Help Please! Writing a Ukrainian MC

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Barbara

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Something weird has happened to me (a foreign chick). My writing is sounding too English. Who'd have thought...

My question is: I'm writing a Ukrainian MC. How do I de-anglicise myself? How do I know what part of my writing is so VERY English. Do I simply refrain from using colloquialisms? Do I write an accent? But I'm telling the story in first person, and an accent throughout would be a bit tiring. Or would it? I think I need something that makes it very clear the MC is a Ukrainian.
 
It's in the syntax (sentence structure) and grammar. I also look up bloggers from those countries (I did a Dutch-based story) and test the story against their usage and mine. Rather than looking at accent, try to find the way to make it read as if it used the sentence structure of the main/background language, and if they're still learning English, there can also be some more formal English (or Swissglish) moments.
It may not be worth worrying about too much until the story is finished, and then finding the places to make it stand out for a reason.
Good luck.
 
Good advice from Cage. Are there any Ukrainian Youtubers who speak in English? A bit of searching through the net may well yield something...
 
That's really good advice, @CageSage, and @KateESal. Thank you.

finding the places to make it stand out for a reason
I guess, this might be times of high stress. (My English goes weird when I'm tired, or stressed, or when I'm speaking with a lot of unexpected high emotion). I could use it to highlight when she's emotionally challenged and not so much in control. And at the very beginning to set the tone.

It feels like reversing what I've learnt over 20 years.... Then again, it's not reversing. It's just another level of learning English. I have to learn to spot the difference.
 
Have you read Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukraine?
I have, and totally forgot about it. It's been a while. Thank you for the reminder.

You most likely know this, @Barbara, but it's important to note that the country is called Ukraine—not the Ukraine.
I didn't know, no. YIKES! Thank you. I shall hang my head in shame and hope no red dots will appear on my forehead. :eek::D:cool:
 
I think when your character is speaking or internalising in English then the speech pattern will not be 'normal' or grammatically correct. Tenses are likely to be wrong and words will be omitted in sentences and so on.

It will be a more staccato delivery e.g. they probably wouldn't say "we went to the cinema" it would be more likely 'we go to cinema.'

I think your observation about not using colloquialism or common turns of phrase is absolutely accurate and will leap out as sounding wrong for the character.

When I'm doing accents (I once wrote an entire book in phonetic Geordie) I would often write the sentence normally and then say it out loud in the adopted accent to see how I could portray it correctly. The trick is to get the pattern correct while retaining the meaning for your reader.

You'll need to be careful and use hints and touches sparingly though, because if your MC is this person then too much might come across as a parody or p**s take.

Off the top of my head maybe something like this.

"We went to the garden centre, had a walk around and bought some beautiful dahlias. Then we had a coffee in the restaurant."

Might become.

"We go to garden centre. Have look round and buy pretty flowers. Then we having coffee in restaurant."

Does that make sense? Sort of become your character for their speeches.

Ukrainians speaking English sound very similar to Russians (in broad terms) and there are a lots of examples I'm sure you could find on YouTube etc. Here's one I found on a first search. It's comedy but listen to his pattern and the cadences etc.

 
The video's subject is a bit boring but she's doing it in English so you'll get plenty of hints about sentence construction.

Mind you she does speak nineteen to the dozen. Makes we Irish sound slow and ponderous. :)
 
I love a good accent! We've got loads of Russians at our school and a few Ukrainians too. Jonny's right, they do sound very similar when speaking English.

Jodie Comer does a great Russian-speaking-English accent in Killing Eve. Good excuse to watch that and channel a bit of Villanelle....
 
I love a good accent too. But:

I'm currently pondering whether I want to do this over an entire novel, and if so, to what kind of degree. Mia has been in the UK since she was 14. She's now 29. Her English would be very good with only a slight twang. (Mine was after 5 years of being here. I've now been here 30 years - and don't you dare guess my age :D - and I still have an accent but I don't think it's strong enough for someone to differentiate it in a novel - but maybe I'm deluding myself). Anyway, Mia would have picked up colloquialisms and correct phrasing in that time ..... In other words, I'm not sure what to do about all this.

Or do I make her a Brit who has been trafficked to Spain for example, and is now back in the UK? Brits do get trafficked. People also get trafficked internally within Britain.

Hmmmm.
 
Gotcha! :rolling-on-the-floor-laughing:

It's a good point and certainly sustaining it across an entire novel would be difficult.

I do think though that some accents are easier to lose than others and particularly eastern European more so than most.

I was going to suggest you make her a different nationality and certainly what you're suggestion would work, not unless she has to be Ukrainian. It sort of fits in a way but my own view is that it's not 100% necessary.

I'm the one guilty of bringing this issue up (sorry :() but it was probably more in relation to the first draft where there were some quite English expressions that I don't think a Ukrainian would use (little fellow was one that sticks in my mind)

She could be believably Ukrainian if her speech was pretty neutral and maybe just a teeny-weeny bit stilted now and again?
 
I was going to suggest you make her a different nationality and certainly what you're suggestion would work, not unless she has to be Ukrainian
She doesn't have to be. But poorer countries tend to have more of a trafficking problem than rich.
I'm the one guilty of bringing this issue up (sorry :()
Well, it needed addressing, so thanks for doing that.
She could be believably Ukrainian if her speech was pretty neutral and maybe just a teeny-weeny bit stilted now and again?
That's probably the way to go. As neutral as possible, then drop some in.

I think I'm going to just write it for now then worry about it later in draft 2. I'm stuck at chapter 2. EEEEEEEEEEK. Not another crisis.:eek:
 
I think I'm going to just write it for now then worry about it later in draft 2.

Yes, it's a very minor detail and can easily be worked around. I agree too, if she's Ukrainian it feels more authentic. Crack on with getting it all down in draft one.

But remember don't let's have her say anything like: "Oh I say, Lord Farnes-Barnes, what a simply splendid palace you've got here. And you know, cook's cucumber sandwiches are quite the most scrumptious one has ever tasted."
 
"Oh I say, Lord Farnes-Barnes, what a simply splendid palace you've got here. And you know, cook's cucumber sandwiches are quite the most scrumptious one has ever tasted."
Now I can say
I didn't understand a word of that. :):):)
:D :D

Feel free to give me one of these :ice-skate: for my cheekiness. Or better, one of these:boxing-glove:. We're talking about Mia the fighter after all.
 
I wouldn't worry about where she's from unless she's going to spend some of the book back in Ukraine or follows some religious practices/customs or believes in their chyerti or something. It will be an easy enough change to make once you've written the book - either changing her nationality or her syntax and grammar. (Or you could spend your spare time learning Ukranian from one of those on-line tutorial thingies!)

One of the children I teach has a Polish mother and father. They've been in Scotland for years (more than 14) and still sound as if they left Poland yesterday so, if you do stick with Ukranian, I think she'd keep a fair bit of syntax, but that's something you can research on the side, and I'm sure you'll be able to find a Ukranian who'll help you get the sentences right once your book is complete (just don't pick a trafficking one!!)

One of the first questions you'll get asked in author interviews (I like to be pma when i think ahead) is why you chose for her to be Ukranian/English/ . . .
 
I'm sure you'll be able to find a Ukranian who'll help you get the sentences right once your book is complete (just don't pick a trafficking one!!)
Turns out there's a Ukrainian guy living 4 doors down from me. I could ask him. Then again he hardly has an accent so he's probably not the best example. He also has the most perfect lawn. Not that that matters in any way. But I just wanted to mention that he has the most impressive lawn.
 
Steady you two! Get on with your writing and never mind diversions.

Anyways, gardeners eez bad news. Always are in potting sheds up to hooz know whats. Yes I am thinking this.
 
If I have to use a non-English speaking MINOR character then I use one or two internationally-known words of the character's native language- e.g. ciao and the rest of that character's speech in English but in the character's national language structure, so everyone knows she is speaking a foreign language.

If however, the character is the protagonist or a main character then I use normal English and sprinkle one or two internationally renown words in the character's national language, now and again, to highlight the character's nationality.
 
Ooh, this is interesting. Lots of factors - how and from whom Mia learned English, what language her traffickers spoke - so if she came to the UK aged 14, how much time has she had between then and now to learn English and to what standard, and how accented. If she speaks it well, but you want to show her heritage, something like swearing in her head in Ukranian as the woman approaches her in the gym before smiling politely?

Happy to hear you're on the next pages, @Barbara! I'd love to read more.
 
I suddenly realise why @AgentPete said YA (doh! slow on the uptake me) - age. Traffickers often?mainly? target teenagers so this is a poignant tale for that age group. However, once you've read a couple of comparative contemporary YAs, then decide if you want to pitch to this target readership.
 
how and from whom Mia learned English,
At the mo, I've planned it that her trafficker was a Brit. She would have learnt from him to a degree - although it prob would be in his interest if she can't speak to the outside world (keeps her scared and out of her comfort zone knowing she can't be understood outside). Her mother will speak English but only a bit (she was to marry him. It was a trap), and I'll give her a 'client' who is fond of her and talks to her. She will have been in captivity for 4 years until aged 18, then stayed in the UK after she escaped. I haven't decided yet if she went to school after (most likely - I need her to be intelligent and educated for the sequels) but either way, I think she'd want to speak it well to blend in as much as poss so she can hide among the crowds and not be spotted for who she is (fear of being re-captured, fear of people finding out what she did, albeit under pressure). I'm waffling.
something like swearing in her head in Ukranian as the woman approaches her in the gym before smiling politely
Perfect!
Happy to hear you're on the next pages
It's SLOOOOOOOOW, very SLOOOOOOOOOOOOW. But it's happening.
I suddenly realise why @AgentPete said YA (doh! slow on the uptake me)
LOL, but if it's any comfort, it took me a while too (I was thinking of how the writing is YA, not the content)
 
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