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Seeing past the stereotypes. | Laura Pauling

Seeing past the stereotypes.

Stereotypes.

We all have them. I know I do and I hate catching myself judging a person or place by their typical stereotype. I think of Texas and I see cactus and tumbleweeds. I think Dallas and I see big hair and lots of make up. Living in northern New England, I see the stereotype of New Englanders in action.

Sarcasm, fast-talking, aloof, educated…etc. And to some degree those are true. But beyond the stereotype are really nice people full of compassion. No, we don’t wear our emotions on our sleeves or chat up every single person we run into, like Southerners do. (Stereotype.) I swear I went into McDonald’s in the South and the girl behind the counter took five minutes to list the salad dressings.

But these stereotypes reach into fiction too.

I cringe when I read books where the churchgoers or the cheerleaders or the jocks are branded by the actions of just a few people, and I’m on the receiving end of that stereotype. These stereotypes usually create a villain where there isn’t one in real life.

These stereotypes appeared in ancient history too.

Medieval Europe was considered the center of the world. That was the happening place to be. Even though the commoners lived with their animals, and streams of sewage ran through their homes and in the streets and they rarely showered.

But over in Central America…who were these native people running around in nothing but loincloths? They must be backwards, not very smart, and just brutal to tear out the hearts of their sacrifices.

photo credit

Come to find out they charted the stars, made room in their calendars for leap year, knew to shower daily and keep clean and kept recorded histories of their people. They built awesome temples without cranes or beasts of burden. While people were dropping like flies from the bubonic plague over in Europe, the natives on this other continent were thriving.

I find this completely ironic and amusing. Facts like this only made researching the Maya that much more fascinating.

Of course, now I need to cleanse myself of the stereotypes I have of medieval Europe. J

In How To Survive Ancient Spells and Crazy Kings, I worked hard to build a believable world of the Ancient Maya, weaving in their culture and their way of life through the eyes of a girl on an adventure to rescue her grandfather.

What’s the stereotype of where you live and how is it wrong? Or right?

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21 Responses to Seeing past the stereotypes.

  1. Jessica Bell October 1, 2012 at 11:30 am #

    In the end, a stereotype exists because the people exist. It’s just like cliches. It’s because they’re REAL and FREQUENT. I find myself cringing sometimes too, but I’ve started to stop that. Especially ever since I got feedback on one of my characters, saying that she was too stereotypical. LOL. They totally missed the point. She was MEANT to be stereotypical among a group of other very unique individuals. It’s what made her stand out. Sometimes they work. You just need to evaluate why, and if you agree with the why, don’t worry if it’s right or wrong, just go with it 🙂

    • Laura October 1, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

      Hey Jessica, I agree there is definitely a way to embrace the stereotype to make it work for you or put a twist on that. We can’t escape stereotypes. There’s always some truth behind it.

  2. Natalie Aguirre October 1, 2012 at 11:42 am #

    Yes, it’s really important to try to avoid the stereotypes in life and in our writing. We have to be constantly vigilant. I’m sure you did a great job with your book. Excited to read it.

    • Laura October 1, 2012 at 4:22 pm #

      I loved learning the truth behind the stereotype of the Maya. And in real life too, I love meeting people that surprise me, who I thought I had figured out.

  3. Alex J. Cavanaugh October 1, 2012 at 12:05 pm #

    I was mulling over the subject of stereotypes yesterday when composing my post! Yes, the Southern Redneck is alive an well, but not everyone here is like that.

    • Laura October 1, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

      i’ll admit, I have the typical southern redneck stereotype firmly planted in my mind, but I also know that that’s just a percentage. TV and movies don’t help either!

  4. Jemi Fraser October 1, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

    It’s so important to move past those stereotypes! I’m from small city Canada. I don’t say ‘eh’ at the end of every sentence though! 🙂

    • Laura October 1, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

      I’m not sure I have a stereotype of Canadians. I just think hockey and of the French language.

  5. anne gallagher October 1, 2012 at 12:50 pm #

    I’ve been watching murder/mystery television shows lately, and I really dig the way the villain isn’t who you think it is. Which naturally has given me ideas about the villains I use in my books. Steroetypes are good to use sparingly, like bait, to get the reader to think one thing. When the “twist” comes, the reader will definitely be surprised.

    • Laura October 1, 2012 at 4:26 pm #

      Excellent point!

  6. Lydia K October 1, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    People love so much to put order to chaos, and I think stereotypes are one way to do it. There’s some truth to them, and there’s a lot wrong too!

    • Laura October 1, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

      Right. We like our boxes!

  7. Laurel Garver October 1, 2012 at 3:47 pm #

    Stereotypes are always a tricky dance–a character should be an individual, but go too far “off script” so to speak, and readers may find him or her less believable. And I loved what Anne said above about playing with stereotypes to toy with reader expectations and create plot twists.

    • Laura October 1, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

      There is that danger too of straying too far from the truth. Everything in writing is such a balance.

  8. Leigh Moore October 1, 2012 at 4:23 pm #

    Great post, Laura! this book sounds so great.

    I know the southern stereotype you described is right on. As for where I am now in the Midwest, well, what is the stereotype? Conservative? Reserved? That’s all pretty true. But friendly, kind people like you’ve said.

    It’s always good to keep such things in mind when we’re writing and living! 🙂 <3

  9. Laura October 1, 2012 at 4:27 pm #

    That’s write. I think bible belt. 🙂 But I find that in the South too. Most people I meet, are usually pretty darned nice, no matter where they’re from!

  10. C. Lee McKenzie October 1, 2012 at 6:47 pm #

    There’s always a touch of truth in the stereotype, so I suppose that’s why they persist. Of course, by the very nature of being a generalization, they are loaded with false information. I’m a Californian, so the stereotype is liberal, surf bum, with blond hair and tan. Hey, that’s me. Maybe some stereotypes are right on. 🙂

  11. Karen Strong October 1, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

    Ha, I must say as a Southern lady, still working on not calling everyone, “honey,” “darling”, “love” and “sweetheart.”

    But I think sometimes especially for me growing up on a farm, a stereotype of farmers is really wrong. I know some people thought we lived in the Middle Ages but it wasn’t true at all!

  12. Dianne Salerni October 1, 2012 at 11:29 pm #

    Awesome post! As you may recall, I visited Teotihuacan this summer as research for my WIP. That city was a thriving metropolis when London was still a Roman fort. Three huge pyramids — and FIVE reflecting pools down the center of the city, reflecting those pyramids and the stars.

    So much incredibly rich history lost on this continent … I only wish someone would invent time travel so we could go back and peek!

  13. Laura Marcella October 2, 2012 at 1:27 am #

    Fascinating! I’m really looking forward to your new book, Laura. I’m not sure what the stereotypes are for the East Coast. I’ll have to ask someone who doesn’t live here!

  14. tracikenworth October 2, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

    Stereotypes can be useful at times but a hindrance at others. I do think movies/TV help them to exist in people’s minds. Here in OH, I don’t see so much of one. We kind of have a mish-mash of people going on here. I know though that Cleveland is often portrayed as hellish and a nightmare place to live. There are parts, I admit, because of the gangs and violence that I wouldn’t dare go down in, but other parts are nice. I live way out in the country though, Amish country. so often it’s like we’re in a separate state when you hear about all the crime and murder.

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