Tuesday, October 23, 2007

When Do Real People Become Stereotypes?

And, if real people have become stereotypes, should we stop writing about them?

I've been thinking about these questions for a while. It's not unheard of for me to read a book, enjoy it, think it's well done, believe that the characters are drawn from life, but still find them to be stereotypes.

A case in point: Down the Rabbit Hole by Peter Abrahams. Keep in mind, please, that this is a very good book. But as I was reading it, I was noticing the realtor mom, the dad who drives a car he can't afford and pushes his son in sports, the teen athlete who hates his sport and is pushed into it by his father, and the crotchety old grandfather. Though these characters were all well done in this particular case, we have seen them all before, right?

Yeah. I've seen them in books, but I've also seen them here in town or in neighboring towns. The parents who push their kids in sports are real. They're not just stereotypical characters. They exist. I could tell you stories, but I won't because you probably already know them. And I would be afraid I'd be dealing in a stereotype, anyway. The crotchety old farmer who won't sell his land to developers is a staple on TV, but I hear stories about them around here all the time. The stereotypical mom realtors (We went on vacation with one of those a few years ago; she directed us to a nice condo in Myrtle Beach.) are all waiting for the old coots to die so that their property will become available for age-restricted communities because, try as they might, those cranks can't take their land with them.

So, what I'm wondering is, what does it all mean? What are writers to do when the reality of their lives has already been written about so much that the people they know have become stereotypes? Not everyone will be able to pull off dealing with this problem as well as Abrahams does in Down the Rabbit Hole. You can probably make an argument that it's not as pressing an issue for children's and YA writers because everything is new to those readers. I think that's legitimate up to a point, but it just puts the problem off. I think it's always going to be there, because, sad to say, aren't we all stereotypes?

Oh, darn. I think I might have read about an exercise to rid your writing of stereotypes, but I've forgotten it. I can't begin to guess where I found it, either.


Mary Witzl said...

I pray that I'm not a stereotype. I've had my eye out for my type, and so far I haven't met anyone that quite fits -- or will admit to it. Maybe I'm a stereotype in that I'm trying NOT to be one. Perhaps there are a lot of people out there who all smugly think they've broken the mold.

What an awful thought.

Gail Gauthier said...

Perhaps we are all trapped in stereotypes. This could become depressing.