Sunday, February 7, 2010

Creating Real Characters

For people who wish to write creative stories, either for the theatre, film, internet, or printed pages, need to be aware of. It's stereotypes.

While not necessarily bad in a story, I think they are when they happen without the writer's knowledge. My reasoning is that instead of making a statement (pro or con) regarding the stereotype, the writer is simply perpetuating it. Generally, stereotypes are not good.

I'm old enough to remember the 1960s. It was a time of great civil rights strife for everyone, but prominently for black people. Hollywood, wishing to appeal to a wide audience, did what it could to demonstrate equality. But as its motivation was money alone, sometimes its own prejudices came out in its very efforts to show no prejudice.

I recall reading a Mad Magazine issue in which the primary movie being satirized had a black character in it. In the satire, when the black character shows up he identifies himself as, "Hi! I'm the token black."

What made the satire so funny was it was absolutely true. In the actual film the only purpose that character served was to be a black person getting along with white people. It didn't come off (for me), as is evidenced that I can't even recall the movie's title anymore. All I remember is that one scene from Mad Magazine's parody.

Stereotypes can be useful things in setting up statements about our society. They are especially useful in humor, as is evidenced by stand up comic routines about ",_Women_Are_from_Venus"

When writing with a purpose, stereotypes can work very well. But what if a writer includes stereotypes in their work unaware?

Back in the 1960s and 70s virtually ALL gay people on television were male. Lesbian was a word people knew about, but on television there didn't seem to be any. Not that I remember anyway. (Maybe I just watched the wrong shows. There were women who were depicted as being very "manly", and perhaps that was television's way of dealing with it.) And EVERY gay man I recall being depicted was over the top gay.

Now there is nothing wrong with "manly" women, or over the top gay men. But not every lesbian is "manly" (not sure anymore what that means either), and not every gay man is over the top. (Oh, by over the top I mean the lispy voice, extreme fascination with fashion, limp hand wave, etc.)

I once saw a comedian on television talking about how several of his friends were gay and a few were, in fact, over the top. He said he acted that way sometimes, too. Why? "Because it's FUN! I love to say spritz!" You had to have been there. But in poking fun he was also telling us something in his routine: Not all gay men act the way you think they do. In fact, even with a softening of attitudes toward sexuality, there are a lot of gay people who are still afraid to let others know. For some it is even dangerous to let this truth out. People are often surprised when they learn someone is gay. How can that be - if all gay people act the same? If people can't tell without being told, then I maintain that there is no gay behavior which reveals a person's sexuality - other than what would take place in private. But even then. Do all gay people engage in gay sex? I don't think so. After all, not all heterosexual people engage in heterosexual sex.

I maintain that sexuality is not just what we do with our bodies. In fact, our bodies may have much less to do with our sexuality than we realize. I believe sexuality is at the spirit level. In the heart of hearts. We simply give labels based on the bodies we were born with.

So I think we need to be careful when writing characters. I've only read one of her books, but Tanya Huff writes about gay and bi-sexual people. What makes her writing so wonderful is how natural the characters are. Nobody is "acting gay". They are behaving like people. Real people. The way real gay and lesbian people behave.

We need to keep that in mind when we write our characters. Remember, a character can be gay and never have it referred to in the story even once! Consider J.K.Rowling revealing that Albus Dumbledore is homosexual. Until she said that how many people suspected - or cared? It wasn't important for her to tell/show us in the story. She knew. And that was what was important.

As writers, I think we need to keep this in mind when creating characters who have an historical stereotype which can be applied.

Just a thought.