23 January 2021

How to Write a True Italian Character (and not get taken out by the Family...)

Apparently, I have been too serious on here lately. There have been complaints.  So in an effort to lighten things up, I'm settling into a literary pet peeve.

Too often in popular fiction, I find Italian characters who don't make the grade. They seem a little cartoonish, as their creators probably aren't Italian, and don't have a true insight into the Italian nature.  So I'm here as a public service, to rectify that.  (Okay, because my Uncle Vince told me to.)

Yes, I'm Italian.  Yes, I've been a Goddaughter, like the heroine of THE GODDAUGHTER.  Okay, maybe not exactly like.  But close enough that I can easily imagine what it would be like to be a mob goddaughter.  The Christmas presents would be pretty decent, for one thing. Not to mention, I can get my salami and mortadella wholesale in any deli in the Hammer (Hamilton.)

So as I turn in my 17th novel which may or may not feature the Italian mob, I offer this help to all authors everywhere.

Melodia's rules on how to write an Italian Character:

  1. She absolutely cannot talk with her hands held down.  Okay, not entirely true.  She can scream if they try to hold down her hands.  And kick.
  2. He has at least 2 cousins named Tony.  And one uncle.
  3. She considers Pasta a vegetable.  (It's good for you!  Really.  Ask any Italian grandmother.)
  4. He can listen to five conversations at once, in at least two languages, and answer back.
  5. She has four first names (Melodie Lynn Theresa Anne…)
  6. For the Pros. Your Italian character should:

  7. Cry when Pavorotti sings the FIFA soccer anthem.
  8. Ask for Brio and Orangina in restaurants. Gasp loudly if they don't have it.
  9. Kiss everybody all the time.  Left cheek, right cheek (THEIR left cheek, right cheek.)
  10. Always wear designer shoes.  Especially when shopping for shoes.  If you don't have a special wardrobe just for shopping, you are not Italian.
  11. And finally:

  12. Long hair only, ladies.  At least until sixty.
  13. Wine is a major food group.  Like cannoli.
  14. Okay, it gets a little tougher now, but weaving in background is important.  So to really give your character some punch, add the following:

  15. She regularly faked a long penance after confession just so the boys would think she was way hot.  (I hardly ever did this.)
  16. His family does not consider a 'heater' something you turn on in winter.

I hate to end a list at 13.  We Sicilians are suspicious.  So here's one last way you can tell if a character is really Italian:

Bling.  Lots of it.  Last trip back from Rome, the plane nearly came down with the weight of newly purchased gold my aunts were wearing.  Heard in all lines at Customs:  "What, this old thing?"

Melodie Campbell writes mob comedies and other loopy books while avoiding family somewhere south of Toronto.  THE GODDAUGHTER DOES VEGAS, finalist for the Canadian Crime Writing Awards of Excellence, is the latest in the series.  Standard warning:  Pee before you read it.



  1. "I hardly ever did this," and "What, this old thing?"

    Funny, funny, but also a lot of truth, too. I might suggest another to get past unlucky 13:

    14. The answer to a lot of awkward questions is, "It fell off a truck."

    But you have to explain the Orangina to me. I thought thst light bulb drink was strictly French.

    Loved it, Melodie.

  2. I used 'it fell off a truck' in The Artful Goddaughter, book three, Leigh! And will add it to the list, with thanks. The best Orangina is the Blood Orange one, which I will bring for you if we ever get to a conference again.

  3. Olives. Lots of olives.
    And anyone who walks in the door gets offered food, and the lady of the house gets really insulted if they won't eat anything.

  4. Eve, you sound like a pro. At which point I should probably mention that I can get both my pastrami and mortadella wholesale, wink

  5. Well, Melodie, there's a lot of similarities between Greeks and Italians...

  6. Melodie, I'll take you up on the blood orange drink. That I've never tried.

    I wish I still had Orangina bottles… they'd make great patio lights.

  7. In a previous article about the Youngstown Mafia, I featured my inside informant, 'Carla'. She told a family story (there's a double meaning) about her father-in-law as a young man. He'd shot and killed someone and raced into the house. Cops, hot on his heels, burst in and, as the grandmother sat placidly knitting, searched the house. They could not find the murder weapon.

    After the frustrated police departed. Nonna, who'd been sitting on the gun during the search, rose, handed the pistol to her son, and instructed him to get rid of it.

  8. Oh Leigh, that is priceless! I shall find a way to use that story someday - wink.

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  10. I'm a writer and my main characters are Italian. one has lived in Italy his whole life and the other was born and raised in America after her parents moved when they had gotten married. I so want to write realistic Italian characters but I honestly have no idea how.


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