Stereotype

Dec. 27th, 2004 09:40 am
lullenny: (eats)
[personal profile] lullenny
The following is an excerpt from Part III of the book Making Shapely Fiction, by Jerome Stern. The first two parts are very much worth reading as well. The book is available in paperback.



Stereotype

This negative term is used when writers create characters whose traits have so little individuality that readers are merely reminded of how often they've seen that type done before. A stereotype is a particular form of cliché.

Writers often respond to the charge by conjuring up reality. Perhaps a story has a high school principal who is a pompous, rigid, overweight person in a bow tie who fails to understand his students and thinks them worthless.

"A stereotype," say the readers.

"But I know a person just like this," argues the writer. The writer may be telling the truth, but if readers feel a character is a stereotype, it means that the writer has not perceived anything new, that she has simply described the obvious traits. The writer is unaware of her own cultural bias -- she's finding only what she's been taught to see. Therefore, the character, even though based on life, doesn't come alive as an individual.

If a major character is a stereotype, the entire work is in serious trouble. Minor characters give you more leeway. A talkative taxicab driver or an inattentive salesperson might seem familiar and true rather than stereotypical. Still, you should ask yourself, even when creating a little scene with a bartender or banker or hitchhiker: What am I bringing to this? What am I observing that will strike my readers as fresh? Am I only fulfilling readers' preconceptions? Stereotyped characters based on racial, ethnic, gender, or social-class prejudice are not only clichéd, they're offensive.

See Archetype, Character, Cliché, Sentimentality.

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