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?