PDA

View Full Version : Do people expect your characters to fit the stereotypes?



Bespectacled Nerd
04-21-2012, 12:41 PM
I've run into this sometimes when friends have beta-read my work (thankfully not a lot, though). I'll have a POC character (or sometimes it's a disabled, LGBT, or any other minority charater), and people will be surprised when the character doesn't fit the stereotypes the reader already had in mind.

I've mostly run into this with Native American characters. The one that sticks out in my mind is a character I wrote who's a teenage Lakota girl with the power to communicate with computers (it was a superhero story). A friend was reading a short scene I wrote between the character and her brother (who had the power to create illusions), and she straight-up said to me "Okay, I get the brother's power, but a technopathic Indian just sounds weird to me."

I just wanted to know if anyone else had run into this, and if anyone knows a good way to respond to it.

FoamyRules
04-21-2012, 01:18 PM
Sadly, I've also ran into this problem as well and technically I still don't know how to respond to it but I do know that most readers don't like reading stereotypes especially if the character character is of their own race, religion, etc.

Stereotypes aren't truth and there's nothing more annoying than a character who fits into the stereotypes we hate. It's best to write about real, meaningful characters that readers will care about. Just my opinion of course :)

Snitchcat
04-21-2012, 05:40 PM
I haven't run into this problem. But then again, I guess it's more related to the genre I'm writing -- fantasy.

However, I have encountered this type of reaction to myself, when I'm talking to colleagues. According to them, I'm supposed to be very English. And to my English colleagues, I'm supposed to be typical Chinese.

My flippant but real response (if circumstances allow): turn their assumptions upside down and confuse them entirely.

Else, I remain true to myself. I'm okay with that, and if they're not, then so be it. They don't have to live with me; I do. By extension, that includes my work -- office work and writing. They don't have to live with the consequences of what I do or write; I do. :)

kuwisdelu
04-21-2012, 09:56 PM
"Okay, I get the brother's power, but a technopathic Indian just sounds weird to me."

I suppose she's never met me.

I'm only half though. Probably my technopathicness comes from my dad's side.

Kitty Pryde
04-22-2012, 07:43 AM
Yes. If a minor character is a person of color but is not sufficiently so in their eyes as they lack stereotypical traits. Or they feel that a character with autism wouldn't be able to...have a deep conversation about feelings, have a boyfriend, have a job. And they're wrong. They haven't met enough people yet.

And yet when we give fictional characters traits, to a certain extent those traits are stand-ins for other traits. So, when people see a character with a disability, they are expecting at least some helplessness. When a character has autism, autism is a signifier of Inability To Connect To Other People. Even though back in the real world, that's not really the case and it's a far more complicated matter. When people see a brown indigenous character, they are expecting them to dispense earthy wisdom to a plucky white person. One thing is equivalent to another in their heads, and sometimes I feel like other books/shows/movies are to blame.

ETA: The point I am trying to make! Is that! In my mind, even though it's near-universal established storytelling practice, we ought to fight against the practice of one thing standing in for all of its stereotypes. It's troubling AND lazy. Let's make all our things stand for new things!

Jessianodel
04-22-2012, 08:07 AM
Yeah, I've encountered it. I believe it came to a head when my tough-guy MC started caring about some of the other characters and my reader said that he acted like a wimp in a certain scene. I have yet to encounter it based on a racial stance but I can imagine that as well. However sometimes you can use the stereotypes to your advantage. A girl with technopathic abilities isn't that unusual. But if her being native american makes her different, then suddenly the entire character is new and it can make the superhero idea new as well.

So I guess bottom line is stereotypes exist but you can go against them and use it to help your story. And, y'know, fight stereotypes along the way. :)

kuwisdelu
04-22-2012, 09:08 AM
When people see a brown indigenous character, they are expecting them to dispense earthy wisdom to a plucky white person.

We technopathic Injuns dispense earthy and non-earth wisdom via message board. :D

We'll become obsolete when they make a Zunglish version of Siri, though.

Hamilton
04-22-2012, 01:16 PM
I think one way to handle it might be to actual acknowledge the existence of the stereotype in the work itself. For example, a character makes an offhand comment about how 'ironic' it is that a Native American has technopathic abilities, and receives a scathingly sarcastic response. Something as unobtrusive as two lines of dialogue or a thought could make a reader stop and think about the assumptions they were making about a character based on stereotypes.

thebloodfiend
04-22-2012, 09:15 PM
People assume that my characters are white until I say otherwise, but I've never had your problem. tbh, I think I've only encountered it in rl.

Kitty27
04-23-2012, 12:29 AM
I've had many odd reactions.

1. Why do you write so many Black female MC's?

Well,damn. *looks at self* I have NO idea.

2. I write epic fantasy and I have characters of every race. I've heard everything from no Elves are Black( as if the person isn't aware they aren't real in the first place!) to my White female queen character being too Alpha acting and needs to be more feminine and subservient as those are traits White women have. Chile.

3. I have a graphic novel called Hell's Gangsters,sort of Tales From The Hood meets Menace II Society. It reflects how I grew up and things I witnessed. But I have friends who are totally against it. They believe it will further reinforce stereotypes about Black people being thugs,etc. I simply tell them that people who think negatively about Blacks don't care if you grew up bougie and went to Howard. They lump us all together.

A good way to respond depends on your personality. Most of you seem like nice souls and would probably correct the person in a nice way or start a discussion about why they feel that way.

One day, I shall be on that level.

I am not a nice person when people talk foolish and will snatch their wig if they tell me a Native American character can't be telepathic and they don't "get" it.

Tex_Maam
04-23-2012, 09:18 AM
I'm not an expert, but I get the feeling that we (the media-consuming people of the present day) are schooled to expect that any story that stars a non-"ordinary" character will revolve around or spotlight that character's particular differences.

For example, from what I can tell, a movie starring a fat protagonist can have one of two plotlines: 1) the MC is ruthlessly picked on because of his/her size, teaching us the audience that judging people on their looks is bad, mmkay, or 2) the MC's fat is symptomatic of his/her other problems (usually slobby, loser, lack of direction, no ambition, etc.), and is used as an easy visual way of showing how the character has changed by the end of the story. A story where the MC is fat from start to finish and it just doesn't matter much is a hell of a rare thing (*especially* if the MC is female, which is a whole other story.)

So even though (I dare to hope!) most people consuming the stories aren't actively racist or sexist or sizeist or any other -ist, a lot of them seem to get powerfully confused when a role they are used to having filled by a size-8 hetero reasonably-attractive white person isn't, and they can't figure out why. "Well if the story's not about the plight of the Native Americans in the face of white oppression, and it's not about using secret-awesome exclusive Indian-powers to save the day, then why would you bother having a Native character at all?"

I think Hamilton and Kitty have it right on the mark - in cases like these, some rigorous remedial wig-snatching (in person or in the book itself) can only serve to enlighten the needy.

JeffRen
04-27-2012, 10:24 PM
I have a minority MC in a first person POV YA novel. He addresses the idiotic racist comments thrown his way, and deals with them through humor and a great outlook on life, thus refuting the negative stereotypes.

But the race issues have nothing to do with the theme - so I guess some people might say, "So why is he Asian?"

names
04-29-2012, 06:38 AM
I don't think it affects character decisions. Sure there are some stereotypes that might have some different goals though so that could be something to look into.

ViolettaVane
04-29-2012, 06:54 AM
Yes. Don't want to go into more detail than that, but it's very angry-making.

Ken
04-29-2012, 08:03 PM
I've run into this sometimes when friends have beta-read my work (thankfully not a lot, though). I'll have a POC character (or sometimes it's a disabled, LGBT, or any other minority charater), and people will be surprised when the character doesn't fit the stereotypes the reader already had in mind.

I've mostly run into this with Native American characters. The one that sticks out in my mind is a character I wrote who's a teenage Lakota girl with the power to communicate with computers (it was a superhero story). A friend was reading a short scene I wrote between the character and her brother (who had the power to create illusions), and she straight-up said to me "Okay, I get the brother's power, but a technopathic Indian just sounds weird to me."

I just wanted to know if anyone else had run into this, and if anyone knows a good way to respond to it.

... I think the thing to have done in this case would have been to ask why they thought that. Then you could have pointed out the flaw in their logic and maybe let it go at that. They are your friend after all and I think you owe them that and owe yourself that, rather than brushing them off just like that. Sometimes faults are correctable and not deeply ingrained. All of us have got faults of one sort or another and I think we're called upon to help one another out and weed out the flaws, especially in friendships and the like.

Saronai
05-22-2012, 02:50 AM
I write epic fantasy and I have characters of every race. I've heard everything from no Elves are Black( as if the person isn't aware they aren't real in the first place!) to my White female queen character being too Alpha acting and needs to be more feminine and subservient as those are traits White women have.

This set me to giggling, a very good point. I actually had an argument recently with a male friend about whether or not spiderman could have been black in the new movie (I actually didn't expect an argument because nothing about Peter Parker tells me he has to be white other than the standard for creating super heroes when he came out). Elves most certaintly can be black...in fact, I think ElfQuest had some! And they don't have to be dark elf evil black either (that's a trope I personally get really tired of and I'm white *sigh*).

As to your queen, wow, I wonder who the heck told you that. Whether your alpha queen is likable or hateable, I would personally appreciate her not being stereotypically subservient. It's another stereotype I get very tired of. If it serves no purpose and makes no sense in the story, minor character or not, I'll put it down.

Sorry, sidetracked.

Bespecktacled Nerd's question is the main reason for my response. I wanted to say that I'm white (though admittedly there is Cherokee in my ancestry--no, really, there is! My great grandmother was a Cherokee woman who grew up on the reservation and ran away with my great grandfather and his clan of Irish outlaws...no joking), and I think the character idea sounds fun and exciting.

It definitely called to mind a blog I've been following for awhile that you might also be interested in. He's a Lakota (if memory serves) like your character, and a journalist and he deals with the whole but you're Indian, where's your feathers and tomahawk thing on a regular basis. He also knows what it's like back on the reservation (some can be really bad for many reasons, especially for women).

I'm sure you're already doing some research of your own (especially if your character also grew up or spent/spends some time on the reservation/visits it), but you might find it helpful anyway. I know I have and I don't have a Lakota character in my works.

I am not a mascot (http://iamnotamascot.blogspot.com/) by Simon Moya-Smith. I will warn you, however, he has a tendency to use strong language and some may find certain parts of what he writes harsh and abrasive. I think if I were ever the target of one of his rants by asking an innocent but ignorant question I'd probably cry lol. Usually by the end of the post though he's ironed it out and explained his irritations.