1. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Using stereotypes in writing

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by NaCl, Aug 30, 2008.

    Lucy E recently started a thread about the differences between her UK country (Wales) versus England, Scotland and N. Ireland. The thread drifted off topic into discussions about how pretty she is and that she looks older than her tender young age of 13. I did not comment, but her picture did make me think about stereotypes. With her blond hair, she "looks" like the typical beach-loving valley girl in Southern California with their sun bleached hair, fair complexion and very blue eyes . . . she shouldn't have a Welsh accent . . . every sentence is supposed to begin with the word "like". My stereotype of British women is much closer to Camilla Parker-Bowles with her mousy brown hair, pasty white skin and stuck-up arrogance. That would also include the Welsh. Scottish women would all be light-haired brunettes who dance great while holding their arms rigidly at their sides. Irish woman all have red hair and aggressive personalities. Tall blonds are from Sweden and black-haired, wasp figured women are from Spain. Get my drift? These are all stereotypes that I have seen employed in stories or movies . . . especially movies like the old James Bond stories.

    Now before you UK folks get your dander up at that Camilla comparison, I fully understand that this is a stereotype and it is completely inaccurate to paint all of any population by a single image type. I'm NOT justifying stereotypes. But they DO exist! And . . . many people in society rely on such beliefs in their daily lives. In the US, there are people who automatically distrust blacks. Some groups don't trust cops. Hill people in the Appalachian Mountains don't trust "city" folk. Many union workers view business owners and managers as cold-hearted, greedy people who abuse workers. These kinds of stereotypes are powerful and may be necessary within a story if a target market holds such beliefs. For example, if liberal young college students are the target market, they already hold stereotypes about blue-collar rural people who love to hunt and fish. That stereotype can be employed to make a story more "real", hence more compelling, for this target market.

    That said about stereotype, here's my question:

    Should writers employ stereotypes in stories to evoke emotional responses from the target readers? For example, if the author is writing a story about a union worker who suffers an egregious injury, partially caused by bad management of the work site, is the writer pandering to his intended audience (union workers) by portraying the business owners in stereotype - one that will help sell books to the union members, such as showing management as greedy, cutthroats who view workers as expendable? If it sells books to a target audience, is it acceptable to employ stereotyping? (BTW - Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn were loaded with such stereotypes.)

    Stereotyping - a literary tool to evoke emotional response from a target group of readers . . . what do you think? (I hope all Brits are not as homely as Camilla? LOL)
     
  2. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    It really depends on what the writers goal is. Some stereotypes are garbage, but others came into existence because there are people who do fit them. I suppose a writer has to decide whether or not it make sense for the story. But the character still has to be an individual regardless of how stereotypical s/he is.
     
  3. Last1Left
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    Last1Left Active Member

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    I think it's complicated in writing. Stereotypes are very similar to cliches in a sense. They're both widely-used, broad, mold people fit incorrectly (99% of the time) to others/other things based on purpose, standing, race, sex, etc. So, for example, a knight in black armor is evil. That is both cliched, because it's been done so many times, and a stereotype (who said all knights in black armor are evil?). In that sense, while a writer might pander to a group by playing off a stereotype, won't his work just be dubbed cliched and suffer because of it?

    I guess it's kinda a double-edged sword, but if you can evoke positive emotions from people using stereotypes, then why not?

    Personally though, I think it would be better all together for an author to write about people who are unjustly stereotyped, and how they struggle with it.
     
  4. Ungood
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    Ungood Contributing Member

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    I think there is a reason why these 'stereotypes' exist and they did not come from a void, nor could they continue of they were grossly inaccurate.

    In the end, using a stereotype does not injure or help your work.

    If you wanted to write a story outlining corporate corruption and abuse on blue collar workers, then you write that story. The fact that this would be all too believable to the blue collar worker who endures this 'life' and 'that situation' should tell you the accuracy of your stereotype.

    Just something to ponder.
     
  5. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    But if you are going to have a character who obviously fits a stereotype, it should make sense for the story and be done respectfully.
     
  6. NaCl
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    NaCl Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not all stereotypes are respectful, yet they are "truths" to the believers . . . and could influence book sales within regions or social groups.
     
  7. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't mean that the stereotype is respectful. I mean it should be done with respect for the person and where the stereotype comes from. If you are going to write a character who really does fit the stereotype, don't make fun of the stereotype or insult it. Just write the character.
     
  8. tehuti88
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    tehuti88 Contributing Member

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    I use stereotypes only if the particular character I'm writing about happens to fit into a stereotype. I focus on individuals, not generalities. Because of that I have no reason to consciously employ stereotypes to make a point.

    For example in one story of mine, there are two drunk American Indians who lounge about in the town basically doing nothing but finding things to drink. A stereotype. But they're only that way because that's their character--they are two lazy drunks. I didn't sit down one day and say, "I think I'm going to include two stereotyped American Indian drunk characters in my story to make a point." Because there is no point aside from showing these two individuals' personalities as drunks.

    None of the other American Indians in the story drink whatsoever. They're all individuals. They could fall into other stereotype groups at times, but that's because that's who they are.

    Ditto with any other stereotypes that might come across in my writing. I write them that way because, yes, as you say, some people really ARE stereotypes, but that's just the point. I don't make them that way for a reason, they just are. A stereotyped black man doesn't act that way to make an emotional point on the people around him. It's just his personality.

    Employing stereotypes on purpose in writing can have its good points, but for me, it'd fall too close to being emotionally manipulative on the reader, not to mention shallow. I like three-dimensional characters, even if they fit into a stereotype. (My two characters I mentioned above are not JUST drunk Indians, for example. They're people with all kinds of other personality quirks, who just happen to fall into a stereotype.)
     

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