Friday, June 8, 2012

Week 24 - Clichés and Stereotypes

10 Jun - 16 Jun: Good things come to those who think for themselves.
A rose by any other name, might actually be a heliconia

Adria Haley, editor of the 2012 Novel and Short Story Writer's Market is quite specific about the stereotypes that appear in modern fiction: the anorexic teen, the drunk father, and the cancer victim are just a few.  Describing people just by nationality is a sin of stereotyping, as is assigning a person a specific accent, e.g., the waitress with the Southern drawl.

No problem, we'll just use the old contrasting-characteristics-trick.  Except that the smart prostitute and the gangster who adores his mother have been taken.  (Having said that, there is some value in the contrast concept that I'll look at in the coming weeks.)

This isn't exactly tricky stuff, so I'll conclude with the following reminder to myself:  the only real way to avoid stereotyping characters and situations (and flowers) is to get serious about itReally seriousDig deep, press hard, and listen carefully to how real people think and how they want to act.  Use the interesting bits to make characters, and then throw those characters into situations that make them do surprising things.

Now onto clichés because clichés are fun.  We all know that using them is sheer laziness, but they seem to just roll off the tongue, don't they?  That's why it's important to make a very particular point about seeking them out and removing them, regardless of how cool they are.  And in those instances where we can't come up with an original image, just write it straight, advises Roy Peter Clark.  For a pretty good list of clichés, check out this website: Clichés: Avoid Them Like the Plague.

Haley condemns not only clichéd language, but clichéd plots such as the lovers reunited, or revenge of the abused wife.  When I think about a story or scene, I try to remind myself of Roy Peter Clark's advice: reject first-level creativity. If most other people are likely to present it one way (since the idea itself is unlikely to original), present it a different way.  Educational blogs written by luddites are exempt, by the way.

Exercise 47. Ramble for a page or two with the aim of including as many clichés as you can think of.  Now go back and change the clichés to original thoughts and ideas, or if this proves difficult, say it straight.

Exercise 48.  So how did the fairytale princess and the biker dude turn out?  Rewrite the scene or description from last week.

Week 25 will continue with the word topics as I consider Rhythm.

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