Stereotypes have a long history in arts. Certain characteristics are used to portray certain countries, races, religions or lifestyles. While there may have once been a grain of truth in them – shown by the fact that we actually recognise them for what they represent – they are generally avoided.
Well, I have come to realise many writers still, in fact, use stereotypes.
But these aren’t the normal sorts, oh no, no, no. These are specific and personal to each writer.
I came to this realisation when I was looking through some older works of a certain famous author and came to the conclusion that the father characters or fathers of characters of this man fall into one of two types – over-protective hover-parents, or abusive, obnoxious, nasty pieces of work.
This inspired me, and another author’s various recurring heroes all have square jaws and are men of few words.
Another author depicted all the main character women in her stories as only children or there is no mention of siblings at all. Same author also shows her single men as nasty, vicious, amoral predators.
And one final one has a dog in every longer story who is a loyal and constant companion. In some it’s brave, in some it’s just there, and in one it’s there at the start when the main character is having a happy childhood.
There is an inevitable conclusion here, one that doesn’t take a psychology degree to work out – how we are exposed to certain peoples informs our writing about those peoples. For example, a person whose only contact with females was his mother, grandmother and school teachers may well have an authoritarian view of women that comes across in his characters. It could also be simpler than that – a non-smoker will have trouble writing a character that is a two pack a day man.
It’s not impossible, of course… but it will take a lot of research to make sure these things are realistic.
This made me take a bit of a look at my own writing, and, sure enough, they’re there.
All the police characters are over-bearing, pompous and either corrupt, ineffective or bumbling. Even when they do manage to solve the case, it’s through some-one else’s efforts. Now I know a few policemen, and away from their jobs some of them are decent people. But it’s on the job when I am yet to meet one who has not been officious, rude and plain nasty.
My other stereotype comes from I know not where – a lot of the main characters, especially in first drafts, are whiny and pathetic males who can’t seem to be able to do anything right and bumble on through until they somehow do the right thing and everything turns out in the end. This one, though, I have been aware of for a while and I have to make a conscious effort not to let that caricature infiltrate my stories too much any more.
So I guess the stereotypes are always going to be there, they’re just going to be more subtle, more personal and probably mean nothing to anyone apart from the author, and, really, is that a bad thing?