It’s a word you’ll hear a lot of in the writing trade.
I believe it has something to do with Bang and Olufsen, or Bose, or dogs and birds (tweeters and woofers as they are colloquially known among the hoi polloi, like moi).
It must, like, be the opposite of monotype, because, like, a stereo’s got, like, two speakers and mono means one. And a monotype isn’t just hitting one key… it is the only one of its kind, absolutely unique, just like all of us.
Which of course is why modern litteratchewer sneers at it. It’s important to sneer in unison with modern Litteratchewer, or you will never be a unique voice in modern litteratchewer, you know. If you’re going to be ‘daring and innovative’ there are very strict rules! Do not dream of stepping outside of these boundaries or you will instantly be transformed into an evil reactionary, and no one in modern litteratchewer will have sex with you, or put you never-read novel on their coffee-table, before it begins its long sad journey to the thrift shop.
Of course… outside the dreams of the modern litterati, things are a little more complicated, and yet more comprehensible. Stereotypes – a word I believe derived from the Greek ‘stereos’ (and no, it’s not multiple recordings of slightly out of phase EU members complaining about austerity. That’s the Greek tragedy.) meaning ‘firm or solid’ and type – are both a blessing and curse in writing.
Stereotypes exist. “He was a stereotypical Greek”, “she was a stereotypical modern literary writer.” You know precisely what that is in your head (although it may not be the same in mine). Some fantasy authors have made a great success out of using the stereotype, as a kind of foundation onto which they build the character. David Eddings springs to mind. You may or may not like his books, but they worked for hundreds of thousands of people.
The word has (in some uses, usually when complaining about someone’s writing) come to mean formulaic, predictable. So for example you could predict in the last ten years out of Trad publishing, that the hero would be a kick-ass strong independent woman. The gay character – her sidekick and confidante — would be good, kind, supportive. The [insert POC flavor of the month] would be noble, strong, mentally acute friend of the hero/s. If the any of the above had to be American, they’d be hyphenated-American. The villain would of course be American (de-hyphenated for his sins) male, middle-aged, conservative, Christian, white and a mouth-breather. Naturally – because they all are in purely in the imagination of modern literati, where working men drink gin — misogynists, rapists, probably pedophiles and insane. Oh and they like guns, weapons, fighting, which oddly enough, they are defeated in the use of by the vegan heroes who abhor violence.
Now, I think it is pretty obvious that these stereotypes exist as ‘real’ or ‘firm’ only in the head of the writer and those of similar beliefs. It’s got almost zero probability of being accurate. It’s predicable, formulaic, but not accurate. It’s a world of difference from the stereotype ‘all Latins have darker skins, and typically black hair and brown eyes, get very voluble and use a lot of hand gestures, and eat garlic.’ That’s not universally true either, but has at least a reasonable probability of being right at least on several points, and is not necessarily derogatory (I love garlic).
However, even wildly inaccurate to downright stupid formulaic predictable (since when have these last two indicated writing failure?) types of stereotypes work for writers too. At least, they work well with the UK and it seems NY acquiring editors, and their ‘client’ literati inner circle. They work for the simple reason that they’re saying precisely what those readers WANT to hear. They confirm their own biases and bigotry. Although in practice they don’t actually KNOW any of the kind of people they want to believe this about… and it is logically impossible to support their beliefs, they believe it emphatically. As Prof Jonathan Haidt demonstrated so well, the Left wing – which is almost all of Traditional publishing, are much more ignorant of the Right (or anyone outside their circle) than vice versa.
The problem starts when the book goes beyond this circle. If you’re only trying to sell to that circle: go for it. It’ll be beloved, and the same as much to a book stereotyping any group, Right, Left, off somewhere in third dimension… they will enjoy relaxing into their familiar dislikes and likes. Unfortunately, for sf/fantasy/horror to be a major success, the book HAS to sell outside ANY major division, and indeed to people who don’t buy a lot of any of those genres. Probably, to people who don’t buy a lot of books.
When your stereotypes are likely to offend those outside your ‘circle of fellow believers’ … it had better be a great, great story. That happens, but not often.
I don’t flatter myself as that great a writer, that I venture into this territory. Besides, while stereotypes – at least if they’re accurate and not just your biases, exist, at most they should be a foundation to help a writer to build more on. If I say a character has Latin looks and temperament, I don’t have to explain that and certain actions flow logically from that. I’m inclined to write about and build real people from people I have met and details I’ve picked up… and while someone may have all the stereotypical characteristics, Mr or Mrs or Ms Average is actually a rare bird, and quite boring.
What brought this up BTW was yet another stereotypical Guardian UK Puppy kicking. I’m not going to bother to provide the link because it was just the usual: Make shit up, because fact checking is too hard, and straw puppies are much easier to demolish than trying the real thing. Make snide implications about Puppies being Nazis (we are storm troopers) and cheat. You’ve read it all before, it’s been fisked to death. What caught my attention was something about the writer’s voice or style. It seemed oddly familiar, and not quite the same as the usual contributor (cats make contributions to cat-boxes too). So I bothered to look at the name: Sarah Lotz. It took a while for the penny to drop – sorry, slow-brained monkey. A month or so ago I got given her breakout novel, by a friend with one of those carefully neutral expressions on his ugly mug.
He said “Here. This is by another South African.”
I said, as I always do… “I’m Australian, mate.”
He laughed a lot, but granted I was trying a damn sight harder than most people born here.
It’s true enough. I understand Algis Budrys’s comment from a different age (1950’s), in his ‘Rouge Moon’ about “the fierce patriotism of the new American” of an escapee from the Soviet Union – Budrys, himself from Lithuania understood this too well (except I am a new Australian, but I understand that gratitude and feeling I owe my new country a debt of it I can never entirely repay).
I read… well read a bit and then skim-waded to see if it ever reached a worthwhile resolution (not IMO). It was not to my taste, an appeared to be taking a ghoul-like advantage of the sadness and sorrow, and car-wreck fascination with passenger plane crashes. It was sort of somewhere on the line of Sclazi’s Lock in – more a psychological thriller than horror or sf, and in a style cloned from some successful Zombie book, using bits of made up media. (snark on/ I guess that made her shoo-in for writing in the Guardian. Snark off/). But what I remember most about the book – she got vast support from her UK publisher including sending her to the US on a book tour, and media support and promotion in all the usual suspects of the client circle – EW (I think it was the same author who did the hit piece on the pups – incestuous bunch), I09, Tor.com, the Guardian… was that I found she ticked all the stereotype boxes so perfectly. Her grasp of – and antipathy towards — Americans is so very typically upper-middle class South African white, particularly in the Arts and left of SA politics. Like the PC of the story it was bad enough to make my teeth hurt… because I actually know an American or two, from across the spectrum, and know how complex the country and people are. Well, that was me. It’s obviously very appealing to a probably very similar class in London. Maybe even in the US.
Curiously, the very Australian friend who gave it to me, did not like it. Neither did I. Different people like different things, I suppose.
Despite the hype, the push (and her poorly concealed fury that her chance at a crony-in-crowd Hugo is hurt by the puppies)… I’d never heard of her or the book that they all reckoned was going to be the next big thing. It was on the coat-tails of two air disasters, about air disasters. It had tons of expensive push, loads of media support.
So why didn’t it fly? (Well, besides being afraid to?)
It could be that the style is just too confusing or that there are too many POVs.
Or it could be the stereotyping that many readers found offensive. Stereotyping’s a tool, like a rifle. It can be used well, and in the right place. Or not.
Something to keep in mind when write your next book.