Showing posts with label stereotypes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label stereotypes. Show all posts

Thursday, January 13, 2022

Avoiding Stereotypes and Cliches in Writing

 


By Mindy Lawrence

The old woman had long black hair and wore a conical hat. She had a black cat named Esmeralda and friends she practiced with at midnight in the forest.  Tell me, is there any other kind of witch? Not according to many people.

Books, plays and movies all have a habit of stereotyping different groups. The writers who produce the words for these works sometimes use cliches and stereotypes to advance their stories. When this happens, characters become the same old same old, and not accurate. Every witch isn’t an old woman with warts in a black dress. She can be a he. She can be a scientist, or a teacher, or a mayor.

An archetype and a stereotype are not the same. An archetype is a template (prototype) on which to build your character. Stereotypes tend to show a lazy writer who is not sure how to let a character develop his/her own way. They are oversimplified, overused, and preconceived. These are generic and have no creative punch.
 
According to New York book Editors (https://nybookeditors.com/2019/04/6-tips-to-avoid-writing-cliched-characters/), you can do these things:

•    Focus on your characters origin story.
•    Deeply describe your characters.
•    Allow you character to bare more than one emotion.
•    Let your characters have motivation for their actions.
•    Show your character’s fears and flaws.
•    Give your characters strengths.

Make your characters more than one dimension. Flesh them out and make them breathe.


Interesting Articles Online:

6 Tips to Avoid Writing Cliched Characters
https://nybookeditors.com/2019/04/6-tips-to-avoid-writing-cliched-characters/

Stereotypes to Avoid When Writing your Next Book
https://www.bealubooks.com/avoid-stereotypes-when-writing/

3 Stereotypes to Avoid
https://www.authorlearningcenter.com/writing/fiction/w/character-development/2874/3-stereotypes-to-avoid---article

The 8 Worst Cliches in Fiction
https://ryanlanz.com/2016/06/02/the-8-worst-cliches-in-fiction/

Strong Female Character Cliches to Avoid (In Writing and Beyond)
https://samanthaheuwagen.com/strong-female-character-cliches-to-avoid-in/

How to Write Diverse Characters (without Stereotypes)
https://pshoffman.com/character-creation/write-diverse-characters/

How to Write Non Stereotypical Characters
https://www.wikihow.com/Write-Non-Stereotypical-Characters

5 Ways to  Break Stereotypes in your Writing
https://www.inspiredlinesediting.com/blog/5-ways-to-break-stereotypes-in-your-writing


Mindy Lawrence is a writer, ghost blogger, and artist based in Farmington, Missouri. She worked for the State of Missouri for over 24 years and moved to Farmington in 2020.

She proofread the Sharing with Writers newsletter by Carolyn Howard-Johnson and wrote “An Itty-Bitty Column on Writing” there for ten years. She has been published in Writers' Digest magazine and interviewed by NPR’s All Things Considered.



Friday, March 9, 2012

What I Learned From the Movie "Young Adult"


I recently saw the movie "Young Adult" starring Charlize Theron. The premise: a writer of young adult novels returns to her small hometown to woo her high-school ex-boyfriend. Only problem? He's married with a newborn baby. Not exactly the recipe for a fairy-tale romance. But the screenwriter is Diablo Cody, who wrote the smart and quirky movie "Juno," so I went to see "Young Adult" with pretty high hopes.

Well, suffice to say it didn't live up to my expectations. After the movie ended, a woman sitting in front of me turned around and addressed the theater: "What did y'all think? I was not impressed." Still, I believe there is something to learn from every experience, so here are some writing take-aways I got from "Young Adult" that might be helpful to your own writing, too:
  • Write anywhere and everywhere. In the movie, we see Charlize Theron's character working on her young-adult novel in coffeeshops, restaurants, in her bed and at her desk. When she checks into a hotel, the first thing she does is plug in her laptop. That said, I was annoyed by the portrayal of her getting incredibly drunk every night and waking up hungover, yet still magically being able to finish her book. I think the drunken artist/writer is one of my least favorite cliches. I also didn't agree with the way the movie depicted the YA genre as shallow, uncomplicated, and easy to write. If classic books like Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird were published today, they would be considered YA.
  • Be mindful of your details. Charlize Theron's character constantly eats junk food throughout the movie, and a lot of it -- a family-sized meal at Kentucky Fried Chicken, pints of Ben & Jerry's ice cream, liters of Diet Coke. Yet she remains supermodel-thin and looks down on other characters from her hometown for being "fat." There is no way she could eat that way and look the way she does!
  • Avoid stereotypes. Charlize Theron's character returns to her small town, and her stereotypes about "small-town people" are reinforced. The comic-book lover is a "boring loser" who paints model action figures and lives with his sister. The women her age all got married at twenty and never left town. They wear tacky sweaters and have no idea who Marc Jacobs is. It would be one thing if this was just how Charlize Theron's character saw these people -- that would fit well with her character -- but that is not the sense we are given from the film. Case in point: a scene towards the very end, when one of the young women who lives in this small town asserts the stereotypes to be true: "People here are all fat and dumb." As someone who now lives in a small Midwest town, I personally know this is not only completely untrue, it is also offensive and, in terms of writing, sloppy. Push past stereotypes! Deepen your characters!
  • Have your characters grow. This is perhaps the biggest problem I had with the movie "Young Adult" -- Charlize Theron's character doesn't grow or change from beginning to end. She is immature, narcissistic, and self-centered when we meet her, and she is the same way when the credits roll. It's fine if you choose to write an unlikeable character, but even unlikeable characters should have likeable sides to them. The best characters, in my opinion, are nuanced people. What makes me care about and root for a character is seeing them grow and change, hopefully for the better. Charlize Theron's character certainly had plenty of room to grow, yet she didn't take any steps forward, not even baby steps. I left the theater thinking, What was the point of that?
Have any movies -- good or bad -- taught you something about writing? I'd love to hear your comments!

Dallas Woodburn is the author of two award-winning collections of short stories and editor of Dancing With The Pen: a collection of today's best youth writing. Her short fiction has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three years in a row and her nonfiction has appeared in a variety of national publications including Family Circle, Writer's Digest, The Writer, and The Los Angeles Times. She is the founder of Write On! For Literacy and Write On! Books Youth Publishing Company and is currently pursuing her Master's degree in Fiction Writing at Purdue University, where she teaches undergraduate writing courses and serves as Assistant Fiction Editor of Sycamore Review.

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