Part II: Stereotypes in Writing or Reading: Love Them or Not?

 

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A long while back I made a fun post about stereotypes and received some good feedback, some positive and some negative. I wrote that post long before I had the idea for this new series. Many new readers have come along since that time and I was wondering how you feel about stereotypes.

There are those who are deeply offended by stereotypes. I am a most liberal-minded person, supporting both a diverse population and multifaceted lifestyles. I am seriously opposed to discrimination. Yet, there is a part of me that recognizes stereotypes exist for a reason. They are how we categorize typical characteristics. Now, those of us who like to think we are all unique don’t always appreciate that practice.

I hear author experts give guidance to aspiring writers to avoid stereotypes so as not to be cliché. Our characters should be profoundly unique and original to demonstrate our clever creativeness. But I think stereotypes are useful in creating a mental image of a person without going into elaborate detail. Sure, give your stereotyped image his/her own voice, behaviors that are specific to that individual. Is it a cardinal sin to pluck a stereotype out of a comedian’s routine and develop a novel character?

My crime series is filled with stereotypes, deliberately. It is not a comedy caper series, but the stereotypes do provide for some comic relief in an otherwise serious story. There is a transsexual biracial woman, a sweet, smart, petite Asian girl, a loner P.I., biker dudes, a nurse, a gay neighbor, a dragon lady, a sugar daddy and his trophy wife, a redneck, a philandering politician, a flaming fag, a few cougars, a couple of Jamaican Rastafarian-type dudes, a few gamblers…I could go on with this. I’m not speaking of racial profiling in society or condemning/degrading any group. These are fictional characters.

I am sorry if my words have caused offense. My point is; with these few words I have already created images in your mind of this cast of characters without revealing too very much about them. Sure, my characters are unique in that they have been carefully created to play their roles in the story. They have their own voice and their own individual identities. I was not looking for an easy way out, but they fit the story set in a very diverse community well. And there are also characters in the story that I have created specifically to defy the stereotypical images people have.

For an example of how these images sale books, the rocket scientist specifically looks for regional authors who write about bumbling criminals. The wacko, goofy, redeeming villain grabs his attention in a book blurb every time.

That being said, how do you feel about stereotypes?

Would you be able to enjoy a book that has them?

Would you deliberately avoid reading a book if you knew it was laced with them?

It is for marketing reasons that I ask your opinions.

Reminder, Red Clay and Roses remains on sale for 99 cents for the digital copy on Amazon through Saturday, July 12th. All proceeds are matched and go to the Russell Home for atypical children.

29 thoughts on “Part II: Stereotypes in Writing or Reading: Love Them or Not?

  1. Charlaine Harris was pretty successful using stereotypes, so why shouldn’t it work for you too? 🙂 I’d say a whole bunch of people enjoyed her books, including me.

  2. I think that stereotypes make a good base on which to build a character, but the characters have to have their own personality.

    For example, one of the main supporting characters in my books is Cobb Russwin. Russwin is a stereotypical Federal Agent He’s a big corn-fed Midwestern boy in a crewcut and a cheap suit, a former Marine Corps MP. I very deliberately made him look and sound and act like all of the cardboard cut-out feds you see in any random action movie.

    Despite that, I feel that he has his own voice, a kind of tarnished idealism shot through with marbled veins of cynicism. I like to think that I’ve explored what makes him who he is, what has led to the choices he makes. The fact that he is solid and predictable makes him a good anchor for my main character–when James needs a practical solution to a problem, he seeks out Russwin.

    • That’s precisely what I am speaking of. And it is often harder to do than to create an average Joe. It takes some writing savvy to develop a stereotype. I loved Russwin in your book (as much as you can love a guy like that) and that mid-western Federal Agent image is how he rings in mind. Your characters were all memorable.

  3. I agree with you to an extent: “I think stereotypes are useful in creating a mental image of a person without going into elaborate detail.” However, for me, writers must go beyond to create 3-dimensional characters as in Lee Martin’s memoir Such a Life or Diane Keaton’s Then Again. We’re talking non-fiction in these examples, but the same applies to fiction in my opinion.

    • I always think of the book “The Help”. Without the stereotypical image of the black southern maid, that book would never had made it. Yet, it turned into so much of a story. Thanks for your comments.

  4. Haha, you already know my opinion about this. One thing that I think is important that I don’t think I mentioned before is how important it is who is doing the stereotyping (to use your word). White straight people do view these subjects from a position of privilege although most times it’s also a position of unawareness of that privilege. That said, I am not wild about “political correctness.” But I like to be sensitive to offense of those who do not come from a position of privilege within the culture–because I’ve seen the hurt it can cause. It can be fun when everyone is a stereotype in a story if it’s all done consciously, tongue in cheek, and with the intention of blowing up or exploring those stereotypes.

  5. I’m thinking there must be a better word for what you’re describing. We all carry images in our heads and there are racial/social/cultural stereotypes that abound in historical and contemporary popular culture. So when you list your characters: a biker dude, a transsexual, etc., it’s going to elicit images for everyone, I assume. It’s up to you to then make the characters three dimensional and more than a stereotype. So, if the characters in a book (or movie) are stereotypes that have no depth, then no, I wouldn’t be interested. If they are well-thought out and interesting–then I don’t care if they are labeled as redneck, maid, biker dude, Asian woman, or whatever. (It’s like a how characters are labeled in a play or movie for casting, but then it’s up to the writer and the actors to make the characters into something more.)

    Charlaine Harris’s Sookie Stackhouse and the people around her might be stereotypical at first glance–the busty barmaid, the gay friend– but then you discover she’s telepathic, has fairy blood, and the people around her are vampires, werewolves, etc. And if they weren’t appealing characters, the books wouldn’t be so popular.

    • Thanks Merril. You always have such intelligent responses. I appreciate that. There are a few ancillary characters with little depth, but the main characters have it. Being a crime novel, there is nothing paranormal about it though. Nothing quite that interesting. I wish I could think of another word. Just the WORD stereotype conjures up a negative image.

      • Yes, I agree the word “stereotype” does have a negative connotation. I think there must be another word for what you mean, but I can’t seem to come up with it. Trope isn’t quite it either. I don’t think you even need to consider the word stereotype though. You’ve come up with characters that COULD be considered stereotypical, but [I’m assuming:) ]are not because you’ve developed them.

  6. I recently read Hosseini’s Thousand Splendid Suns and loved it because it had a beautiful balance of both. Sure, you had the abusive husband who only wanted sons and viewed women as possessions, but you also saw men of all depths as you would in any sliver of society. It was a masterpiece.

  7. I admit that I like to mess with the stereotypes. I wrote about a young gay guy who was a real macho hockey player but he wanted to be a chef. Another guy is loud and proud, seeming effeminate but he’s a dancer and he’s strong and he wants to work in a sawmill. The victim who becomes a hero, the child with a different type of wisdom – I could go on and on. I think the stereotypes help us quickly paint the broad brushstrokes but when we throw a wrench into those stereotypes – well, it is then that are characters become real. No on is a stereotype in real life. Good post. Really got me thinking about what I wanted to say.

    • Thanks Francis. These are really interesting observations. I can’t deny that my characters are more cliche than unique. But It is probably even harder to get that down first and then change that perception once you have established it in a character.

  8. Everything in moderation. If it’s done well an author can get away with it. I don’t do it much, but I’m not opposed to a bleach-blonde, gum smacking, ditsy secretary in a mini-skirt and heels named Nikki or Candy. No offense If I’ve just described anyone. Actually, I have her in my latest novel. 🙂

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