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Sunday, 4 December 2011

Today let’s talk about stereotyping.

How’d you feel about stereotypes in fiction? Do they annoy you? Or do they make you smile?

You have the dramatic gay man, the lazy fat person, the sullen teenager… they are all there because they exist. So does that mean we can’t write about them? I mean, you also get the lazy thin person, the sullen middle-aged person and the ditzy Afro Caribbean (I should know, I work with her!). But the fact is if there weren’t any people to fit the mould there would be no stereotypes!

But what are stereotypes?

It’s a generalization about a group of people where we attribute a clear set of characteristics. These can be positive or negative. But I’ve learned that this “positive” and “negative” is personal to one’s own self.

Some blond haired women hate being labelled as “dumb”, others aren’t so bothered.

So why can’t we stereotype in writing?

It’s lazy - like clichés, stereotyping is too easy. Your character is blonde so she must be as thick and enjoy shopping?

It’s offensive – stereotyping evolved to be cruel towards typical groups. He’s fat so he must be lazy and love hamburgers?

In A Proper Charlie I deliberately made my gay man “typically” gay until layers were peeled away and he was revealed as being frightened of failure and very possessive. Charlie, my main protagonist, was ditzy but I gave her red hair. No, she didn’t have a temper either!

I enjoy watching reality shows and love being proved wrong about a stereotype. On the surface they exist. But dig deep and you have an individual.

A character.

Make your character an individual and you’ll have real, flesh and blood person to write about.


  1. I think it's interesting when you come across what appears to be a stereotypical character in a novel but then, gradually, you discover that there is so much more to them and they have reasons for their behaviour, other sides to their character, hidden depths and layers that make them fully rounded and very interesting people - just like in real life. No one is JUST sullen or JUST lazy. There is always much more to them than that and the exciting thing is peeling away the layers to discover the other facets of their personalities. I do have a "stereotypical" sullen teenager in my story. She started off as a very minor character, put in as another strain for her mother, but has become one of my favourites with her voice making itself heard far more than I'd anticipated and she has quickly shown the other sides of her nature and the fact that, she may be a bit stroppy at times but she has far more going on then that. I have grown to love her. I don't think there's necessarily anything wrong with having "stereotypes" providing you make them fully rounded and explore their true characters fully. There are stereotypes in real life but it's only one side of them after all. No real life person is one dimensional, no successful fictional character can be either.

  2. I agree that stereotypes are just lazy writing. The first step is to be acutely aware of them. Then you can avoid them like the plague.

  3. Totally agree, Sharon. Sometimes stereotyping makes the story seem "familiar", but like Michael says if done too much it's lazy. Don't entirely agree that they should be avoided like the plague. Sometimes they work (minor characters anyway).