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Adagio
01-18-2010, 09:33 AM
The librarian, the middle-age woman, the shark-lawyer, the teenager (sulking), the PI (private investigator), the dull accountant ... you name it. Sooner or later we'll come across with one of those character-portraits, stereotyped to death. Is there a way to avoid the cliche? Of course there is, but then why do they crop up in novels so often? It's easier for the writer or the writer thinks it's easier for the reader to picture the said character if described within the known, and overused, cliche?

In movies, too. I remember Primary Colors, with John Travolta, in which appears a disheveled, clumsy librarian tripping down the stairs (can't remember the details of the plot).

One exception is in Anna Quindlen's Rise and Shine, a novel I loved -- a teenager boy who isn't sullen, doesn't think that everyone except himself is stupid, and is quite a lovable character.

I would very much like to learn your opinion on this topic -- it bothers me for quite some time, because I don't want to fall into the trap. Or are we, humans, archetypal?

Thank you for reading my thread,

Adagio

PoppysInARow
01-18-2010, 09:38 AM
Well, I think YA does break a lot of the "sullen" teenager sterotypes. But they just have to, pretty much.

I don't think a lot of people do it on purpose. I think that's just the first thing to come to mind, so they go with it. You just feel as though it's "right" for that character.

And I think a lot of people are lazy.

Adagio
01-18-2010, 10:40 AM
Well, I think YA does break a lot of the "sullen" teenager sterotypes. But they just have to, pretty much.

I don't think a lot of people do it on purpose. I think that's just the first thing to come to mind, so they go with it. You just feel as though it's "right" for that character.

And I think a lot of people are lazy.

Oh, good! I don't read too many YA, which is a shame. I promise to pick up some -- there's so much to read! As for your last sentence, I did write "lazy" and then erased it. :D

PoppysInARow
01-18-2010, 10:46 AM
I think it's completely true. And I'm guilty of it as well. It's easy to write the "spunky" heroine with her "sullen" teenage sidekick and the "meglomaniac" villian. Instead of coming up with actual traits, people fall into already established roles.

I mean, I love a spunky fantasy heroine, but I think I've seen quite a few too many. Gimmie something interesting. Like an alcoholic with kleptomania. :D

But even YA authors are guilty of the depressed teenager. I've seen it in some books. But it's also about what your book is about too. You can't have a happy character is you're writing about teenage suicide.

I guess that's four cents, then. :Huh:

Claudia Gray
01-18-2010, 10:46 AM
I guess the question to ask is whether it's a stereotype or an archetype. The first can be a simple matter of phoning it in, but certain character types have a kind of power -- like the lonely, hard-boiled PI. Yeah, it's been done before and will be done again, for one basic reason: Readers respond to it.

I think as long as your character is three-dimensional in his or her own right, they can comfortably represent an archetype instead of slumming as a stereotype.

maestrowork
01-18-2010, 02:48 PM
Give the archetypical character a real life and emotions, and something the readers don't expect (whether it's stereotypical or non-stereoptypical -- spunky heroine or wall flower). For example, your hardboiled PI turns out to be a part-time drag queen. Or the sullen teenager has two million Facebook friends... contradictions are good; but you also have to be careful about making them quirky/contradictory just for the sake of it -- the readers can see through that as well.

Linda Adams
01-18-2010, 04:05 PM
Is there a way to avoid the cliche? Of course there is, but then why do they crop up in novels so often? It's easier for the writer or the writer thinks it's easier for the reader to picture the said character if described within the known, and overused, cliche?

In movies, too. I remember Primary Colors, with John Travolta, in which appears a disheveled, clumsy librarian tripping down the stairs (can't remember the details of the plot).

I'm betting the reason the stereotypes crop up so often in novels is because of the influence of TV and movies. On film, stereotypes are the rule rather than the exception because of the time limitations. If you only have 40 minutes to get the show on the air and resolved, a stereotype provides instant recognition without spending 30 minutes to develop the character. That's why you end up with actors typecast in to certain roles like a heavy.

And it's equally easy, if the writer never seen a hooker or a lawyer, to slide right into what they've seen on film because that's where their knowledge starts. So maybe the first question in an effort to eliminate them is, "Where is the image of this character coming from?"

aadams73
01-18-2010, 04:16 PM
As George Clooney said in Up in the Air: "I stereotype. It's faster."

LuckyH
01-18-2010, 04:55 PM
Readers expect to be confronted with boring accountants and hard-nosed detectives, if you alter them around too much, they are no longer real. Itís difficult to get the balance right and I admire the latest literary transformation with Meyers lovable vampire.

Iíve written of boring accountants with murderous sidelines and hard-nosed detectives why cry a lot, but thereís always the risk of losing authenticity.

I suppose Iím just the stereotype writer, I type a lot but donít sell enough.

Jamesaritchie
01-18-2010, 06:27 PM
Stereotypes are very good for humor, and TV most often portrays characters as stereotypes for the humor.

Other than this, I don't think it's difficult to recognize and avoid stereotypes. If you have to question whether a character is or isn't a stereotype, he probably is.

At the same time, a lawyer is not a stereotype because he's a shark. He's a stereotype because he's one dimensional.

This, I think, is the danger. Three dimensional characters are unlikely to be stereotypes, unless you work very hard at making them so.

ChaosTitan
01-18-2010, 07:33 PM
At the same time, a lawyer is not a stereotype because he's a shark. He's a stereotype because he's one dimensional.

This, I think, is the danger. Three dimensional characters are unlikely to be stereotypes, unless you work very hard at making them so.

This, exactly.

Maxinquaye
01-18-2010, 08:30 PM
If you need an ambulance chasing lawyer, you put an ambulance chasing lawyer into the story. Done deal. It might be stereotypical, but that's only a danger if you don't look at WHY he is an ambulance chasing lawyer. If you can answer the WHY, then you've taken one step away from the stereotype, and gone on to have a 3d character.

If you can also answer HOW, WHAT EXACTLY, WHEN, and HOW DOES THAT AFFECT HIM/HER, you're well on your way to not have a stereotype. But of course, you can't just answer those easily. You really have to think, and give a detailed and truthful answer. And that's the hard part.

ETA: Unless the character is a major one, but more of a prop, then go for stereotype to your heart's content. Sometimes stereotype is a valid prop in the story. But if the character is to do more than show up once and be an obstacle, think deeply about the questions.

cwfgal
01-19-2010, 07:01 AM
I like to use stereotypes to surprise the reader and keep them guessing. Hint at a stereotype and it will often lead the reader to make certain assumptions...assumptions that may or may not hold true. It can be a particularly valuable tool when writing a mystery.

Beth

kaitie
01-19-2010, 02:07 PM
I like to use stereotypes to surprise the reader and keep them guessing. Hint at a stereotype and it will often lead the reader to make certain assumptions...assumptions that may or may not hold true. It can be a particularly valuable tool when writing a mystery.

Beth

I try to do this as well, though I'm not sure to what extent I succeed. I often go into something with an understanding of the stereotypes and then try not to follow through. I styled my villain this time around based pretty much on what I didn't want him to become (one day I want to write a villain's POV using the Evil Overlord list as a reference, but that's another story. ;)). My characters are superheroes, but they're also not your typical superheroes. I'm not sure how much depth a few of them are getting (large cast means I can't go in depth with everyone, just the important ones), but I still think they don't really fit what you'd expect to see in a comic book.

I do have one character who is pretty much an outright stereotype. He's a publicity agent and basically fits all the typical stereotypes, but he's also comic relief and and he never really shows up in the story, he's just talked about occasionally on the periphery.

I do admit, however, that I'm always a bit afraid that readers would read one of my books and then be talking on the internet about how stereotypical the characters are and that the plot is completely formulaic and cliche. I think I get nervous about it because I work very hard to consciously not be that way.

NeuroFizz
01-19-2010, 05:04 PM
The best way to break stereotyping is to dive deep--way beyond occupation or appearance or superficial behaviors. As James and others have pointed out, the more character depth the author unveils through the actions and reactions of the player, the less that character is constrained by the rigid bondaries of stereotypes.

Bartholomew
01-19-2010, 08:33 PM
I guess the question to ask is whether it's a stereotype or an archetype. The first can be a simple matter of phoning it in, but certain character types have a kind of power -- like the lonely, hard-boiled PI. Yeah, it's been done before and will be done again, for one basic reason: Readers respond to it.

I think as long as your character is three-dimensional in his or her own right, they can comfortably represent an archetype instead of slumming as a stereotype.

I agree. I think the difference between archetype and stereotype is the writer's ability to sell me a character.

crazynance
01-20-2010, 12:24 AM
I especially admire the way Terry Pratchett is able, in a completely alternate reality, to explain the stereotype and how his character doesn't fit the type.

If you have a character who should be a stereotype, but doesn't fit the pattern, wouldn't that increase reader sympathy, because he wouldn't even fit in with his misfit buddies?

Adagio
01-20-2010, 01:40 AM
I especially admire the way Terry Pratchett is able, in a completely alternate reality, to explain the stereotype and how his character doesn't fit the type.

If you have a character who should be a stereotype, but doesn't fit the pattern, wouldn't that increase reader sympathy, because he wouldn't even fit in with his misfit buddies?

Where does he explain the stereotype thing? I'm very curious, and very interested. Also, I must confess, and I do feel bad, that I haven't read anything by Terry Pratchett. So I guess, my TBR list is growing, and growing!

Adagio :gone:

Adagio
01-20-2010, 01:43 AM
And it's equally easy, if the writer never seen a hooker or a lawyer, to slide right into what they've seen on film because that's where their knowledge starts. So maybe the first question in an effort to eliminate them is, "Where is the image of this character coming from?"

Good point. Thank you, Linda!

Adagio

Adagio
01-20-2010, 10:32 PM
Just found in the New York Times --

A pair of sociologists think they may have an answer [to the question why most professors are liberal and why so few conservatives want to be professors]: typecasting. Conjure up the classic image of a humanities or social sciences professor, the fields where the imbalance is greatest: tweed jacket, pipe, nerdy, longwinded, secular ó and liberal. Even though that may be an outdated stereotype, it influences younger peopleís ideas about what they want to be when they grow up.

From the article Professor Is a Label That Leans to the Left, by Patricia Cohen, published January 17, 2010

For those who wish to read all the article, the link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/18/arts/18liberal.html?em

Jamesaritchie
01-21-2010, 01:38 AM
Just found in the New York Times --

A pair of sociologists think they may have an answer [to the question why most professors are liberal and why so few conservatives want to be professors]: typecasting. Conjure up the classic image of a humanities or social sciences professor, the fields where the imbalance is greatest: tweed jacket, pipe, nerdy, longwinded, secular ó and liberal. Even though that may be an outdated stereotype, it influences younger peopleís ideas about what they want to be when they grow up.

From the article Professor Is a Label That Leans to the Left, by Patricia Cohen, published January 17, 2010

For those who wish to read all the article, the link:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/18/arts/18liberal.html?em

Well, the trouble with stereotypes is that they generally have several large grains of truth.

blacbird
01-21-2010, 01:46 AM
I especially admire the way Terry Pratchett is able, in a completely alternate reality, to explain the stereotype and how his character doesn't fit the type.

Terry Pratchett writes satire and humor. You can get away with a lot more stereotyping in satire than you can in almost any other narrative style. In fact, it's almost demanded.

caw

NeuroFizz
01-21-2010, 01:53 AM
My experience in university life has seen about an equal split of professors between the two political parties.

Lady Ice
01-22-2010, 10:55 PM
Well, the trouble with stereotypes is that they generally have several large grains of truth.

Indeed. If the reader cannot conceivably imagine the character as having a certain job (weedy submissive policeman, greasy spotty model) it takes the reader out of the book.

singsebastian
12-23-2010, 05:24 AM
take the stereotype and turn it on its head. A librarian who rages and is quite precise. A Lawyer who's scared of Abulances and never, ever goes near one. A Villian who's father has control of the world, but he doesn't want that control so he comes up with a way to start a civil war so that his father loses the world and so on.