On stereotyping archetypes… 11/7/11

Posted Nov 8 2011, 4:17 am in , , , , ,

One of my coworkers shared a link with us that led to an interesting video ‘experiment’ – actually an advertisement for a beer, but nevertheless interesting.

The video shows a small theater in which all but two of the 150 seats were filled with rough-looking, tattoo’d, muscle-bound biker guys. Theater managers then sold the last two tickets to a series of couples and rolled hidden cameras to catch their reactions. When each couple saw the last two seats were in the center of this unsavory crowd, they left. Only a few souls were brave enough to wade through all this testosterone to grab the last two seats.

This prompted a spirited discussion of stereotyping and racial profiling. It got me thinking about building compelling characters. I just read a book in which the author personally knew Ted Bundy but had no idea he was responsible for dozens of murders until after his conviction. Why?

Because “…he didn’t look like the type.”

Years ago, I took a self-defense course and nearly walked out when the instructor introduced herself. She stood four-foot-eleven inches tall and was about ninety-five pounds. And then, she attacked. She had six men on the mat during the first class. Later, I watched her split a board with her fingertips. Yeah. Still amazes me.

What’s the lesson here? I’ll spare you the don’t judge a book by its cover lecture and say only this: the next time you need an archetype, consider this video. List all the typical characterizations – the ones that dictate heroes must be tall, dark, and good-looking, vampires must brood, villains must be psychotic, and heroines must be strong but tender. Write them all down!

Now, flip them on their asses.

Why can’t a muscular athlete can be bullied by a chess club geek? Why can’t a guy enjoy being a vampire? Why can’t the villain be tall, dark and good-looking and the hero be a bit nuts? Why can’t the girl who looks like a centerfold consider religious vows? This is fiction – these characters can be whatever we say they are.

 How do you create characters who are more than what they seem?



3 responses to “On stereotyping archetypes… 11/7/11”

  1. Okay, I’ve got this idea …

  2. abby says:

    i love the suggestions you gave at the end. thanks for getting the mind wheels turning. :)

  3. Jeannie Moon says:

    I always go back to the saying that, things are cliches for a reason. However, as writers, we need to put our own spin on things.