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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Avoiding Stereotypes (ConCarolinas 2015 Writing Panel Notes)

Avoiding Stereotypes
Michael G. Williams, Darin Kennedy, Faith Hunter, Melissa Gilbert, A.J. Hartley
Moderator: Janine Spendlove

Common Stereotypes They Deal With
JS: Heroes anthology: “Anything but white dudes in tights.” Also, as she’s in the marines which are 90% male; she’ll be deployed this summer as a commander. She feels that she represents all women in the marines because of the disparity.
AJ: Has a lot of problems of the way people represent the British, English, and British/English people. Still wrong, and operates on the assumption that “anything that doesn’t look or sound like me is not real”, not a fully developed person, etc. Doesn’t like the automatic equate of “You must live in a thatched cottage, etc”.
MG: She’s an English teacher, so she sees a lot in fiction and nonfiction of the stereotype that bothers her the most: the dumb hillbilly. A lot of times people think that because you came from a small town, you can’t be intelligent, can’t hold a meaningful conversation, and do nothing but make babies with your cousins.
FH: Doesn’t like the Polyannas. Women being stupid with their strength, or being weak where they could be strong.
DK: Doesn’t like the damsel in distress; or the sitcom with the unintelligent overweight husband and the smoking hot wife. (You’d never see the reverse show). And on the Disney channel, the children are brilliant and the adults are stupid and the children have to save their parents.
MW: Doesn’t like stereotype that gay men are either super macho bodybuilders or flamboyant. (“Most of us are both, thank you!”
JS: Worked on Capitol Hill when Don’t Ask Don’t Tell was being repealed, and the stereotypes and misconceptions, the fears that were going to arise, among the older generation.

Typical Stereotypes
JS: Let’s discuss the F Bomb: Feminism.
AJ: Someone who thinks that women should have equal rights to men.
JS: Equal rights for everyone. Equal pay.

JS: So what are the stereotypes?
-          Equating man-hating with feminist
-          Has a bumper sticker: “I know I run like a girl. Try to keep up.”
-          Stereotypes with age and the way it’s represented
-          Fanfiction: how everyone was appalled by the Snape-Harry fanfic, but the Snape-Hermione fanfic was somehow okay
-          Audience comment: Wherever you go, the underclass, the underprivileged, the assumption that the race is the assumption, not the situation. (e.g. poor, welfare African Americans or Hispanics)
-          The concept of the other.
-          That the mentally ill are dangerous to others; usually, they’re a danger to themselves.
-          That a learning disability or ADHD is equated with stupidity, troublemakers
-          NERDS.

It’s okay to be a stereotype if that’s who you are. But most of us are not. We’re an amalgamation of everything. But we have stereotype because of laziness, lack of understanding, and snap judgments.
-          JS: Like I’m the hipster feminist who hates all men and burns her bra.
-          FH: I used to burn my bra. I gave that up.
-          JS: I’m wearing one today. I can’t stand it.
-          AJ: I like them.
-          JS: Stereotypes exist because of society.
-          MW: Because people prefer the shortest explanation ever.
-          DK: Because early-on in our development we needed to identify “this is my tribe, that’s another tribe” – that it’s encoded in our DNA to look for differences in people.
-          MG: Jungian archetypes. We do it to help ourselves understand, because in order to learn, we have to connect.
-          Audience comment: The Identification of friend or foe.
-          FH: When we create characters, the easiest way is to start with a stereotype and work back from that. If only needed for one scene and one purpose, you don’t need much more than a stereotype. But characters you build on, you pull away from that. It’s the individual traits that make them stand out.
-          MW: If you only write an antagonist that’s just opposed to the protagonist, then that’s a stereotype. But if you ask why, even in one sentence, you can make them more.
-          Sometimes stereotypes are good. Put in aviation because her supervisor found out she had a motorcycle. “Because you’re a little bit crazy.” But if you don’t use more than the stereotype, that’s when things go wrong.
-          MW: His vampires want to “pass” among humans. The concept of “passing” is a form of social engineering, inhabiting a stereotype to make people stop thinking about you. Stereotypes are good when you want people to stop thinking about who you are.
-          AJ: Whenever we deal with anything historical. We have a bad habit of saying, “100 years ago, everyone believed, “[something stupid]”. Not necessarily true. Not everyone agreed back then, either. So why do we assume in the past that it was somehow easier?
-          JS: We like our categories. It’s what we do to classify and categorize books.
-          DK: In Star Wars, assuming the whole planet is a desert planet, an ice planet, a forest planet, etc.

We like to avoid stereotypes. Like “strong female character” just means “realistic woman”. And often with our first character, we base it on our selves. Why?
-          Because we know ourselves, know how to base things on ourselves, know how to write ourselves without stereotype. So how can we overcome this fear of stereotypes in our writing?
-          MG: Conversations. Talking about it. Openly, non-judgmental. Getting to know people helps a lot.
-          AJ: Once you’ve decided someone’s an ethnicity or gender, creating an actual life for them, putting aside those concerns and writing them as a character first. Wants to put himself into that character first, and then ask others in beta-reads for feedback later. The moment you ask, What do women want, women like? you’re already screwed. With writing, what we do is an act of empathy. Putting ourselves in someone else’s skin. Your capacity to put yourself in that position is always going to be mediated by a sense of strangeness.
-          DK: If your character is playing with or against type, there’s likely a very good reason why they do it. Maybe it’s not shown (the deep part of the iceberg), but as long as you know it.
-          FH: But you can use the stereotypes to show how a character is non-stereotypical.
-          JS: That’s a lot of big words for a southern lady.
-          FH: I bought me a thesaurus last year!

Audience Question: What’s the Difference Between Archetype vs. Stereotype?
AJ: Archetype is about character function. E.g. the threshold guardian. But a stereotype is something based on a set of social expectations of a particular type.
MG: Sometimes the stereotype can come out of an archetype.
MW: And stereotypes are at the expense of someone, penalize someone. Archetypes explain someone.
JS: When they wrote Tomorrowland, the script called for a white male as the protagonist. Disney has wisened up. Cast a teenaged girl instead, and changed nothing about the story. It became Terminator as done by Disney with a happy hopeful ending.

No matter what you do or what you write, you’re going to offend someone. It’s going to happen. So how do you deal when someone comes up and tells you you’re wrong because the stereotype is wrong, or because it’s offensive? (e.g. when Weird Al wrote the song WordCrimes, he didn’t know "spastic" is considered a version of the R word in Britain)
FH: Just says, “I’m not white.” And that usually shocks people. Her grandparents had to pass, and hid this from their children. She’s a stereotype, and she’s not.
AJ: Next year has a book from Tor with a 17-year-old female person of colour protagonist in a South-African like country. Says, “This is a fantasy world that looks a lot like Africa, but it’s not, and he’s the only one qualified to write this character, but he’s not.” Writing is an exercise in empathy. He’s doing his best to do his research, ask the right questions, and all he can do is give it his best shot, and see what happens. It’s scary.
MW: Plans to have half the cast male, half female when writing a book, then varies it racially and religiously, and don’t worry, next time it’ll be someone else’s turn. But when he receives criticism, he says, “So turn this into a teachable moment. Tell me what I got wrong so I can do it better next time.”
JS: Say “I’m sorry. What can I do to make it right?”
AJ: I’d like to have it before the book comes out...
AJ: Most of us have been in situations where we were out of place, not what people expected. Knows some of the strangenesses that arise from that. For example, he comes from a lower class, and was judged because of that at university.

JS: This panel could go on a long time, because this is such a big topic.

Yes. Yes it is. But they still managed to cover some great points (and.crack a few jokes, too!)