Writing Indian Characters
So the first thing that pops into my head when I think about writing Indian characters (as a second gen immigrant who was born in India and moved to America) is the overwhelming diversity within just the blanket term “Indian character.”
Writing Indian Characters in India
North Indians and South Indians are very different from each other. Things change dramatically from state to state as well, whether you’re talking about the food or the language or the style of clothing. There’s also religious diversity in that while the dominant religion in India is Hinduism, there are also Muslim Indians and Sikh Indians and Buddhist Indians, all of which have different perspectives on what it means to be Indian. India right now also has a pretty large age span, where with the population boom, there are just as many old people with prejudices as there are young people with liberal mindsets. India’s also at a point now where it’s an up and coming country, with values and goals of young people changing rapidly. The information age hit India pretty hard, and there’s large discrepancies between the rural areas with few, if any, accesses to technology, and the urban settings where there’s large amounts of technology everywhere you look.
That’s the main thing I would try and keep in mind when writing characters IN India — just the ridiculous amount of diversity and change that’s happening now in India. Young people there also have this mindset there that the Western world is better and everyone seems to want to immigrate to American or Britain when they grow up.
If you’re talking about writing Indians in Western countries, like immigrant stories, that’s another story.
Writing the Indian Diaspora
There, it’s still important to keep in mind the diversity of India because that could change the perspective your character has on the Western world as well. Research is once again, your best friend. Research holidays that your character might celebrate like Rakhi and Holi and Diwali, research religions and the religious holidays (Hinduism has an enormous amount of gods and goddesses and holidays for them as well). Research where in India your character is from, because that colors things differently too. As I said, South Indians and North Indians especially have different views on a lot of different things.
The other thing about Indians living away from India is that they’ll find each other. Literally everywhere we’ve lived in my life we have had neighbors and communities of Indian people that we would collaborate on showing Indian movies in local movie theaters with, people we would send things to India for our family with and ask them to bring things back for us. We’d put on festivals and shows and dances and things with them.
Of course, you can’t forget the racism either. As a brown girl growing up, you get made fun of for how you smell, how you wear your hair, the clothes you wear, and then you also get to watch as everyone grows up and ~discovers~ these things and wears henna and bindis as if they’d never made fun of you for doing the same thing before.
That’s about all I have off the top of my head. If you have any other specific questions, feel free to send them in, and we’ll do our best to help!
If any other Indian followers have anything to add to this, please let us know as well!
I feel like I should add something…. Take what I say with a grain of salt.
1. It’s pretty simple to divide India into North and South… but there can be some more distinctions: Bengali, Gujarati, Punjabi, etc. I’m not actually part of those groups (so I can’t really say how different they are) but I’m pretty sure there are some pretty distinct traditions in those groups.
2. Feel like I should mention the existence of Northeastern Indians, at least. They aren’t usually what people think of when they think of India… but they exist.
3. Don’t assume that the Indian character knows another language other than English, if they grow up in India. (And don’t necessarily assume that the language is Hindi, especially if your character is from South India). At least in the Indian community where I grew up most of the 2nd gen immigrants could understand the language but had limited abilities in speaking or writing. But it depends.
4. And remember that people in India can speak English too? Their fluency probably depends on their education level (most schools teach it as a second language, if I remember correctly) and how often they use it.
5. Also a reminder that the holidays mentioned above are Hindu holidays so Indian people of other religions may not celebrate them if they’re not living in India. (I was raised Hindu sooooo I don’t know how true this statement is but I thought I might as well mention it?)
6. Oh, and a reminder that Indian movies != Bollywood. Bollywood is one of the film industries in India, producing Hindi language films. I believe there’s a pretty big Telugu film industry? But Bollywood movies are still the most popular. At least in the circles i run in.
Everything else sounds chill.
All very good adds! Thank you!
It could be Dark Fantasy.
writing: suspense ;; an instrumental mix
perihelion - trent reznor & atticus ross // descent - austin wintory // oxymorons - alexandre desplat // rain - marco beltrami // use and abuse part 1 - andrew hale // obelisk - timber timbre // legions (war) - zoe keating // in chaos eternal - atrium carceri // great bird of prey - trent reznor & atticus ross // the void - steven price // the tale of the three brothers - alexandre desplat // constellations - balmorhea // i’m goblin - hans zimmer and the magnificent six // interrogation - the chemical brothers
Teachers, as I’m sure you all know by now, are an excellent resource. With many students returning to school for fall classes in the next few weeks, we think now is a great time to hit up real-life teachers for some back-to-school advice!
Below is an interview with Carrie Pack, a writer and teacher. Enjoy!
- What class or classes do you teach?
This will be my eighth year teaching at the college level. I have taught everything from beginning journalism to editing, as well as advertising writing and ethics courses.
- What type of writing do you deal with most often? Essays? Short answer? Outlines?
In the classes I teach, I require several writing styles, including essays, hard news and creative writing. I’ve included short answers on exams and created graphic organizers to help students outline their work. The only types of writing I’ve never taught is creative (at least not long form, like novels or short stories) and poetry.
- How important is good grammar and spelling to you?
I believe good grammar is essential. When you write, word meaning and punctuation are extremely important. It’s how we convey meaning. Think of it like this: When we speak we have our tone of voice, body language, facial expressions, rate of speech, and even volume to convey meaning. When we write, all we have is punctuation and the precision of our words.
Because word choice is important, spelling is too. However, spell check has gone a long way to help us be better spellers. You just have to know the difference between loose and lose. Spell check won’t catch that. In my opinion, spelling is less important while writing, but becomes essential when proofing your work. That’s something students don’t do enough of: editing/proofing. Read it out loud. It really helps you to find errors you won’t find while reading silently to yourself.
- Which style do you prefer students use in your class (MLA, APA, CMS, etc.)? Why?
At the college level, these are really dictated by your discipline. Certain majors prefer MLA and others prefer APA. Because I’ve primarily taught mass communication courses, we prefer MLA for citation style and Associate Press Style (also known as AP Style) for writing, but even that is a hard-and-fast rule. When learning a new style, pay attention to numbers and citations. Those are always the biggest differences for formatting in one style versus another.
- Do you have any tips for doing research?
Do it. That may sound redundant, but I don’t think students do enough research. At a university, you have so much at your disposal. Don’t waste it. At the college where I teach, the reference librarians are super helpful but remain an underutilized resource. Research for a major term paper can be daunting; I recommend asking an expert—a reference librarian.
- What are your biggest pet peeves when it comes to students’ writing in your class?
Not supporting an argument with evidence and reasoning. If you believe something to be true, you have to cite experts or professionals who agree, and if it’s not direct proof, you have to provide the reasoning that allowed you to come to that conclusion. Your opinion is not enough. This ties into the research question. If you know what you’re talking about—meaning, you did research and a lot of it—it’s much easier to support your arguments with examples or expert opinions.
- What are some writing mistakes that you make that you’d like to caution your students against?
Being too wordy. We’re all such inefficient communicators. I’d recommend taking a journalism class to learn how to write more concisely. Using empty words and phrases in your writing is the equivalent of using the word “like” repeatedly when you speak. It makes you sound less intelligent, even if you have something really valuable to say.
- What do you think is the most important thing students should know about writing in your class?
Writing is something you have to practice—like sports, music, dance, cooking; the more you do it, the better you become. If you remain averse to writing and put it off, you’ll never improve.
Also: just write. Force yourself to get the words on the page. Even if it’s horrible. Write a draft, and then spend most of your time editing. Then edit it again.
Thank you to Carrie for her excellent insights and advice! We hope that you’ve learned something, even if you haven’t seen the inside of a classroom in years.
If you are a teacher and you’d like to be a part of the Ask a Teacher Series, please shoot us a message! We’d love to have you!
It is an honor and a privilege to add a new writing blog to to the
wall of phenomenal excellenceblogroll.
Hall Full of Characters is a bilingual (English/Spanish) blog that offers advice, critiques, and more. The Hall is very new and much in need of love. The mod, Nina, is a spectacular person and will do an excellent job.
Welcome to the writer’s help community, Nina!