Stereotyping Characters

21 Sep

I just got home from seeing Easy A. Let’s start with the easy Easy A stuff:

I loved it. It’s smart, funny, well acted and shot. Great movie. Go see it. I laughed out loud numerous times.

Okay, now let’s move to the hard Easy A stuff:

I’m going to start by putting it right out there since it’s not one of those things I talk about a lot (you wouldn’t know it from reading my books or 99% of my blog): I’m a Christian. I know, most of you are already moving your mouse up to the little X to close the screen, but I’d ask you to bear with me a little while.

Now, being a Christian in this country isn’t as easy as people seem to think – actually, I believe that’s true of anyone who follows a firm doctrine or faith. First off, most in-depth studies show that less than 11% of people living in the USA are practicing Christians (read the Bible, pray, regularly attend services of their denomination, and make PERSONAL life choices based on prayer and Biblical beliefs) — actually, a lot of studies think 11% is generous. Most people who check the Christian box are now Christian By Heredity (although there’s no box for that any where I’ve seen 😉 ) Moving on.

Where was I before the disclaimer? Oh, yes, 1 of the 2 things I didn’t like about Easy A: Every Christian in it is a judgemental bitch (their words, not mine. but, um, their right) (This is the point where I feel like I should offer references of people who have met me to state that I am not a J.B. for blogging-about-the-topic-street-cred. Okay, moving on…again.)

Most of us have something we’ve learned to let go instead of constantly letting people’s uninformed –or informed by a bad experience with someone else — beliefs go. Some are more harmful than others.

If you’re Muslim…or Middle Eastern…or look like you MIGHT be Middle Eastern –> You’re a terrorist

If you’re Polish –> You’re dumb

Wine Guy is from Sicily. Cannot tell you how many times people open with a Mafia joke

Should we get into race? How about region of the country? How about education or job or neighborhood or cash?

OR how about we stop? Not just the racism in general (because I’m not sure my little blog can aim that high sadly) but the BAD WRITING!

What? What? you say? Bad writing?

YES! Every time you make ONE character a stereotype with no true depth or motivation beyond being a stereotype, it is not only BAD writing — it’s LAZY, STUPID writing. When you make an entire group that way, it’s even more true.

Now, I’m not saying that there are no J.B. Christians out there – that would be just as much a sweeping generalization and so, untrue. Unfortunately, I could even name a few.  But, just like everything else, it’s a squeaky wheel situation. You’ll never know about how I live my faith if you don’t ask because I’m not standing on a street corner with a signing and shouting at strangers that they’re going to Hell. Actually, I’ve never said to anyone “you’re going to Hell.” Although, oddly, I’ve been told *I’m* going to Hell (pre and post becoming a Christian… see, you can never please everyone 😉 )

And so, while defending my own faith, I’d like to broaden that out to defend all faiths…and ehtnicities… and beliefs…and regions…  Find a real villain, not a stereotype. Look deeper than the crazy person the news has offered up as “the norm” of the group of the day — The world is a diverse and complex place, and so are 99% of the people in it. Embrace that and you might be surprised to find that richness of the world you never saw before.

And you know what, while you’re doing that for your writing, do it for yourself too.

15 Responses to “Stereotyping Characters”

  1. MG Buehrlen September 21, 2010 at 5:22 pm #

    You are so right on, it hurts. And now I’m scrambling to go over my villains to make sure I haven’t made this mistake. Also, Christian bashing has always been a favorite for comedy fodder. Doesn’t look like it’s going to stop anytime soon. I agree with you. Let’s just STOP.

  2. briaq September 21, 2010 at 5:26 pm #

    Aww thanks 🙂

    I have someone who does the whole “twist the mustache” villain type of thing – I think she’s tired of me pointing out bad guy stereotypes to her LOL

  3. tehawesomersace September 21, 2010 at 5:31 pm #

    Wait, you’re a Christian? Does that mean you have no sense of humor? 😉

    I feel the same way about stereotypes. People use them because they are easy, and it just reveals their shoddy writing.

    It’s not that hard to write great characters. For example, turn a stereotype on its head (if you’re just a little lazy). Or better yet, get to know what people are really like, and write a well thought out, flawed, and endearing character.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post.

  4. briaq September 21, 2010 at 5:33 pm #

    It’s true about the sense of humor — I’m totally the anti-com rom com writer 🙂

    Yes! Yes! Yes! Characters should be as complex (if not more so!) than real people!
    And now that I’ve used up the rest of my 2010 “!” quota….


  5. J. W. Hankins September 21, 2010 at 5:38 pm #

    Great, great post!

  6. briaq September 21, 2010 at 5:42 pm #

    Thanks! I’m happy people are seeing the point and no angry anti-bria posts yet 😉

  7. katcantrell September 21, 2010 at 5:48 pm #

    Thanks for this post. I often shy away from faith based conversations because Christian bashing is a national sport. I really love how you turned it into a writing tip and I think it’s something we can use for all characters, not just the villain.

    I loved LOST for this exact reason – the characters are nuanced. Sure the Iraqi is a torturer for the Republican Guard but he’s also a romantic and most of his actions stem from the loss of his one true love. What depth! I’m grateful for the reminder.

  8. briaq September 21, 2010 at 5:50 pm #

    That is a PERFECT example Kat – the longer you stayed with Lost, the more you saw how life before and after the crash shaped those characters. That you can escape or claim your own backstory when the slate is wiped clean.

  9. briaq September 21, 2010 at 5:59 pm #

    Oh, another great example: Barney on How I Met Your Mother – Every time he starts to turn into the stereotype of the womanizer we see him as – BAM something out of the blue – whoever writes him is always brilliant.

  10. Kathleen Foucart September 21, 2010 at 7:18 pm #

    *applause* I’m so effing sick of that stereotype (and yes, stereotypes in general). Thanks for this post 🙂

  11. briaq September 21, 2010 at 7:23 pm #

    Thanks Kathleen – the movie was so good, it was such a shame to see that over-done so painfully.

  12. Kimberly Farris September 21, 2010 at 7:41 pm #

    I think writers who resort to stereotypes fail to remember or understand that people are more than their religion, ethnicity, race, socioeconomic background, etc. Many factors combine to make us an individual.

    Thanks for speaking up about this topic.

  13. briaq September 21, 2010 at 7:48 pm #

    Thanks Kimberly 🙂

  14. Sharla September 22, 2010 at 11:01 am #

    Ditto all around!!! I love when characters surprise me…I love the vulnerable side of a bad boy (Damon Salvatore), the nice side of a bitch, anything that changes expectations up. The show Glee is a beaming example of bursting out of stereotypes. Pregnant blondie cheerleader becomes nice and friends with chubby outcast black girl she never would have noticed before. Gay boy has macho dad that you’d think would bash him, but he stands up for him against anyone, even the woman he loves, because his son comes first.

    And by the way?? I’m a Christian first and foremost and think Jesus rocks. He’s the Man. I applaud you for shouting it out.

  15. briaq September 22, 2010 at 12:47 pm #

    Thanks Sharla 🙂

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