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Working the Stereotypes

 

Diversity’s the big issue in fiction these days.

Well, not really. The howling mobs of the perpetually offended only care about race and sex. Of the author, and of the characters.

True diversity of thoughts and emotions, behavior, opinions, and politics? The mob doesn’t seem to care. But most readers do. They don’t want every character to be the same, except for details of hair, eye, and skin color. A good story is the story of human interactions, even in a book full of running gunfights and explosions.

This can be a challenge for the writer. Do the exterior details match the mindset? Does the girl from Venezuela act like she’s escaped from a Communist Hellhole, or does she act just like her suburban gal Pal? If she does, you’ve probably got a problem that needs some research.

But if your gang of characters come from about the same environment, how do you make sure they are not too similar in actions and reactions?

That’s where stereotyping can be useful. Now, I have a SF series with some strong Fantasy elements, and I can get heavy-handed with stereotypes because of the rules of the universe. Mostly, you’ll want to be subtle.

Think of the stereotypes for guys:
The Jock, the Bad Boy, The Nerd . . .

Much too coarse a sorting, really. Think about it. The Jocks? Some think they walk on water and can get away with anything. They’re bullies, C students with a little help. Others are studious, and serious about the sports while keeping the grades up, nice guys. Some are risk takers, on and off the field.

The Bad Boys can be rich or poor, sexual predators, or dealing drugs in the boys room at the back of that hall over there. They can be narcissistic and spoiled. Dirt poor from a very broken family. Poor impulse control. Redeemable or irredeemable.

The Nerds? Which sort? Computers, Chess, D&D, nose-always-in-book? Highly intelligent? Preciously brilliant? Perfectly average?

That barely scratches the guys’ possibilities. The girls? Wow. From cheerleaders, to the smart girl who can’t get a date. Sluts, ice queens, trouble makers, the Popular Girls, and the Mean Girls.

There’s a million types. The above are “high school stereotypes.” Business, government, military will all have things we associate with the class. And that doesn’t even touch on politics. And as fast as politics are changing, avoiding anything but generalities might be wise.

The trick is to identify the stereotype, the subtype, and keep it in your head as you write. Even if the details never reach the page, your knowing these people will subtly slant the words as you type them.

The Coward will hesitate, then jump. Sweaty palms. Weak knees. The Bad Girl will look over the newly met stranger in a much different way than the overly sympathetic airhead.

Now, you can obviously go too far. The Computer Nerd or the Dumb Jock can be just as much a cardboard cutout as a plain vanilla nothing character. Don’t be too obvious about it, but think about how each of your characters is different. And then to break up the straight-from-the-box stereotype, perhaps give them something not usually associated with the type.

Make the shy computer nerd tall dark and handsome. Make the football star skinny, fast and agile. The snobby rich kid adopts every stray and injured animal that comes his way.

Yeah, done to death in the movies.

This is just a way to juice up a flat character. Shade in a little something to make him or her distinct from the rest.

If your Main Character is flat, you’ve got a major problem. The side kicks and companions, minor problem. The Villain? Probably a problem, depending on whether the Evil One gets much page time, especially as the POV.

If that’s your problem, analyze what stereotype would fit which character and if the story’s already written, how little touches of reactions, emotions and actions could be fit in. If it’s not written, think thorough the first scene with the Character being stereotypical and anti-typical. Over the top.

Then write it and see if some spark has come into the characters.

Now what if your characters already have plenty to make them stand out? Maybe too much. Think about stereotypes again, and see if perhaps you’ve over-done it. The MC can be larger than life, but the others shouldn’t out shine him or her.

Look through your WIP and see if there are stereotypes. And if they work.

Here’s a story start with a probable overdose of stereotypes. Does it work? Only way to find out is to finish the book and kick it out the door.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Adrasos ran up the steps and burst through the entrance.

“What have you done?” His voice was tight with rage, shaking with fury.

His stepfather looked up with a sneer. “Something that took more nerve than you’ll ever have you pathetic little tin soldier.” He had the sapphire pectoral on the table before him, defiling the God’s jewelry with his soft manicured hands. “Get out. Yainni, throw him out.”

Poor Yainni hesitated. Not as dumb as he used to be, he understood how his residency here depended on the old man’s charity, and the old man doted on his thieving son-in-law. Adrasos turned and stalked past Yainni and the big man followed in his wake. No small coat in the hallway. Peep isn’t home. Adrasos walked out the big double doors. Magnificent, once, flaking paint and warped, now.

Adrasos stepped to the side. There were a few things he could do to minimize the horrors that were about to happen. Starting with Yainni.

He pull out his coin bag and dumped part of it into his hand, held it out to the looming hulk. Poor Yainni. Not a mean bone in his oversized body. The Imperial Guards would see only a threat, to be dealt with as permanently and quickly as possible. “Wine. I’m going to need a whole lot of wine to drown this. Go down to Michan’s they’re cheaper. Get as much red wine as that will buy.”

The big man took it, and trotted happily away. It was his kind of errand.

Stomp and thud behind him.

“Hello, Grandfather.”

“Boy, you should be learning things from your stepfather, not fighting with him all the time. He’s the cleverest thief in all of Minos. He’ll bring our family back into money and social prominence.”

“Better that Mother had never laid eyes on him.”

His mother’s father reached out and slapped him.

“You think because the God King favors you, you’re anything but a fancy dressed version of our household guards?”

“He seduced the former queen and stole her jewelry. For that he has condemned the entire household.”

“Only if you talk, boy!”

Adrasos looked at him in disbelief. “How do you think I know! She went to her former husband and confessed her sin, and then mentioned the missing jewelry. I was on duty, and hoped it was some other slick con artist who had wormed his way into her boudoir.” He looked around and heaved a sigh of relief. Parthenope trotted around the side of the house. His youngest sister. Half-sister. He wished she didn’t look so much like the pretty boy seducer.

“Dras! You’re home! Why? Look, I got some flowers for Mama.”

“Peep, your papa’s done something really bad, and . . . ”

Time had run out. The Ekasi had given him a few minutes to remove the littlest and most innocent. With her beside him, the guards were moving in.

He knocked his grandfather flat, grabbed his collar, grabbed Peep’s arm and hauled them down the steps and to the side. The guards charged in. Yainni had not even shut the doors, let alone locked or barred them. Screams and crashes rose behind him.

His grandfather started cursing as well, as he was dragged further away from his ancestral home. Peep was wiggling and trying to twist away, Adrasos couldn’t deal with them both. He heaved the furious and flailing old man into the arms of his cronies, crowding up to see the excitement.

He picked Peep up and carried her down the street, down to the little plaza where they couldn’t hear the screams.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
So there’s the Hero, the Big Dumb Sidekick, the Worthless Stepfather, the Grumpy Old Man, and the Cute Kid.
Get enough story and action in there and it might not be too obvious.

If you’ve got a character problem, post a snippet, and we’ll all have a go at it.

44 Comments
  1. 23 skidoo

    September 21, 2018
  2. TRX #

    During the 1980s Louis L’Amour added commentary to reprints of some of his books. One of the things he talked about was stereotypes. He said that stereotypes existed because enough people acted in a way to make the stereotype in the first place, and they persisted because people tended to adopt the modes of people similar to themselves. (clumsy rephrasing of something read long ago…)

    Some stories aren’t character-driven; any generic character can fill the role, so you sketch in just enough for the reader to fill in the details for themselves. Of course, conforming to the word count standards of his day, stories tended to be much shorter than now; *something* had to give.

    Someone had criticized one of his books by claiming it had no development of the protagonist at all. I think he was a bit exasperated; that hole was for the reader to put himself into. I guess to a critic brought up passively watching television, that was too much work…

    Even if you don’t agree with everything he says, L’Amour’s comments are worth considering. He had no literary credentials and wrote “paperback trash”, but wrongpeople traded their hard-earned money for his wrongbooks. Enough that he didn’t bother to buy his own mouintain; he built his own town…

    September 21, 2018
  3. The stereotype can serve as a framework, a little bit of shorthand that gives reader (and writer) something to “rest on” and then gets decorated and adjusted as fits the story. Sort of the archetype of “chair” and all the endless variations of things upon which we can sit, or that are purely decorative “look what I can do!” designs.

    September 21, 2018
    • Ooo! I like that analogy!

      September 21, 2018
  4. You didn’t mention the large number of Bad Boys who do art. Good art. I think most of the high school advanced art classes, in fact.

    You notice that this is not true of the art world in general, at least today. It does seem to be true of tattooists and car art guys.

    September 21, 2018
    • And graffiti.

      I could go all day listing the types of stereotypes, because they can and do have all human possibilities. I find using stereotypes to analyze “why is this guy so _boring_?” works pretty well.

      “Because he’s a boring Math Professor that a previous book requires to be in this one.” So I gave him insecurities over a genetic issue and made him a weekend surfer dude. I mean, why stick to a single stereotype? Specialization is for insects.

      September 21, 2018
      • Mary #

        It is interesting trying to figure out what hobbies a medieval(-ish) prince could have.

        September 22, 2018
  5. I hope it’s okay if I toss in a few of my own thoughts, based on what I’ve seen and thought about writing short-story reviews for the past three or four years.

    I think characters come alive in dialogue (and, of course, through action). Most narration about what/who the characters are strikes a false note with me. It’s as though the narrator is trying to tell me what to think. This is “show don’t tell” in a different disguise, of course. You have to show me he’s a nerd; you can’t just say “John was a big nerd.”

    Some stereotypes are toxic, and I’m not just talking about one that are sexist, racist, homophobic, etc. The bad guy who’s bad because he’s bad because he’s bad. The helpless “hero” who mostly just watches other people make things happen. Mary Sue (usually male, despite the name), a person who’s instantly the best at anything he/she attempts and solves all problems in a paragraph or two, is another toxic stereotype.

    I think “comfortable stereotypes,” like the ones in the article, work for two reasons. First, readers are familiar with them, so it lets them quickly make a number of assumptions about the characters. Second, it gives the author a chance to make the character stand out when he/she violates the stereotype later. E.g. a gesture of kindness from the bad boy has a much bigger impact than if the good boy does it.

    I suspect readers are apt to slot characters into stereotypes even if you didn’t mean for them to. People’s ability to find patterns where none exist shouldn’t be underestimated. Better to be in control of that process, I suspect.

    September 21, 2018
    • Kord #

      @Greg. Please explain toxic. I’m english second language with my actual english speaking many years in the past. Toxic seems to have gained a lot of meaning over the last few years. I get that it is bad, but bad in what specific way?

      September 21, 2018
      • Ah. I just mean it’ll spoil your story for many readers by breaking their suspension of disbelief. In the sense I’m using it, it means “toxic to your story.”

        September 21, 2018
      • The common usage “toxic friends” “Toxic to your story” etc. Means it’s poisoning whatever’s going on. In the case of “Toxic friends” it means those friends are acting like a slow poison on you, having a strong negative impact on your well being (typically mental). For a story, being ‘toxic’ to the audience means they may react to it much like people served up a plate full of rat poison. They’re going to walk away and maybe not come back to anything else you write.

        Greg Hullender: Re Mary Sue, the trope was named after a specific character that cropped up in Star Trek fanfiction.

        September 21, 2018
        • mrsizer #

          I learned my “learn something everyday” thing!

          September 21, 2018
    • Synova #

      A stereotype is short-hand and if it’s left at that it’s not going to work at all.

      But what about the stereotypes that are racist, sexist, or homophobic? Honestly, what about them? If left at the short-hand level the character isn’t going to work. We’ll go with “sexist” because I’m a girl. The Dumb Blond doesn’t offend me but that doesn’t mean that she’s been written well. I can think of half a dozen female stereotypes (or even archtypes) that can be “sexist”… the gold digger. Let’s go with “gold digger” because I have a good example of that.

      A romance even.

      Modern romances are notorious for drawing each heroine as a paragon of virtue. Historical romances tend to have heroines with the proper modern sensibilities. But no one wants to read about a gold digger. It’s toxic and sexist to write a woman that way but here’s a book where she’s the heroine.

      Except that you’re in her head. She’s genuinely mercurial. She’d rather be comfortable than uncomfortable. She’s not particularly genuine with people around her and is skilled at playing them. But she has *one* thing in her favor, if she’s going to marry some old guy with with a paunch and bad habits she by golly will convince herself that he’s a great guy. She will, by golly, dig up some genuine affection from the bottom of her dark soul and she will, by golly, mean it when she flatters him. When he proposes she will, by golly, be the happiest girl ever.

      It works.

      September 21, 2018
      • Kord #

        Gold Diggers can be fun if there is a good motive, and conflicting emotions. The chick in Titanic was unhappily going to marry a name to a lot of money, and she worked out just fine. Not exactly a mercenary mind-set but a common situation historically.

        Unfortunately I never saw a book where a gigolo type saved the day as the hero. It’s generally assumed that such a fellow lack the requisite qualities. The reader-base might be too small to make it viable. Plenty of female ex-whores in literature, but few retired gigolos.

        On a more serious note; Is it nowadays toxic to write ANY woman, even the villainess of the piece as a gold-digger or generally evil bitch? Cause males are bad and woman good?

        September 21, 2018
        • I think part of that is based on the fact that it was generally accepted that a woman would have to latch on to money/power/whatever, while men were expected to achieve it on their own if they weren’t born into it. As a result, a woman who sleeps with people for money is less ill-regarded than a man who does the same thing.

          September 21, 2018
      • BrionyB #

        “Is it nowadays toxic to write ANY woman, even the villainess of the piece as a gold-digger or generally evil bitch? Cause males are bad and woman good?”

        I hope not, because we are likely missing out on some great characters if so. Imagine if Vanity Fair had never been published, or East of Eden, because some idiot publisher decided Becky Sharp or Cathy/Kate were toxic stereotypes written by nasty white men.

        I think there are modern-day examples, though. ASOIAF/GoT has plenty of morally ambiguous women, which doesn’t seem to have harmed it’s popularity.

        The gigolo-to-hero thing – I have a vague recollection of something like that, but can’t quite think of it now. Hopefully it will come to me later. It was possibly a Georgette Heyer or something Regency-era…?

        September 22, 2018
    • wolfwalker #

      “I suspect readers are apt to slot characters into stereotypes even if you didn’t mean for them to. People’s ability to find patterns where none exist shouldn’t be underestimated. Better to be in control of that process, I suspect.”

      Agreed.

      Stereotypes are tropes applied to characters, and as every TVTropes addict knows, tropes are tools, neither inherently good nor inherently bad. Used well, they can really add to a story. Used badly….

      September 21, 2018
  6. Kord #

    Thanks Greg and Wyrdbard, not toxic to the protags but to the story. Get it. I found several of those girls in the Wheel of time to be very trying. The Wisdom especially.

    Even worse, I once tried to read a series of books where a big goldfish or jellyfish attacked spaceships, but the protag was such a neurotic stickler for military discipline that I only read the first book. There were some good ideas to be found in the book, but nah.

    Frankly, it is very hard to come up with truly original people.

    September 21, 2018
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      Toxic is also used in a literary context to mean ‘this story, trope, or character is politically unacceptable to me’.

      September 21, 2018
    • MattB #

      The “Hope” series by David Feintuch. I’ve never reread them. If anyone see’s them, don’t bother picking them up. Kord has summed up the protagonist quite nicely.

      September 21, 2018
  7. BobtheRegisterredFool #

    Racist, sexist, homophobic stereotypes?

    If I refrained from anything that might be considered a racist stereotype, I could not world build an Imperial Japanese colonial territory in the New World where the Imperial Japanese treated an number of peoples as Imperial Japan treated a number of Asian peoples in our world between the 1930s and 1940s.

    Sexist stereotypes? There are a lot of men in the world, and a lot of women. Wide range of variations in both populations. The statistics of the character sample in the story are not descriptive of the population parameters defined in the worldbuilding. Yes, selection of characters is part of describing the flavor of the world. No, even hundreds of well established characters would not fully define the fictional world’s population. I absolutely will write sexist stereotypes if it is convenient and I want to.

    Homophobic stereotypes? Humans are not widgets. Absent a machine that can read the inner bits of soul, there are many things that will not be definitively proven. When it comes to sexual attraction, the most reliable evidence is what one has from oneself, and that can be deeply flawed. I would not have taken anyone’s word as conclusive even before so much pressure was put on forcing people to accept a self impeaching explanation. I will continue to ask questions and formulate plausible explanations. If an explanation fits a story, I will use it.

    September 21, 2018
    • Don’t overlook the possibility of simply obnoxious characters, who along with the racist, sexists, homophobes, are so fun to kill.

      I remember reading an article written by a lawyer, who said something along the lines of “I didn’t realize how much lawyers were hated until I saw Jurassic Park in the theater. When the lawyer got eaten . . . everybody in the audience *cheered*.”

      It’s trying to force them into roles the stereotype just doesn’t fit that make for awkwardness. It takes a lot of work to turn a slimeball into a hero. One reason I liked the movie _Edge of Tomorrow_ is that it does a credible job of it. Well, and kill Tom Cruise a dozen times or so. Can’t beat that.

      September 21, 2018
    • A lot depends on what you do with the stereotype. If you use it to send a message, then you’ve written “message fiction” that’ll likely break suspension of disbelief even in readers who agree with you.

      The complaint I have (as a gay man) about most gay stereotypes is that they encourage the audience to root for the gay character to get killed (e.g. by making him a child molester or a murderer like Baron Harkonnen in Dune). For many years, those were the only kind of gay characters most people ever found in books or movies, and they rarely met us in real life, so they believed what they saw. This made it really miserable for anyone growing up gay, and it meant that those of us who came out of the closet in the 1970s had to be very brave indeed.

      I’m cool with it, though, if a story has an effeminate gay character (for I’ve known many guys who are), just as long as there’s something redeeming about him. Otherwise, I’m going to play the “Chekhov’s Lesbian” card and ask why you included a pathetic gay character for no apparent purpose other than to send a message that you really hate gay people and think we’re disgusting.

      On the other hand, straight women writers are notorious for writing gay-male characters who’re very unrealistic, and yet the gay community loves them. They make us so sweet and lovable, how can we complain? The truth is, we’re not really very different from straight guys, on average–for better and for worse.

      On that note, the stereotype that we’ve got fantastic taste in clothing and can tell people how to dress to look nice is amusing, but all I can say is that no one should base his/her sartorial ensemble on my advice. 🙂

      September 21, 2018
      • Kord #

        @greg. I can see your point about gay people being bad in older fiction. The gunman Joakim Steuben from Hammers Slammers comes to mind. Technically cool but very off putting to me. Baron Harparin by David Eddings is described as a pederast focused on little boys and young men and his behaviour and death is treated as a running joke. Out of the books I read, Stirling’s gays are competent without being nasty. Of course I never specifically looked for gay themes or protagonists.

        Another thing that bothers me more now that I am reading up on more modern trends is the call for representation which immedately becomes overrepresentation if the group of protagonists and bit players is not so large as to be cumbersome.

        The odds of having a gay viking of color rowing the longship probably wasnt any larger than that of having a nordic woman with transsexual leanings in the Maori canoe.

        On the other hand using magic or sci-fi tech to do all kinds of switches and both play with stereotypes and prejudice seems underutilized today.

        September 22, 2018
        • I was actually okay with Steuben from Hammer’s Slammers because he was good at something and loyal to his own team. Yeah, he was a psychopath, but fiercely loyal to Colonel Hammer, and highly valued (if feared) for being a dead shot. And he only shot bad guys. The stereotypical gay would have been afraid of fights and would have ended up shooting someone from his own side in the back and then lying about it.

          As far as the gay Viking goes, homosexuality seems to have been pretty constant across history. The only thing that changes is social attitudes to it. (I think that’s actually a Haldeman quote, come to think of it.) Only about 4% of men are exclusively gay but maybe 25% are bisexual. Older societies seem to have viewed homosexual behavior as something that some men like to do some of the time. A Japanese friend once told me, “most people act like it’s some sort of weird hobby you’ve got.”

          So I’m pretty sure that a Viking longboat contained more than one guy who at least occasionally slept with men. How the others reacted is harder to guess, but it wouldn’t be a surprise if it was something their shipmates teased them about but otherwise didn’t care much about. (I’ve looked into it a bit, but it’s hard to really know, since they didn’t leave written records, and most of what we know from Christian priests is filtered.)

          What you would not see would be a Viking who identified himself as gay or anything like that. Not in any society prior to maybe 1900. You would see the occasional society that allowed two men to marry provided one of them adopted the role of a woman socially. They’d have a special name for these men-in-women’s-clothes, but nothing corresponding to our modern idea of a gay man or a gay couple.

          September 22, 2018
          • Christopher M Chupik #

            I have to wonder if Drake served with someone like that. There’s a lot of very convincing sociopaths in his work.

            September 22, 2018
          • Kord #

            Lotsa good thoughts on your part Greg. I learn from this. The 25% seems huge, but given that most guys can snag a female mate, the question might be passed over quickly for a lot of the 25%. We see quite a bit of this among new immigrants in europe, afghanis especially, obviously a lot of cultural factors involved.

            I agree on vikings btw. Given the long periods of all-male envionment, also pre-christianity. My point was more about having the colored AND gay viking to check off all the boxes of inclusion. One of the good things about Conan was a world so chaotic that anyone could be met anywhere. That kind of colander mixing makes inclusion of anyone very easy, but for the sake o variety, the inclusion should be curtailed at times. Most Conan look-alikes aren’t very good. In LOTR we are seeing war-time readiness and just about everyone is a xenophobic bastard to anyone else. Maybe, in better times, Haradrim merchants travelled to Lindon and back, but I’d need a big shoe-horn to make a fan-fic realistically inclusive.

            I never really noticed the “gays are weaklings” as a theme in books. People claiming tht gay people were so and so, yes, but rarely a weak gay character. (Only time I noticed it in a book as a youth was in the fun but abysmal TSR-book Spellfire where the Sage Elminster’s batman was posing as a “lisping man-lover from Baldur’s gate.” The lisping part doesn’t even work in my language so I really did not get it.

            Never even considered the problem until you mentioned it, but it is a good point. Can be no fun to have everyone you might identify with be lacking in character.

            Don’t dare to suggest that I can relate directly, but as a father, I should probably have trouble with the myriad depictions of ineffectual, stupid, unconnected, cruel, or otherwise useless fathers that litterature, film and TV foist on us. As it is I don’t care about what stupid people think is funny, but I don’t let my kids watch anything that suggests fathers are less than semi-divine.

            My main problem with Steuben is probably comes from reading the Sharp End first. His use of boy prostitute is one of my few red flags. I’m very irrational that way, but and can usually rationalize around it as a reader. I can actually absorb a lot of bad manners if the fellow in the book is either amusing or makes sense. Tywin Lannister isn’t amusing, but in his own way he makes sense.

            Burning a city to kill a rival king makes perfect sense.
            Going to an underage prostitute (any really) would make my mother frown.
            Yeah, I’m irrational that way.

            September 22, 2018
            • That 25% is probably an upper bound. It’s a very hard number to estimate properly.

              “Don’t dare to suggest that I can relate directly . . .” You don’t need to worry about offending me that way. 🙂 When I was an activist, we worked hard to try to get people to think they could relate to us. I completely fail to understand the reasoning behind yelling at someone who says, “I understand how you feel.” Why yell at someone who’s obviously trying to meet you half way? Likewise I don’t care about microaggressions; real aggressions are the only kind that matter.

              “My main problem with Steuben is probably comes from reading the Sharp End first. His use of boy prostitute is one of my few red flags.” I must have missed that one. Yeah, painting us as pedophiles is one of my hot buttons. It’s the kind of slander that seems calculated to make people want to kill us.

              September 22, 2018
            • snelson134 #

              “Sage Elminster’s batman was posing as a “lisping man-lover from Baldur’s gate.” ”

              Lhaeo was basically using the stereotype as a disguise element. Show the fools who only look at the surface what they expect.

              September 24, 2018
          • *grin* I know one gay man I’d ask about clothing – because that’s his job, and he’s very honest about “that cut is excellent, that one can’t be worn by anyone including runway models – male or female, avoid this line for now because they’ve had quality control problems.” I did make the mistake of asking his opinion on knit ties once. Let’s say, he’s opposed.

            I had to bite my tongue to keep from grinding my teeth when I was reviewing an academic history monograph, because the editor had shoved in material claiming that a certain term in the 1200s in Low German meant the exact same thing that “gay” means in English in the 2000s, with the same connotations and social import. *facepaw* Translation does not work like that. That was just one of many, many flaws in the book, which was why I was reviewing it and not a subject-matter specialist. They had flat refused. (Learned my lesson, I did.)

            September 22, 2018
          • snelson134 #

            I always liked Stirling and Drake’s characters Staenbridge and Foley in The General series. It was obvious what they were, but it wasn’t ALL they were.

            September 24, 2018
  8. Christopher M Chupik #

    Of course they have diversity. Why, they have left-leaning women of all hair colors!

    September 21, 2018
  9. Mary #

    Meanwhile, I’m consciously trying to develop some characters. All of them from fairy tales. All of them sharing the common purpose of defeating the villains who have worked out how to ruin the happily ever afters.

    They are pulling apart. Bit by bit.

    September 21, 2018
    • Melding a cohesive group of characters can be “interesting.” They need to find something beyond that enemy to connect them. They don’t necessarily need to like each other; I think mutual respect is sometimes better. Think about Kirk, Spock, Bones, and Scotty. Some times they squabble, but with any adversity they back each other up.

      You might think about lesser adversity (Minor evil or capricious spirits? Trolls under the bridges?) showing them each other’s competency, reliability, and reinforcing the idea that they need each other.

      September 22, 2018
      • Mary #

        First I’ve got to give them some character so they have things to bond and/or clash over.

        Thus far, one is more revenge-minded that the rest; a pair of sisters are a quiet, introverted one and more ebullient and cheerful (and domestic) one; one who wants to find his sister and is also secretly in love with the quiet sister (with the full knowledge that she will never even consider marriage with the villains hanging about), and a fox who has an eye for the big picture.

        September 22, 2018
        • Fairy Tales. So they have names? If not that might be a good starting spot. And clothes. Get them arguing about where they’re headed and what they need to pack and can they sneak back into their homes to get the stuff, or . . .

          Pulling apart’s not bad, it can lead to character growth, either deciding they need each other (sing kumbiyah) or don’t need each other. Some of each? Some times you just have to start writing and see what happens. I usually have an ending in mind so there’s some degree of direction to the writing.

          If you prefer an outline go for it. I’m just trying to help with characters. And blathering.

          September 22, 2018
          • Mary #

            I’ve already got an outline. I need to work on their characterization.

            September 22, 2018
            • Your best route is to get them _doing_ something. Eating at an inn? On the road, and sticking together because of bandits? Tossed in jail as wanted Fairy Tales? Talking together and so forth. _Put_ them in a location, and imagine what they’d be saying.

              September 23, 2018
              • Mary #

                They’re doing lots of things. I need to work on their characterization.

                September 23, 2018
                • I have problems communicating with other writers about writing because I never took any English classes beyond high school, and no writing classes at all. I don’t know the field’s professional terminology, and I feel like I’m not understanding “Characterization” the same way you do.

                  If they are doing things and talking, they should be becoming “real people” in your head, and acting consistently.They should be demonstrating quirks and strengths and weaknesses. Accents.

                  September 23, 2018
                  • BobtheRegisterredFool #

                    I think this is an area where ‘getting something for free’ can make it difficult to provide useful advice to someone who has to work at it. Reading Dwight Swain might be the thing.

                    Your approach to character seems to be of the intuitive variety. Like baking something by feel and muscle memory. It’s ready to pull out of the oven when it is this color. What’s the alternative mechanical process?

                    Imagine a bunch of Japanese fourth graders who are obsessed with Yo-Kai Watch. What you do with them depends on their purpose in the story. They may be a collective minor character, perhaps something like a chorus, in which case maybe only the one thing is important.

                    Maybe they chime in, in sequence, at various points of the story. Like kids in a van, when the important characters are the adults in the front seat. Then you might want to establish the characters as far as the pattern of the sequence, but no further.

                    But if the story is driven only by the character of one or more or the kids, you need to nail down behavior and motivation fairly well. You need to make the kids distinct.

                    Characters have a certain amount of traits that you have the authorial bandwidth to communicate to the reader. You start with the most important traits for your most important characters, and give those a priority in your trait bandwidth budget. Then less important but still important traits of the major characters. If our major characters are the kids, the yokai watch otaku trait is lowest priority in their budget, like in the army would be for establishing character in a bootcamp psychological thriller. Our dialogue sequence collective character may have several traits, but all are low in the budget. Traits are mostly unique inside a story. If the only thing in the budget for the kids is their obsession, they are basically a single character.

                    Look at the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

                    September 24, 2018
                    • True. I’m probably the worst of the MGC crowd to talk about how to build characters from scratch.

                      September 24, 2018
  10. Azure&Green #

    Great post! Thank you.

    I’ve found the various trait thesauri (Negative Trait, Positive Trait, Emotion, etc.) from Writer’s Helping Writer to be very helpful too. I often feel a stereotype I like needs a component breakdown, so you can more easily drop the parts I don’t want floating around in my head.

    These help greatly:

    https://writershelpingwriters.net/writing-tools/

    Also, on the “Diversity” topic, if your interested, Heather Mac Donald recently released a compelling book on the topic titled The Diversity Delusion: How Race and Gender Pandering Corrupt the University and Undermine Our Culture. But I haven’t read it yet.

    September 23, 2018

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