Saturday, August 22, 2015

Stereotyped Characters?

Have you ever started reading a new story or author and realize you have met the characters before? Chances are you've run into a stereotyped character.

According to Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, a stereotype is "to believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same." In daily life, stereotyping is an us vs them mentality. Race, gender, religion, education, age, nationality, employment, economics, status, abilities, disabilities—you name a difference, there's probably a stereotype to fit it. In daily life, no matter how unfair, they are often hard to escape (watch commercials), but in stories, it might not always be such a bad inequity.

I think in writing, stereotyping creates cliche characters, making shortcuts for the author, especially in secondary characters. Little thought is wasted on these minor characters. You mention a word such as 'butler' or 'blonde' or 'biker' and a perception enters the reader's mind.  Another type of stereotyping I've encountered is when reading many volumes from the same author. Sometimes the same characters show up with different names, blended into an author-concentric stereotype. I might be guilty of this offense, but I believe these stereotypes develop because they emerge from the same imagination. It takes work to break out of such patterns. This type of stereotyping might even appeal to some readers since they know what characters they will encounter when reading that author's material. I've also read stories where a character (main or secondary) begins as a stereotype but before the story's end, has metamorphosed into something so much more.

This said, are there genres of reading that stereotype men and women?

Oh yes.

In romance, just look at the book covers: muscular, '6-pack' alpha males with brawny chests and huge biceps, often brunette, and with a weapon in hand-toting proficiency so they can be labeled 'protective.' Another stereotype is the super bad boy who only need a woman's love to bring him to the straight and narrow (BS).

Women in books have been stereotyped for decades, but thankfully, some of those stereotypes are breaking down. Beware, however—new ones develop: the new powerful woman, the CEO or female elected official. Power, you know, after being considered 'chattel' for hundreds of years, goes to a woman's head only to prove the ancient adage 'women need controlling.' AND WOMEN (the largest book-buying demographic) are buying into these tomes.

Perhaps the appeal of a stereotype is that a reader can see some of the traits of a stereotype in themselves, so identify with the character.

But characters can be based on other characters. It happens in crime/suspense novels with both detectives/investigators and criminals. How many current TV shows have a Sherlock Holmes type detective? (I'm hooked.) How many super-intelligent criminals have you encountered in reading? Moreover, it is cross-genre typing: Is Bones a reincarnation of Spock? Is Booth really Captain Kirk? Is that why I like that show so much?

Why does this happen?  I believe the main reason is that certain stereotypes sell stories, whether in print, TV or film...until they don't. Then the publishers/producers look for the next hot selling character type and publish stories with those character profiles. The reading public goes through trends often identified by generational shifts and major social crisis, and these changes can help create those stereotypical profiles. They may go out of style and disappear only to return at some future time.

For the last few years, we have been going through the super-intelligent 'nerd' stereotype. 
And the 'bimbo' girlfriend never seems to go away, or the too smart, unattractive spinster stereotype.

How do I try to prevent stereotyping in my writing? I've used two methods.

The first is determining my characters' personality styles. The Personality Self-Portrait (1990) by  John M. Oldham, MD and Lois B. Morris delineates personality types. Dream up a character and then decide on his or her character personality pattern. There are thirteen recognized personality styles. We all have some of the characteristics of each, but it the dominant pattern that counts. For example, do you want your character to be excessively emotional and dependent on a relationship? Someone who is vivid, spontaneous, and flirty, with an over-the-top personality? Someone who hogs attention and praise and is excessively concerned about appearance? They would have dramatic personality style and could slip into a histrionic personality disorder. The information in the book is fascinating.

The other method involves Jungian psychology delineated by archetypes, or characters with a purpose. These include heroes, mentors, threshold guardians, heralds, shapeshifters, shadows, and tricksters. While these might sound like stereotypical castings, they are not. As Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces, and Valdimir Propp in his study of Russian Fairy tales, certain characteristics of plots and characters seem to have deep psychological impact and importance in the purpose of stories. While readers might not notice this, almost all story arcs display these characteristics. If you want an easy introduction, read Christopher Vogler's The Writer's Journey, Mythic Structures For Writers.
Check out the following author blogs on this topic (always fascinating reading!):
Beverley Bateman
Connie Vines
Rachael Kosinski
Anne Stenhouse 
Skye Taylor 
Fiona McGier
Helena Fairfax 

Friday, August 14, 2015

Tempted By The Night -- Elizabeth Boyle

This book was published in August 2008, but it is still available as an ebook. Just because it isn’t new doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be read!Book cover

ISBN: 978-0-06-137322-0
September 2008
Paranormal Historical Romance

London, England – 1810

Hermione Marlowe, one of those ramshackle Marlowes, is in her third season. None of her prospects look encouraging, especially since the man she desires is out of reach. Nonetheless, she tries to attract his attention by wearing her trademark color of Capucine (orange!) and striking ‘poses.’ She refuses to believe the Earl of Rockhurst is the bounder and rake society proclaims. She wants to prove he is an upright man. Two things happen. She finds her friend’s ring on the floor and puts it on thinking that is the safest place to keep it until she can return it. Then she makes a wish to be a phantom from sunset to sunrise so that she might discover all of Rockhurst’s secrets.

Enter Quince and Milton. It is never explained quite what these two are, but certainly magical beings. Milton claims to be the owner of the ring Hermione wears. His former wife Quince grants the wishes of the ring’s bearer; and so she answers Hermione’s wish.

Hermione learns Rockhurst is the Paratus of London. He fulfills the duties his family has carried out for the last eleven hundred years. He and his wolfhound, Rowan, fight the demons from hell and close the holes they open to emerge into the city. She sees this first hand during one of his battles, and Rockhurst learns of his Shadow as he comes to call her — an invisible lady, who seems to be a debutante miss. He sets out to find the young lady, but for what purpose? The most reasonable one is that if he can get his hands on Milton’s ring, he can end the reign of his family’s terrible duty as Paratus. That means killing the ring’s wearer.

TEMPTED BY THE NIGHT captures the feel of a Regency novel while infusing the story with urban fantasy. It makes fun, delightful reading. Hermione develops from a shallow, innocent girl who thinks fashion alone attracts a man, into a loving and courageous woman dealing with the pain of unrequited love. Yes, Rockhurst is attracted to his Shadow by night, but he doesn’t recognize or even notice Hermione by day. While the story is dramatic, bold, and entertaining, the characters provide humor and poignancy. Well worth reading.

Some of the characters mentioned and Milton’s ring are from the 2006 novel, HIS MISTRESS BY MORNING. However, TEMPTED BY THE NIGHT is very much a stand-alone story.

Reviewed for Romance Reviews Today

Amazon link

Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Commonality Among Languages?

At MIT's Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Professor Edward Gibson and two grad students, Kyle Mahowalk and Richard Futrell, have been looking for links between all languages. The billions of people on Earth use 6500 different languages, all having a distinct sound and meaning structures (and different alphabets!). However, Gibson, Mahowalk, and Futrell think rather than sound or meaning, languages may share an organizational method. All languages seem to put words that go together close together. In other words, and from what I understand, all languages put describers and modifiers close to the word they affect, so language syntax may have a link. 

Cathleen O'Grady in her article 'MIT claims to have found a "language universal" that ties all languages together' posted this two days ago at Ars Technica. Huffington Post has a video interview with Edward Gibson, PhD. on the findings of the study.

While this isn't much help to my learning Russian words and tenses, it might be helpful when I start putting the words I'm learning into some meaningful utterance. But hey, no hurry, I'm still stuck on the alphabet.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Smoke On The Water -- Lori Handeland

Sisters of the Craft Series, Book 3

St. Martin’s Paperbacks
ISBN: 978-1-250-02014-7
August 2015
Paranormal Mystery

Northern Wisconsin Mental Health Facility – The Present

Willow Black is incarcerated in a mental health facility. She killed a man before he could stab, brand, and burn her as her visions had shown her he would. Her rambling about water and her visions landed her in prison for the mentally insane. Found abandoned as a baby, she has been in foster care all her life. Because of her extreme fear of water and her reactions to it, she changed families frequently. If she sees a reflection on water, it brings her visions of things yet to happen, leading to her fear.

In the hospital, another inmate, Mary McAllister, has become dependent on Willow. She tells Willow she is a witch like Mary herself. While Mary frequently goes off the deep end of her psychosis, she manipulates Willow like a master. (Mary plays a part in HEAT OF THE MOMENT, the second book in Sisters of the Craft.) Mary’s scheming brings Mary and Willow to the attention of the facility’s new administrator. Willow recognizes the man. She has seen him in her visions, even made love with him, which is strange considering she is a virgin.

Sebastian Frasier is a psychiatrist, but his new patient tempts him beyond reason. Mary, however, brings him trouble when she disappears from the facility twice with no sign of how she escaped. Somehow he knows Willow in involved, but when he learns how, it takes him somewhere he never believed possible. Somewhere he wouldn’t even believe if it hadn’t actual happened.

Willow’s upbringing is far different from the sisters she will soon discover she has. Her life will be turned upside down, not only in learning about who she is, but also in accepting what she is. She and Sebastian have a difficult romance because Willow is technically his patient and off limits. There are dangers for Willow in the facility, and even more out of it, but the story is an interesting journey. Characters from the previous stories eventually show up to help fight an exceeding dangerous man from the past.

This appears to be the last in the “Sisters of the Craft Series.” I found it very enjoyable, reading at least one of the stories in one night. This series is sure to make fans for Lori Handeland, and send them looking for future (or past) books from this author.