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Showing posts from February, 2012

Ten Stereotypes in Fiction that I Love to Hate ...or Hate to Admit I Love

I know you. You hate stereotypes in fiction.
That’s what I say too. Usually, it’s the truth.

The skinny heroine, the leading man who owns a mansion. The overbearing mother-in-law, the drunken stepfather. The husband who sleeps with his secretary, the strung-out rock star.

But I’ve come to realize that sometimes I find comfort in the stereotype. Some characters are not meant to stand out, but to fit in. Sometimes a character needs to say what is expected, do what is cliché. Every once in a while, vanilla is the right flavor.

And even though real people are as unique as their thumbprints, we don’t know them all well enough to see where they differ from “the norm.” We don’t know the quirks of everyone among our acquaintance, much less all those we have marginal contact with – and I’m pretty sure we don’t want to! (I think this is why complexity in every character can make a story feel just as contrived as those without any.)

So when do we use stereotype and when do we avoid it? To answer that…

Little Known, Well Loved

What do you love that no one’s ever heard about?  I’m sure there’s something.

I have my own list. There’s a talented guitarist named Doug Smith.  You would recognize one or two of his songs; they use them in TV and radio commercials.  But very few of you are likely to have heard his name.  How about George Winston, the pianist?  He’s great too, but if you know him, it’s not through major media outlets.

I love a line of Japanese skincare products sold by a company called DHC.  They are fantastic, but few of my friends even knew they existed before I badgered them into knowledge.

How about Elizabeth Gaskell – have you heard of her?  If you’re a reader, you may have.  She was a contemporary (and friend) of Charlotte Brontë who wrote some wonderful pieces of literature like North and South and Wives and Daughters.  But I didn’t hear about her during all my years of school.  I only discovered her as an adult when my love for literature sent me searching.

But what’s at the top of my little-know…