(This is another article in a new series I am writing about the different elements of fictional characters.)
In genre fiction stereotypes not only abound, they’re sort of expected. Characters such as the cynical detective in a mystery novel, the sexy alpha male in a romance and the sassy, witty female lead in chick-lit novels are staples of each individual genre.
It’s up to the writer and the way they breathe life into those characters that keeps the stereotype from becoming a bad thing.
Even though my first three books are classified as romance, I think I bend the genre just a bit with the way I write my hero and heroine. When writing male leads I always try to make my hero sexy and masculine without being too macho. Likewise with my heroine I strive to make them feminine, yet sassy and strong.
Below is an excerpt from Love, Simplified. For a synopsis click here.
In the following scene, Cecile’s sexy neighbor (and local handyman) Ethan is making a repair to her cabin while she’s trying to clean it up and make it inhabitable. Unfortunately, while Cecile is scrubbing away, she finds out a couple of critters have made themselves very comfortable in her home.
Once inside the kitchenette Cecile filled a bucket of warm sudsy water and grabbed a rag. After washing the counter tops, she figured she should wipe down the interior of the cabinets before she placed her stuff inside. Cecile wrung excess water from the soapy rag and opened the cabinet. She stuck her arm in the dark recess of the cupboard and wiped the shelving. When she reached the back corner her hand connected with something.
Cecile wondered what might be in the cabinet, when it should have been empty. With the rag still covering her hand she nudged the foreign object again. What the hell? She dropped the rag and peered into the cabinet and that was when she was hit with a stench.
“Oh my God!” Cecile shrieked in a shrill tone.
She had spied not one, but two dead mice at the back of the dark empty space. She bolted out the front door, bumping into Ethan in the process. Cecile ran down the stairs and once she was safely in the yard, began to wiggle her shoulders and hop around. She felt sure a mouse was somehow crawling on her body.
“Are you okay?” Ethan asked her, a bewildered look on his handsome face.
“Yeah, I think so. Sorry if I frightened you. I found dead mice in the cabinet,” she said while wriggling her hands in front of her.
“Well…that happens here at the lake from time to time,” he said with a smile on his face. “I can take care of them for you. I don’t mind.”
As much as Cecile wanted to take Ethan up on his offer, she knew she couldn’t. Ethan was right, dead mice were commonplace in the winter, especially in a cabin that hadn’t been occupied for years. Unfortunately, she would more than likely see more mice, both dead and alive. If she didn’t get over her aversion to the rodents now, she’d be calling Ethan every time she saw one of the pesky critters.
“No, thanks for offering. I’ll take care of it,” Cecile assured him with more bravado than she possessed. She squared her shoulders and marched back up the porch stairs and into the house. Cecile grabbed a pair of the latex gloves she used for deep cleaning and reached into the cabinet.
When her hand wrapped around the small body of the rodent, she almost shrieked and ran out of the house again. She closed her hand around the two corpses and quickly walked to the trash can. She dropped the rodents in with a small thud, stripped off the gloves and ran straight for the bathroom. She turned on the water in the bathroom sink, thankful the hot water heater worked. She scrubbed her hands in scalding water three times before she felt clean. Cecile was drying her hands on the towel when she happened to catch a glimpse of herself in the mirror above the sink.
“Damn!” Cecile cried in horror.
A cluster of cobwebs had collected in her dark hair and had created a long white streak down the front of her hair.
“God, I look like Cruella deVille,” she muttered as she ran her fingers through her long dark locks. Well, that’s one way to make an impression on my gorgeous neighbor, she thought sardonically. She wasn’t sure what she was more embarrassed about, hopping around in fear over a dead rodent or looking like a fictional puppy slayer.
In the above scene, while I did play into the stereotype that women are afraid of mice, I could have played into several other stereotypes and made Cecile start crying or leap into Ethan’s arms, or at the very least, she could’ve taken him up on his offer to get rid of the rodents for her. By playing into the stereotype just a little bit and then giving my character the room to be brave on her own it makes her more real. I also think when Cecile resolves to clean up her own mess, it makes her a touch sassier .
I can bet some of you reading this post are thinking, but isn’t it better not to use stereotypes at all? I guess in a perfect world it would be. But aren’t we all guilty of stereotypical behavior? Wouldn’t an absence of that type of behavior in a fictional character make them seem wooden and ring false?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject. Readers, what do you think about stereotypes in fiction? To my fellow writers, do you shy away from stereotypes in your work?
Please leave me a comment in the section below and let me know what you think about the use of stereotypes in fiction.