Friday, June 14, 2013

Are You Writing Stereotypes?

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

I think it's far too easy for us to judge one another. We meet someone new, and, whether or not we mean to let it, they make a first impression that sticks. And maybe that changes over time if that person becomes a friend and we get to know him or her better. But if we don't, we often tend to label that person for all time. We think we know what he or she is all about.

We do this with types of people as well. The dumb jock. The dumb blonde. The homeschooled student. The band geek. The nerd. The Christian prude. The rich girl. The gay guy. The stoner. The, the, the.

People are so much more than any one label. As writers, it's easy for us to start out with these labels. We want to create a group of characters that are varied, so we might jot down a few of those labels I used up above to help ourselves create a diverse cast. And it might work at first. But if we stay there, with those cliche archetypes, we will write cliche characters: one dimensional characters.

Let's not.

Instead, challenge yourself to create a culture in your book, whether you're portraying a real culture from the world we live in or a made up culture in a fantasy setting. Culture is varied. It's rich. It's different. No one person on this planet is the same as another. Not through DNA and not through life experience. We are all human. And we are so much more than any one stereotype. Our gender, race, parents, siblings, income, religion, country, hometown, friends, teachers, sexuality, interests, profession, skills, life experiences, and quirks ... these things combined make up part of who a person is.

So play with that list. Don't just have The Nerd. Instead, have an only child whose parents are both doctors. Since it's always been the three of them at home, our guy has never really felt like a kid. He's been a little grown up from day one. And, frankly, he finds other kids his age obnoxious and juvenile. So rather than playing basketball or video games with his neighbor, he practices the piano, reads history books, and studies French so that when he travels with his parents to France each year, he can work on his accent.

Don't just have The Dumb Jock. Have a guy whose dad is hard on him. Nothing is ever good enough, though he's always gotten praise from his dad when he does good on the football field. So he works harder at football than anything. And, yeah, he doesn't study as much as he should. But as long as his dad is happy and not picking a fight... And maybe he does tend to pick on smaller guys at school, but it's what his dad does to him. It's good for those little guys. They'll be tougher because of it. Plus it makes our guy feel better to be able to dish it out some when he's always having to take if from his dad at home.

Do you see what I mean? No matter how you and I might label people, whether we mean to or not, no one on this planet is a label. We are all so much more.

Have you ever labeled someone? How might you try and get to know that person better?

And what about your characters? Do you have some cliche stereotypes in your book? How might you build them into flesh and blood people who have depth and are unique?

32 comments:

  1. Everyone in my book is supposed to 'look' like a stereotype at first glance, because I'm trying to show that people aren't--that's one of my themes, so this was a perfect post. :) I have a blonde, popular-looking girl who plays on the opposite side of the law for the fun of it, and a Christian boy who is textbook, but ends up doing something that... is really NOT textbook. It's fun seeing how you can turn the stereotypes right upside down.

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    1. That's a really cool idea, Mime! It sounds like a fun book to write (and read)!

      -Abby :D

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  2. I'm still creating all of my characters, but I'll definitely have to keep them in mind as I create them. Thinking back on it, I've noticed that I have stereotyped pretty all of much my characters in my past (and unfinished, for good reason) manuscripts. I would be like 'Okay. This character has this trait, and this character has this trait...' and so on. I'll have to try to keep this from happening in my WIP.
    Thanks for the great post, Jill!

    -Abby

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    1. I meant *keep this in mind

      -Abby :D

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    2. Just spend some more time with them and fins ways to make them more unique, Abigail. Sometimes this doesn't happen for me until my rewrite stage.

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  3. This is great! Thank you for writing this post! :D

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  4. I like to take stereotypes and tweak them -especially when I'm writing YA. I haven't been out of high school long and even though we all cringe when we say this, stereotypes are pretty real. I like how you took the stereotyped person an explained the "why" of it. That's kind of what I do. Lol. I always try to give my characters at least one unexpected quirk to make them even more original.

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    1. Sounds good, Ashley. The why is so important.

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  5. This post was beautiful. I LOVE it when you think you know a character... And then you find out something completely unexpected and it makes the story so much more interesting! I have someone who is a stereotype at first glance and then surprises my MC. I do think another character is a little too "dumb jock" now, upon reflection. I'll dig deeper into him in draft 2. Thanks, Jill!

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  6. I think Lost is especially brilliant at this. I mean, it starts off with a huge cast in the first place and just grows from there, and at first, when the plane's just crashed and everyone's running around panicking, they seem like they might all be stereotyped character archetypes, just so you remember all of them. But then, when you get to know them in the past through the flashbacks and in the present through how they react to everything that gets thrown at them, they drop the caricature identities and become characters. It's funny, because the show has one of the biggest recurring casts I can think of, and it's also one of the best at creating complex, real people. Definitely something I'll want to learn from for new characters.

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    1. They did do some interesting things with characters. John Locke, especially. That guy!!!

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  7. I agree with your post but also disagree in some respects. While I believe it's essential to not be cliche, a stereotyped character isn't always a bad thing. Wizards having wands is a stereotype and cliche. But it didn't do anything bad to Harry Potter.

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    1. Is a wizard having a wand considered stereotypical or cliche? It seems to me that's just part of a wizard. Same as a werewolf being human sometimes or vampires drinking blood. While you can sometimes twist creatures like that for the sake of a story, I don't think of Harry having a wand being a cliche.

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    2. I'm with Stephanie. Although, I do like it when they mix it up a little bit. Like, keep the silver thing for werewolves, but scrap the only-changing-during-a-full-moon thing. And add something original. Rowling kept the wands, but they don't all walk around in blue starry pointy hats, and they don't all look like Gandalf ;)

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    3. A wizard having a wand isn't cliche so much as the wizened wizard with a two-foot long beard. And, yes, Dumbledore had both those traits, but he had so much more. Rowling might have started with something cliche, but she didn't leave any of her characters there. She made them all so much deeper.

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  8. Hahaha! My book? It's called "Different." The whole main point is that everyone has their own story...and it's all wonderful. So this is perfect. :) Thanks! This post is kind of a...a "life" post, too. Not just writing. :)

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    1. Cool, Amanda! Yeah, it's a good life lesson too. :-)

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  9. Oh wow! What a great reminder! Like Amanda said, not just in writing but also in life. Thanks :)

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  10. I don't use stereotypes. Or rather, I've consciously tried not to. It seems to me that a lot of authors (although people in general do this too, we just don't see it as much) stereotype, mainly because they don't know what such people are really like. If you're an adult writing YA, it's going to generally be easier to fall back on the misconceptions you had from that time, and assume. Whenever I read about, say, the band geek who wears braces or the dumb jock, it makes me wonder if the authors really got the time to know those people. If only...

    I've tried to portray my characters honestly. I think it's easier, in some sense, because I don't have a "template" to fall back on. Since there aren't stereotypes in sci-fi(ish), dystopian, futuristic literature, it's easier to portray the characters as people. I do need to make the antagonist less stereotypical, though. I'll work on that in my second draft.

    Thanks for the post, Jill!

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  11. I think I'm doing a pretty good job of this in mine right now because I can't really pick out stereotypes in it. I'll definitely keep this post in mind when I'm editing though just in case. Thanks for the post!

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  12. Interesting view!! I've never thought of it that way and I really like your examples!

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  13. I love killing stereotypes. I have a lot of female warriors and have a lot of the guys be the "sane" ones who keep them in check. As a gifted/talented student, I do my best to show that G/T kids aren't all STEM nerds and geeks and 4.0 students... actually, most of us aren't any of those. I like pulling stuff from various mythologies and various cultures. I don't stick with normal sports. (Japanese swordfighting ROCKS.) I have blonde ninjas with European ancestors.

    I think it's important to look at everybody as different and to show various cultures and things in writing. We shape a lot of what people see and think.... It's important to make sure that it represents everybody.

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  14. This is a great life lesson and writing tip rolled into one. Great post, Jill! :)

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  15. I love playing around with stereotypes, especially the Rebellious Princess, but I always have a good back story to the stereotype. One of my rebellious princesses is rebellious because her Fairy Godmother gave her the gift of Best Swordsman in the world by mistake (it was supposed to go to her twin brother). Another book, Rebellious Princess Syndrome is a real disease which she contracts. I consider stereotypes a good place to start, but I never leave them there.

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  16. I don't think I was aware of any stereotypes in my stories, but now that I think about it, I'm sure there is.

    I do have a jock in one of my stories but that one is really not focused on his football, as you'd expect. It's actually about his girlfriend (Who was murdered) being the donor to a heart transplant patient.
    I reveal later on that my MC Dierk, has actually been a cutter in the past. This one's not finished, so I'm not exactly sure where it's going. I admit, it is pretty deep, but a lot of my stories are. Anyway, great post!

    (MJ)

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  17. hmmmm....

    the introverted girl- she was hurt once and she doesn't want to be hurt again.
    I need to think of one for my MMC... hmmmm....

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