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How to avoid stereotypes?

 
I.write
(@i-write)
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Whenever I think about writing a character, there are some traits(stereotypes) that come to my mind. However, I don't want the character to fall in this trap. I also don't want the character to become something that is hard to believe. How do I create the character without stereotyping it?

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Topic starter Posted : 29/01/2021 8:33 pm
Kazesenken
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Stereotypes are hard to avoid. It is a product of oversimplification and generalization of often seen concepts. And often, they are difficult to avoid.

While stereotypes are something that writers usually want to avoid, they aren't necessarily bad to have. A stereotype gives an instant understanding of how a character is supposed to be. Readers easily perceive and recognize characters by these surface characteristics.

The true test is then what you do with it beyond that. Can you figure ways to break away from the typical and breathe some uniqueness into the character? For that, you could try to look around at some real people who loosely fit that stereotype and note what else defines them.

When an experience becomes personalized, rather than remaining general, that is when you break away from the trap.

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Posted : 30/01/2021 12:34 am
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Elly
 Elly
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I recommend examining where the stereotype comes from, that you feel moved to use. The bad stereotypes are usually made more pervasive because it benefits a certain group (or is detrimental to a designated target demographic of another different demographic) perpetuating the familiar or manipulating collective efforts towards change—and this is bad only because the people that these stereotypes are about actually aren't like that not even to any statistical significance.

It's like historically inaccurate costumes in a drama that's supposed to be historical, except worse because unlike a costume...real people can't take their identity off. 

And I think entertainment media is less "at cause" or much less "the cause" of this than most people treat it as. Entertainment media can be a platform to examine the stereotypes that we've accepted, but I generally think that it's a consequence of the stereotypes floating around rather than a cause. The ultimate result, however, is the impact on the real-life people who partially live in everybody else's imaginations, even in real life, and so get to be constantly misunderstood. 

So, when you think about the aspects that you attribute to a character, wonder where you got it from, and—even though you are not at all fully responsible for what every reader or every person or even one other person who is not you thinks—at least wonder about the impact, what sort of imaginations about a type of person are we cultivating? 

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Another source of a "stereotype" is from people who fit the stereotype, and who live it. There are other reasons for a stereotype to become a stereotype...Some people trying to speak a language that they are unfamiliar with, or familiar with but grew up in a different region than the point-of-view character, will have an accent when they talk, and, that's a stereotype, but it's a stereotype that comes from truth.

It depends on if you write that character as though their accent is a simple consequence of spending more time somewhere other than the point-of-view character or narrator (or "narrator's pet", like third person but close focus on a specific character)...or if you write that character as though their accent automatically means they're unintelligent, unethical, or otherwise a bad person.

But it's not breaking a bad untrue stereotype to remove the fact entirely that, "This person talks in a distinct way because of this reason," it could be erasure of that aspect of representation and character development complexity to remove it entirely. Or you could remove it entirely, if the story didn't need that detail anyway. 

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Sometimes bad stereotypes can't be avoided because there is a negative stereotype attached no matter what you do. Even if the attributes of strength and independence are a stereotype that formed from people living it for specific and realistic reason, that can be taken as a stereotype...but if you portray them as vulnerable and struggling with challenges, then it's infantalizing people that that character is supposed to represent...It becomes a no-win situation, and it's important to recognize when "you can't do anything right" (in the situation) so that you can stand by doing it at all as in doing it anyway...because diverse characters shouldn't be made to completely disappear just because there's going to be something stereotypically problematic in anything and everything they do.

Real life people don't have that luxury of disappearing when we can't keep up with the contradictory extremist interpretations of everything we do, or disappearing when we find ourselves in no-win situations. Sometimes, literary criticism is a no-win, darned if you do and darned if you don't situation. Just like every person trapped in a web of other people's imaginations, we can only continue on with our lives.

We can only do our best to strive towards being responsible and humane, and coincidentally I think that would generally make us better writers to have a complex, nuanced, depth of understanding. This applies even to just have this in our mental toolkit as an option, because if we're writing what's supposed to be a moralistic fairy tale, then the genre will hearken back to less complicated characters. If we examine the tropes we use and the reasons we use them, however, then we have more options to be original and subversive. 

If you want to write something with a different tension on the suspension of disbelief, as in maybe it's not real because there's dragons and wizards, or maybe the town that a theft mystery is set in doesn't exist or the vanished item doesn't exist in real life either, but you do want characters that aren't stereotypes? Then, there's getting a sense of a character as though the character were a person. They'll have a personality, temperament, interests, ambitions, phobias, ways of relating to others, ways of reacting to events...just like every other person. Usually, that helps dissolve the stereotypes...

So, even if (for example) a stepmother character is bad stepmother representation and bad representation of women because she's also cruel to the main character, readers might be able to still appreciate this stereotype's suffer-no-fools philosophy of life, her loyalty and protectiveness to her blood relations, the intelligence behind her Machiavellian calculations, her honesty...or, however way we understand human nature. Maybe there's an added dimension of that this character stereotype is not honest, not even to herself; maybe she's cruel to even her blood relations, and so encouraging the scapegoat position of the main character was an immature defense against her that the "flesh and blood" children had resorted to and grow to regret. There are ways to add dimension to that stereotype, and there are even options to do without the stereotype entirely (many Grimm fairy tales were originally about abusive birth mothers, before editors forced them to change it to being about abusive stepmothers.)

And after all that, there's always test readers or sensitivity readers between finishing the manuscript and publication. And if you still get reviews that turn out to be completely correct and scathing, then you don't have to succumb to a self-boycott; just take the good advice, and find ways to show your improved understanding in your next story! 

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Posted : 30/01/2021 3:07 am
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I.write
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Posted by: @kazesenken

Stereotypes are hard to avoid. It is a product of oversimplification and generalization of often seen concepts. And often, they are difficult to avoid.

While stereotypes are something that writers usually want to avoid, they aren't necessarily bad to have. A stereotype gives an instant understanding of how a character is supposed to be. Readers easily perceive and recognize characters by these surface characteristics.

The true test is then what you do with it beyond that. Can you figure ways to break away from the typical and breathe some uniqueness into the character? For that, you could try to look around at some real people who loosely fit that stereotype and note what else defines them.

When an experience becomes personalized, rather than remaining general, that is when you break away from the trap.

True. I will be concentrating on keeping the basic traits as expected, however, I will be adding some twist so that the readers would be surprised when they would come to know about the real behaviour. I am getting some ideas on how to use the stereotype to my advantage.

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Topic starter Posted : 31/01/2021 4:22 pm
words.worth
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Adding a twist is important. A three-dimensional character is what you should be thinking of. It is hard to pull off a cliche character unless you are writing about a funny person.

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Posted : 01/02/2021 4:56 pm
Junamo
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Re-writing and coming back to my chapters continuously helps me identify stereotypes much more, so always go through multiple passes of your story.

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Posted : 23/02/2021 3:41 pm
Nickie85
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I feel like this has become so normal for people to do, even outside of comedy, that people almost rely on it. In some cases, the harsh disconnect from a general stereotype can actually hurt the character because they don't seem believable. 

I think it is best to focus on where the character grew up, what their family status was (in terms of wealth), and then what kind of direction they pull with world views. This way, the character will seem more believable according to life experiences and rely less on stereotyping which isn't always accurate to real-life people.

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Posted : 24/02/2021 1:55 pm
Nancymac
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But that is sometimes what represents who the person is or group, we think of them in that way...Think of the old show Archie, and how he would call his son-in-law, Meathead, or Pollack. In today's world that would not take place, but the phrases or thoughts of how we look and act or dress? Those first five minutes we are making an assumption without knowing the person, at all.

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Posted : 27/02/2021 2:39 pm
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