Elizabeth: Uh oh, My Stereotype is Showing

women-openA few weeks ago I blogged about warming up the romance in my story here. One of the things that came out of that discussion, besides some great suggestions for enhancing the chemistry between my characters, was the realisation that I had fallen into some stereotypically thinking.

I had been envisioning Abigail as the typical gently bred young lady of the Regency who knew little if anything about men or sex before she married, especially since she had no mother around to advise her. On the flip side, I saw Michael as the traditional experienced Regency gentleman who had sown more than a few wild oats during his transition to adulthood (while hopefully remaining disease-free).

Michael and Abigail don’t really fit those roles, however, which is probably why their romance was going nowhere fast. True, Abigail is gently-bred, but she’s determined and passionate, and willing to fight to get what she wants. Michael is experienced and mature, but it turns out he’s the one experiencing the sweaty palms and racing heart over a girl he still thinks of as just a kid.

Once I stopped trying to fit them into the stereotypical innocent virgin / experienced rake boxes, their romance warmed right up.

So, have you found any stereotypical thinking in your own writing or in anything you’ve read recently? Is there any particular stereotype that drives you crazy when you encounter it?

12 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Uh oh, My Stereotype is Showing

  1. Determined, passionate Abigail and sweaty-palmed Michael sound like a lot of fun, Elizabeth!

    I don’t go for ditzy, airheaded girls, even when they come good in the end (I’ve usually given up long before that point) and it makes me crazy when a really hot hero finds their flaky ways adorable. I may be in the minority here though, when you think of the millions of fans who adore Bridget Jones and Sophie Kinsella’s Shopaholic stories. I also don’t like stories where the author gives the heroine a traumatic sexual backstory and then uses her increasing intimacy with the hero to demonstrate that he truly is the only one for her. There are plenty of stories with this trope, and lots of readers who love it, it’s just not my catnip.

    • Jilly, I hear you on the ditzy girl, especially when paired with the patronizing male who knows what's best for her despite her protestations to the contrary.

  2. My antagonist, Hawk, WAS the stereotypical “villain” but he’s slowly evolving to be something much more. Still, after reviewing one of my scenes yesterday, I found he was stereotypically “smiling evilly” (practically rubbing his hands together with evil glee). That scene is now earmarked for an overall.

    I think it’s probably natural to think in stereotypes on our first pass through. My protag is sweet and kind and loving (or whatever) because that’s the definition of a heroine (supposedly) but as we come to know our characters–see the actions they take, get to know who they truly are, they change and grow in our heads and hearts and become real. For me, that’s when my characters began to shift away from stereotypical characterizations.

    • That makes sense Kat. I didn’t rally have a good feel for my characters in the first draft. Once I had a clearer idea of who they were and what their motivations were, it became much easier to move away from the default thinking and make them into strong, unique characters. Can’t wait to se how your Hank turns out in the final story. Sounds like he’s really been evolving.

  3. The stereotype that irks me, and which I find even in the best-written novels, is that of the person who instantly assumes a complete backstory behind a single event and who storms off without checking the actual facts.

    “I saw Bobby holding Suzie’s arm, and so I knew that the stories about their affair was true, so I packed my bags and headed out into the wilderness.” Idiot-blocks like that throw me out of the story and leave me disliking otherwise likable characters.

  4. On a happier note, characters who shatter expectations, who appear to be stamped from a stereotype’s mold but who then prove to be something else entirely, make for the best reading.

    • I hear you, Michille! Every time those gorgeous people step on the stage and we’re supposed to think they have romance problems, I always wonder how the rest of us manage to survive.

  5. I tend to read a lot of books where the stereotypes and cliches have been played with — the heroine is smart and can outthink all the bad guys and the antagonist (which is a flip of the “princess waiting for the guy on a white horse to rescue her), the hero might have severe physical handicaps that make him *not* the strong silent type (but again, brains to the rescue). It’s almost gotten to the point, in certain genres, where those “flips” are the New Cliche.

    And cliches, stereotypes and archetypes can all be useful tools, but if they are too distancing (not enough detail), they will fall flat, whether they are flipped or not.

    I agree that it takes some time to get to know the characters — well, actually, it takes some writing and putting the characters through some paces so you can find out who they are. My characters tend to have strong ideas about what they will and will not do, and if I try to force them into a role, they balk, turn off, leave my brain. OTOH, they aren’t always very obliging about revealing what their next action should be. It’s like feeding a 15-month-old. “Peas?” “NO!” “Carrots?” “NO!” “Banana? Please, you always like a bit of banana.” “NOOOOOOOOO.” “Sigh. Broccoli?” “OK.” “Really? Really?? OK, have a bite of broccoli.” Nom-nom-nom-nom-nom.

    • You’re right Michaeline, cliches, stereotypes and archetypes can useful if they’re done well and don’t overpower the story. Unfortunately that seems a fine line to navigate. I love the image of your characters as 15-month olds. Mine are equally unhelpful at times.

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