Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Stereotypes in Writing

I am guest blogging at another site today about stereotypes in writing. Something I didn't mention in the guest blog is how I came to arrive at this topic, and it ain't really pretty.

I received a review for Gumbo Justice a long time ago (maybe 2009, possibly 2010) from a writer/reviewer who didn't say anything too good about the novel, but that I showed "promise" as a writer. A backhanded compliment for sure, but with this guy, I took it and ran with it.

One of his complaints was that he felt my protagonist was cliche. Ryan, at that time in life, was a hard drinking, competitive, chain-smoking prosecutor, trying to fight demons from the past by getting drunk and taking attention where she could get it, all the while trying to stomp on the other prosecutors on the climb to the top.

The reviewer thought she had been written before, like all the MEN who have been written the same way.

Right there I was kind of thrown. Maybe some of her personality would be cliche for a male prosecutor, but the very fact that she's a SHE makes it a completely different dance party. I was a female prosecutor. We had more than one male assistant district attorney climbing his way to the top, drinking too much (although most of them didn't smoke), wearing their promiscuity like a badge of honor (even the married ones. Or maybe, especially the married ones.)

We didn't have female prosecutors like that. The women were less interested in getting promotions than they were in getting engaged. While most of the men were thinking of getting better jobs after their 3 year commitment, the women were mostly thinking if they would be able to quit work or find jobs working less hours so they could start having families.

There were no women trying to fast track it to the top, no females who cared enough to compete with the boys in their own territory. Sure, a few of them would drink with the chief of trials after hours with the boy's club, even go to strip clubs with them occasionally, to stay in the loop and maybe get cut a break by not getting put in a section with one of the crazier judges, but it was more about survival than winning for the women.

Maybe it's a southern thing, but women down here are vastly different from men when it comes to life priorities. And that was why when I wrote Ryan as a female with what is perceived in our region as primarily male personality traits, I thought I had created a distinct and unique character.

No so much, according to the reviewer. He also didn't get Ryan's motivation for her bad behavior, which explains in part why he saw her as a cliche, and that is something I have to accept. If he didn't get it, he didn't get it, and maybe there was something I could have written differently to make him see the light. But then again, I can't please everybody, and really have no desire to. (I had one girl write that she couldn't finish the book because she was afraid she was going to throw her Kindle across the room and break it because she hated my protagonist so much. Of course, this girl did use little twinkly **asterisks** to highlight her every thought, so I took that one with a grain of salt. And I'm assuming Ryan must have been incredibly realistic to this girl if she actually drummed up enough hatred toward her to want to throw things. Kind of a compliment, actually, when you think about it.)

But I digress. So the idea of cliches has been in the back of my mind for a while. And now, this week, we have Mardi Gras. If ever a holiday has been presented as a cliche in books, television, and movies, it's poor misunderstood Mardi Gras in New Orleans.

So with those two thoughts floating around in my head, the logical topic for a guest blog was stereotypes. I'm not going to repeat here what I wrote on Terry's blog, but you can go there to read it if you like (and maybe leave a comment to let Terry know you were there), at http://terryodell.blogspot.com/ If you're a writer, you also might want to consider looking at Terry's blog to request a guest blog spot- she does them on Tuesdays.

Stereotypes and cliches exist in real life, and often serve a purpose in writing. While I hope my main characters are not perceived by anyone else as stereotypes or cliches, the familiar does resonate with readers, and as I explain on Terry's blog, stock characters can sometimes serve a legitimate purpose.

Holli Castillo
Jambalaya Justice
Gumbo Justice
Coming in 2012- Chocolate City Justice


C.K.Crigger said...

Enjoyed your post, Holli, and now I'm off to Terry Odell's blog to read further.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

Good girl, Holli, you did what I've been urging others to do, tell us something interesting before sending us off to another post.

By the way, the reviewer was nuts. Your character is great. I loved reading about her demons and her adventures.


Holli said...

C.K, thanks for the interest. With so many blogs out there, it's difficult sometimes to get to all of them, but I tend to gravitate to those that share info on how to improve writing or how to improve promotion and Terry's guest bloggers seem to do both.

Marilyn, I always try to give something a little more personal on this blog before sending people to a guest blog or even my own blog. I feel like this is home base.


Patricia Gligor said...

Good post, Holli. And, thanks for the info on Terry Odell's blog.

ma-dissertations review said...

Holli, I like your post. Thank you for writting

Lilybet86 said...

'Stereotypes and cliches exist in real life, and often serve a purpose in writing.' I totally agree. I think that they provide an easy access to minor or even major characters. And in real life they reaffirm our social identity - our ingroup.

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