there’s nothing to lose. But if they lose too often, readers will start to become numb to their pain—it’s a bit of a morbid example, but think of the scene in Hunchback of Notre Dame, where Frollo instructs his executor to ‘wait between lashes’, otherwise the prisoner would cease to feel the pain at all. You’ve got to find a happy medium, and that can be damn hard, especially depending on the story you want to tell.
And that, I think, is the crux of the matter. You have to let your team ‘win’, at least a little. But you also have to let them fail. And if your story is meant to be a commentary on the futility of humanity, say—dark and depressing and ‘everyone dies at the end’, well, it might be a little cruel to give your readers hope. But if you don’t, they won’t feel anything by the end of the piece and instead of coming away from it wanting to track you down and hurt you, they’ll just wonder ‘what the hell was the point?’ The former is a stronger position, at least emotionally. (And safe, so long as your number is unlisted. Or am I the only one with vengeance in my heart aimed at certain authors?)
If, on the other hand, your goal is to have the good guys win overall, then you don’t want it to come too easy, otherwise the victory will feel cheap. Like ‘oh, there was no chance they were going to fail anyway, so why should i care?’ It seems like you’re not in danger of that so much, but it’s good to keep in mind nonetheless.
The key is, of course, moderation. You say they’ve lost two small battles, their land, and some team members already? I’d say it’s high time for a victory—even if it’s just a small one. It’s tough to get specific without knowing much about the specifics of your story, but say there’s a small skirmish—you should let your team come out on top, at least once, early on, so the reader doesn’t get a sense of hopelessness that may make them want to just put down the book because, again, ‘what’s the point?’ It doesn’t have to be big, either, to be a moral booster. Even something as small as successfully stealing a loaf of bread—raiding a supply camp, maybe, and getting away with it?—can inject the sense of hope, of ‘all is not lost, we’ve still got a fighting chance’ that can keep the energy in your story from petering out altogether. If they have a win, or even several, they don’t have to keep winning, either. I mean a constant run of ‘one step forward, two steps back’ can be just as numbing as a constant string of losses, but you need to move the story one way or another, right?
So, again, it depends on your eventual goal. Do they win in the end? Then establish, early on, that while they’ve had some clear setbacks they are not completely devastated yet, and keep up a running theme of ‘there’s still a glimmer of hope in the darkness, our spirits haven’t been crushed yet, we will keep fighting because we have something to fight for, we still have hope for the future despite how bleak things might seem right now’.It’s all down to your judgment of course, but if you notice your protagonists have done a lot of losing recently, even a small win can go a long way to keeping your readers invested. Give them at least one big win, too, somewhere around the middle/latter half of the story, something to give readers a real reason to think they just might pull it off after all, while still leaving some lingering doubt to keep things interesting.
You don’t have to translate common phrases such as greetings or exclamations. Use action and body language to show the reader what it means. If you use a certain phrase enough, the reader should figure out what it is (a greeting, a farewell, an exclamation, numbers, etc.) over time.
For example, if you use a greeting, show your characters hugging or smiling or shaking hands or greeting each other in some other way. If this phrase is also used when a character enters the scene, the reader will start to pick it up if they don’t already know what it means.
There are a few ways you can translate this.
Someone can act as a translator for this character. You do not need to write out what the person is saying. You can mention in the narration that they are speaking another language. Then you would give the dialogue translation to the translator.
You can paraphrase what a person said within dialogue or narration. You do not need to show the dialogue of the foreign language in this case. For example, the narration can say that a character asked for a drink of water in another language. In first person, your POV character can paraphrase what a person is saying if they understand the language.
This makes more sense in first person POV. If a person speaks in another language, you can put (usually in italics) the translation after that dialogue. This is your POV character translating in their head:
"[insert language here]," she said.
[insert translation here].
4) No Translation
You don’t always need to translate stuff, especially if you don’t want the reader to know what’s going on yet. For example, if your POV character can understand this language, they can reply in whatever language you’re writing in while the person they are talking to is speaking in another language. Use this sparingly and take note that you’ll probably have readers who understand that language unless it is a fictional language. Use body language and your character’s response to hint to the reader about what the conversation might be about.
This works best for fictional languages and books where another language is used sparingly. Some writers create a glossary of the words used in their book and then place it at the end. This way, the reader can flip to the back to see the translation and you won’t have to worry about translating it within the text.
So your character wears glasses. But you don’t. Not to worry! I’ve been wearing glasses since I was five, so here’s a short guide:
The long range rifle has been around since the 19th century, a short 100 years after Daniel Bernoulli published his book, Hydrodynamica, on the relationship between pressure and potential energy (or speed) of a fluid. The jist of his principle relates an increase in speed of a fluid to a decrease in pressure. Using this with the venturi effect that states the velocity of a fluid increases as the cross sectional area decreases provides the key to projectile ballistics.