Stereotypes

For Day 14 of Supposed Crimes 30-day challenge: What are some stereotypes of your favorite literary genre?

First let me start by saying I’m not a fan of stereotypes, and I see them as very different from tropes (see yesterday’s blog). Tropes are by and large harmless. Stereotypes are very often driven by biases, whether implicit or explicit.

Writing about stereotypes

I will start this post with a personal revelation. I wrote my first fanfic (for Xena, way, WAY back in the 90s) as a deliberate challenge to myself to create a story that used none of the tropes and none of the stereotypes that were frequent for that fandom. My guiding list was one that had been circulated among the bards, and created by the writer BongoBear. The list has been long lost to history (I couldn’t find it after a significant search of the interwebs). It pointed out things in the genre, primarily romance, that were constantly recurring. It wasn’t really a challenge, just a funny list. But it definitely made me think, right from the start of my “public” writing career, what things writers “leaned” on to shorthand or convey something quickly to readers. As a result of their frequent use they are either stereotypes or tropes.

Stereotypes tend to be more related to character traits or behaviors. Tropes tend to be manifested in behaviors and plot/conflict points.

Trope: meet-cute between Character A and Character B. Character B rushing to work spills coffee on Character A and gets their phone number agreeing to pay for dry-cleaning. Cue the romance as the two have to constantly interact to get the character’s dry cleaning completed. Stereotypes exist in characters A and B. If you immediately saw “dry-cleaning” and pictured Character A was a high-powered executive and Character B a service industry worker, then you employed stereotypes to fill out the story in your head.

But what if Character B is the slightly higher class one and Character A is the service industry worker who was simply wearing their best clothes for an interview to move OUT of service work because they finally graduated college? Character B might assume dry cleaning is necessary because they saw Character A’s clothes and assumed they were high class. They might think the other person is out of their league. Then the plot ends up putting them together at the same legal firm? All the stereotypes are challenged, first in the story by the characters, and then in the reader’s mind becoming involved in the story.

In the end, as in the beginning, I see stereotypes as things to challenge both as a reader and as a writer. I’m not really a fan of stories that stick solely to stereotypes. I’m much more likely to enjoy a book if these are changed up, the stereotypical characters switched into the “opposite” role in the story.

Some stereotypes I look to see subverted are:

  1. Rich, snooty and snooty always follow after “rich.” Can’t I read a woman of wealth who doesn’t use it to lord over others?
  2. Poor, almost always accompanied with poor self-esteem. Can I read a proud, hard scrabbler for once?
  3. Loner with walls up. What about a person who is happily single and open with friends?

~ Lara

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