Saturday, August 13, 2011


They’re everywhere, aren’t they? Try as we might, our experiences tell us to expect things of people who act a certain way, dress in a particular style, or enjoy certain things. And this has nothing to do with race. A white person dressed in jean cutoffs and a salsa-stained t-shirt (or what society has now ‘cleverly’ deemed the “wife-beater”) leaves you with a different impression than the same person dressed in business attire.

There are so many misleading stereotypes in the world:

But how do we keep this out of our writing? More importantly (at least to me), how do I keep my readers (or potential agents) from assuming my character is going to be a stereotype just because of the way I have her dress?

I know many people make assumptions about me when they see me in person. They see my two-colored hair (either black and red or black and blue), my tattoo, lip piercing, black novelty t-shirt (either a band or a ‘dark’ movie), and leather renfaire shoes, and from that visual, assumptions are made about the sort of person I am.

There are things they would not assume about me:
1) I volunteer for the animal shelter
2) I give clothes, books, and toys to battered women’s shelters instead of Goodwill
3) I participate in toy drives every Christmas
4) I buy insane amounts of Girl Scout cookies to help friends’ kids
5) I spend all my free time writing and not doing something ‘unsavory’

To name a few. I doubt they would assume other things:

1. My favorite bands are Blue October, Seether, CCR, Pink Floyd, The BoDeans, and I love soundtrack albums from movies. Music with a lot of screaming annoys me.
2. My favorite movies are Galaxy Quest, Erik the Viking, Holy Grail, 13th Warrior, Knight’s Tale, Finding Nemo, Four Brothers, How to Train Your Dragon, Sweeney Todd, V for Vendetta, and The Lord of the Rings series.

These are movies I can watch on an endless loop for days. Yes, I’m weird that way.

Because I am overweight, they assume I eat too much. The truth is I eat once a day, sometimes a snack as well. My problem is that I don’t move, so yeah – they’re right to assume I’m physically lazy, but it’s also because my job was 8 hours at a desk and then write all night, but now it’s write all day and all night. I’m not lazy in my mind.

My character dresses in a goth way and is a little overweight. I wonder if readers would be put off by her just because of that, if they’d feel like they can’t relate to her because they can’t identify with her. Also, if agents would make the same assumption of readers and dismiss my MS based on that. My MC is not a stereotype. She has layers and motivations, dreams and hopes, disappointments and heartache.

And, before anyone assumes incorrectly, she is not a mini-me. In high school I was skinny as a rail with blonde hair, and was very much a grunge girl. Most days. I occasionally had a girly moment and wore a skirt.

Do any of you have this worry? That an agent will read your query and your pages and assume your character is not going to ‘speak to’ them, as some put it, because they have never been in a certain clique (or even actively disliked people in that clique) and therefore dismiss your character’s story?


Mel Chesley said...

I think that is why I chose fantasy above all the other genres. I write good non-fiction stories and can come up with some stereo-typical characters, but yes, I feel that agents/publishers might not get my MC.
Funny, I read this about you and I'm the same way. I wear jeans and a t-shirt almost always because they're comfortable, yet people think I am a slob. I have my hair cut in a sort of "punk"ish style and I'm overweight, yet I eat very healthy and not very much. Matter of fact, since surgery I've lost 12 or more pounds, but I don't move around much either. I write or sit at the computer doing stuff almost all day. I just started getting a little more active because I have arthritis in my spine and sitting gets to me.
Good post and lots to think about. This is why I try my best not to judge people.

Sarah said...

I don't tend to get too caught up with descriptions of clothes and physical characteristics. I'll give each character a couple of descriptors in passing, but I'd like the reader to form a picture that's based more on personality and dialogue. Like the commenter above said, fantasy is good for this. Sci-fi, too. A few details about appearance and on with the story!

As a reader, I'd never be daunted because a character dressed or looked a certain way. All I care about is whether their story is interesting and well-told.

Alleged Author said...

It's too bad people believe stereotypes about others, but it happens time and again. I hope an agent doesn't see my characters as living up to a stereotype. Great post!

vic caswell said...

wait. wait. wait...
you're from texas right?
i thought you looked like a dallas cowboy cheerleader???


Lisa Gail Green said...

I actually did have this issue. One of my characters is a blond cheerleader. But if you bother to read the book you see she's anything but a stereotype. Unfortunately, I did have to alter the opening slightly so that the mind of the reader didn't automatically go "there". I want it to be given a chance. So if there's a way to hint at those layers right off the bat, I think you're fine.
Also sorry about the Hunger Games thing! But now you should be properly motivated to read it!!

Che said...

haha awesome picture!

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