Thursday, November 11, 2010

Hello, Stereotypes!

You guys, I'm so tired of stereotypes. As a reader who absolutely adores character-driven novels I always cringe when I come across a flat character who is so easily labeled with a stereotype that everyone knows - and then has no personality apart from it.

I'm sick of, among other things:

  • Dumb & Vapid Model/Aspiring Model -> This stereotype works just as well with cheerleaders, but I've seen it more often lately with models or wannabe models. These characters are portrayed as shallow, entirely superficial, and with no interests other than looking good. They can't carry on intelligent conversations, often judge others (even & especially their friends) based on appearances alone, and they make me want to scream. I get that modeling/cheerleading is one of those things with a very pronounced and often exaggerated culture that is great for stereotypical portrayals, but also very bothersome. Nobody is one-dimensional. My model sister might spend hours organizing her clothes, but she also has a list of books to read that includes quite a few classics, and listens to great music that I've never even heard of.
  • Bad Boy Who Isn't Really -> You know the characters that fall under this cliche; Edward Cullen is just one of them. These are the guys that have been to juvy, that are total womanizers, that do drugs and skip class and are totally horrible. Except, you know, not, because then they find their One True Love and become a changed man and it turns out that they always had a heart of gold! Excuse me but - barf. This can be done well, of course, but it's such a huge cliche that in order for it to work the character's personality and life has to really be explored so that the reader can move beyond the Bad-Boy-With-A-Good-Heart image. And that's a really, really difficult thing to do; more often the third-act revelation that this character is actually one of the good guys is passed off as depth of character when it's anything but.
  • Inseparable BFFs Since Birth -> This happens a lot in YA and MG and I don't know about you guys, but the best friend I had in kindergarten? Not my best friend anymore. Surprising as it is (note massive sarcasm), we changed a bit between age five and the start of high school. Different groups of friends, different interests, different everything. Friendships are hard, best-friendships are the hardest, and it's really rare to stay that close to someone you've been besties with your entire life. It happens, just not often, and not without struggles and fights along the way. Whenever I read a book with best friends who've been best friends since elementary school, who never fight, who completely love and understand everything about each other it ceases to be realistic to me - people are different. Even people who have a great friendship or relationship and who really do love and care for each other - even those people don't agree on everything. 
All three of these massive cliches can be done. They can be done well, they can be done extremely well, but they rarely are. However, this only makes it all the more awesome when I find a book that nails it.


  1. Hey, I was wondering if you have ever read the Perfect Chemistry series by Simone Elkeles. She's an amazing author (in my opinion), and she has a lot of characters who seem to break the stereotypical mold. She has a guy in a gang who would do anything for his family and secretly wants an education. Then she has a cheerleader with a sister with mental problem (sorry I haven't read this book in a while, so I can't remember what exactly she had). Both broke the mold. :D So if you haven' read it you might like it.

  2. I totally agree with you about the last one. That has really been starting to piss me off lately. I can barely keep a "best friend" from high school. My best friend from kindergarten became my ex-best-friend in 1st grade. I roll my eyes every time another main character has an inseparable bff from when they were children.

  3. Jewels - I read most of PERFECT CHEMISTRY (but not its sequel), though I didn't finish it. The book just didn't work for me for some reason; I think maybe I found it too flat. And I'm really not a huge fan of straight-up romance novels. But I know A LOT of people who loved it. Personally I think Sarah Dessen subverts a lot of stereotypes in her novels... if you've read JUST LISTEN the two main characters could easily be stereotypes if Dessen had chosen to go that way, but she really fleshes them out and makes them real characters.

    Kristina - EXACLTLY! I think this is pulled off MUCH BETTER in television shows or movies than in books for some reason (Psych comes to mind). I'd rather read about positive & realistic friendships (no matter how long they've known each other) than unrealistic BFFs!! who've been best friends since kindergarten.

    As a former cheerleader, you made me smile! Thanks for giving this stereotype some RESPECT

    Bad boys - I'm just sick of them. Namely, what kind of weird, daddy-didn't-love-me-enough girls would fall for guys like this? Because more often than not, they're presented as borderline-destructive. Why can't nice, nerdy boys get some lovin' too?

    Friends - great observation! As a writer myself (I like to think of myself as one, I'll put it at that) I'll admit to doing this, but mostly just out of laziness on my part. Most of my MCs don't have a plethora of friend characters because, frankly, I'm too lazy to write them. I give them a few really close friends because, well, I write fantasies, not documentaries, and friends kinda get in the way. Lol. I know that sounds horribly anti-social. But I agree---the one BFF character who has like exclusively monopolized the MC's friendship since day 1? yeah right!

  5. Gah, I so agree with you ! I see the stereotypes like cheerleaders and jocks and nerds and it gets really annoying when reading.

    But I do have to say the best friend thing can be true sometimes. I'm 15, close to the age of most YA characters. I've had about three friends since I was born that are still my best friends. It doesn't happen to everyone, but I know it's possible.