One of the things that annoys me about a particular type of book is how uniformly the characters think. They may have the desired external differences, but they don’t think differently – which means they also don’t react differently.
People aren’t like that.
Heck, siblings aren’t like that – I ought to know, since I’ve got four of them. Things that one sib will lash out at won’t even register to another. Even though we all got more or less the same upbringing, the combination of the preferences we got from being born (I was apparently a whiny baby, at least one of my sibs was a happy one, another was just fine until something passed the limits, then all heck broke loose… ) and the differences that came from different experiences as we grew up meant that the five of grew into very different people.
What I really don’t get is how some folk seem to think that a person born to and raised in a completely different culture is going to have the same ideals as someone born and raised here – when two siblings quite often end up with completely different beliefs.
Most of the modern Western cultures place a high value on individual achievement and value individual worth enough that in a group versus individual conflict there is a possibility that the rights and well-being of the individual will be given precedence over the group’s rights and well-being. This tendency is strongest in the USA, reasonably strong in the English-speaking countries, and gets weaker the more communitarian the culture is.
By comparison, there are modern cultures that place exactly zero worth on an individual – Saudi Arabia, with its laws that penalize the victims of certain crimes because to be in a position to have those crimes committed against them they must have been doing something detrimental to social “worth”, is an immediate example. Right alongside some of the Asian cultures. In those, the Odds like us fit in or get out. They don’t get to do what we can do here and be awkward.
There are, of course, many variations, and that’s just the big picture. Take it down to the character level and you’re going to have people who react to insults with violence, others who respond with sarcasm, and others who simply ignore them. You’ll have people who will take any abuse directed their way with a kind of grim stoicism, but crumble at the first kind gesture. People who react to attempted abuse with violence. And every other variation imaginable.
I’ve thought for a long time that people are born with their preferences and inclinations. Some will be conflict-averse. Others will fling themselves into every possible confrontation with a kind of glee. And so on. What differs is that the combination of the culture they grow up with and their own experience shapes the way they express those preferences and inclinations.
The Odd girl in a culture like Saudi Arabia – particularly one that doesn’t have modern technology – is going to hide her nature if she wants to survive. She has to. She’ll find quiet tells to locate other girls like her, possibly form a small circle of friends who are Odd like her if she has the opportunity. If she excels in anything, it will be in a field where it’s accepted for a woman to be excel, because the constraints of her culture mean she doesn’t have many choices.
If that same girl was raised here, even with the same family, she would have many more options and get very different messages about what she should or could do. She’d be a completely different person. And that’s without the differences in language – American English is possibly the single most direct, egalitarian dialect in the world. There are no rank distinctions beyond the optional use of titles. No distinctions between intimate, general, or formal address. The language treats everyone as equal, which in turn tends to make it easier to think of everyone as having equal worth as a person.
All of which is a horribly rambly way to say that if you’re going to write people who are different from your normal experience in some way, please consider the way they think as well as the way they look. It really helps to make the other cultures and the like seem more real.