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Breaking the Stereotypes : Conversation question • Writing Forum | WritersDigest.com

Breaking the Stereotypes

Every month in Writer's Digest's InkWell section, we pose a question related to the writing life. Tell us your thoughts.
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HawkEliz489
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Breaking the Stereotypes

Postby HawkEliz489 » Sat Oct 08, 2016 9:45 am

Hi. I don't know how to exactly put by words, but there are some things in many books (at least the ones I've read), which I find somewhat stereotypical (if it's a correct word?). For example, there are characters I kinda find them illogically brave or curious. I mean, yeah, if characters weren't brave or curious enough it would have been almost impossible to move them forward. But I'm wondering, would it be okay if character was vice-versa of this? I'm not talking about character which backs away for every single problem they face in the story. If it was like that, the story would never happen I suppose. But what if make character face those problems against of their own will, rather than from the aspect of their bravery? I mean, you guys probably have read or seen in movies when some characters go straight into monster's claws for NO actual reason. If we think logically, when there is a choice - a person would react to escape rather than face the monster, right?

Personally, I want to make my character somewhat dislikable person at the beginning of the story, rather than the likable one. I mean, I don't plan to make the reader hate the character, but I do want the reader to question themselves - why this character acts like this - before I start to unfurl the secrets and reasons behind it. Also, I'm totally sure all the stereotypes had been broken before, and the idea I said above would have been made too, but I'm speaking about going off the mainstream when protagonists are always the chosen ones, always the heroic types or the main reasons behind all the storm, and they are always brave ones to face the evil.

What is your opinion? Would you like breaking the stereotypes? Do you do it often yourself? (not only about characters, generally).
“Do I look like the leader of this merry band of misfits?”

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TwoStepCharlie
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Re: Breaking the Stereotypes

Postby TwoStepCharlie » Sat Oct 08, 2016 10:30 am

It's certainly a viable way to tell a tale. I applaud you.

'Reluctant hero' is a motif not seen as frequently as 'gung-ho hero' but when done well, it has made for some all-time great, bonafide classics. I could name several right off the top of my head and probably a dozen others if I really set out to make a list. In short: don't worry about going down this path.

What are the factors that make it work? Right at this moment I'm not sure. It's a great question to ponder. Just speculating aloud, I reckon that at some point the protagonist has to become convinced that he has to stop prevaricating and yes finally 'get aboard' with the events he has been swept up by.

Where is the ideal spot in a three-act-structure to insert that? I have no idea. Any way you slice it, you've got a more complex approach on your hands, which is probably why most authors don't bother with it. You're juggling what amounts to a separate, character-driven storyline laid atop a plot-driven storyline.

Again: I wouldn't be daunted--the rewards could be wonderful-- but you will really have to 'believe' in your story to pull it off. You will need super-concentration on all the story details.

Good luck!
Blow up the bridge?!

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cynicalwanderer
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Re: Breaking the Stereotypes

Postby cynicalwanderer » Sat Oct 08, 2016 11:52 am

There have been quite a few successful instances where authors have made the reluctant or selfish hero devices work well. I'm currently on a binge re-reading both the Parker (Richard Stark) and Nero Wolfe (Rex Stout) books.

The Parker novels are based on a professional thief, and while the Parker character is thoroughly amoral and callous, he comes across as a compelling anti-hero because of his efficiency and professionalism, which are often contrasted to the various passions and flaws and betrayals of the other characters to make Parker seem more "good" by comparison. Most of the books were written decades ago, and if you've ever read a book or seen a movie that dwells on the anti-hero criminal or hitman made to look good because they "have a moral code", then that's most likely due to the influence of these novels. So the lesson here is that an unlikeable anti-hero can be believably selfish and still a good main, so long as they're pitted against antagonists who are worse.

Nero Wolfe, on the other hand, is another barely likeable character who is rude, pompous, agoraphobic, and hates to work. What makes the Wolfe books enjoyable is the more positive and entertaining second main character - Archie Goodwin - who supplies the reader with all the wisecracks and action, and whose job it is to spur Wolfe into using his brain, usually through devious means. When Wolfe finally does get dragged deeply enough into a case, we then get to appreciate the power of his deductive ability and intellect. So this second lesson is that you can sometimes offset the unpleasantness of one character by pairing them with another more likeable one, and showing the two working together to achieve a common goal. This sort of device has been used successfully from all the way back to Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, to more recent pairings like Spenser and Hawk, or Elvis Cole and Joe Pike. And it can work not just in the mystery genre, but others too, I'm sure.

Anyway, to come back to address the horror movie example you gave of, say, the illogical teenage girl in her knickers going into the dark house and opening the cupboard with the monster hiding inside it, or any similar stereotype, my point here is that the character doesn't have to exist in a vacuum - you can often pair and/or contrast them with other characters or plot events, or adjust their motivations to be more strongly linked to the relationship to other characters, and achieve your believable motivations that way. Since our skimpily-dressed heroine is not very believable on her own, give her a good reason to be there - she's trying to rescue her little sister, or her jock boyfriend bullied her into going in the house, or she's desperately poor and heard there might be money hidden in there. Whatever works that a) feels believable and true to the character, or the character's relationship to other characters; and b) gets them in position where you need them for the plot.
"I've stopped giving advice. Even when people ask for it, they resent getting it." -Ross Macdonald.

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HawkEliz489
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Re: Breaking the Stereotypes

Postby HawkEliz489 » Sat Oct 08, 2016 2:23 pm

“Do I look like the leader of this merry band of misfits?”

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TwoStepCharlie
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Re: Breaking the Stereotypes

Postby TwoStepCharlie » Sat Oct 08, 2016 2:50 pm

Blow up the bridge?!

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shadowwalker
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Re: Breaking the Stereotypes

Postby shadowwalker » Sat Oct 08, 2016 2:55 pm

There are innumerable stories out there about ordinary people being forced to do things they don't want to simply because they have to. And not all of them are likable from the beginning. Which leads to another notion that new writers have - that they have to make their characters likeable. Not so. What they have to be, at some level, is interesting. Readers have to have a reason to keep reading. As simple as that.
"It seems rather like wanting to be ... a writer, rather than wanting to write. It should be a by-product, not a thing in itself. Otherwise, it's just an ego trip." - Roger Zelazny

It's really not that hard. Just tell me a story.


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