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Stereo(type) Vision June 5, 2011

Posted by bobv451 in ideas, sci-fi, science fiction, westerns, writing.

Stereotypes are bad. So they say. But why? Trite? Because a stereotype is real, actual, the way it is? Common? Vulgar? Stereotypes can certainly have their place in writing that isn’t appreciated.

No book is filled with 100% unique characters. Maybe because there are no unique characters? At all? Perhaps the most brilliant creation of an alien I have ever read was in Frank Herbert’s Whipping Star The alien in question was a star, a glowing blob of gas. Wonderfully created and characterized–and utterly without any chance of identification. No sympathy, no animosity, nothing emotional could be generated for the character since Herbert had done a great job constructing an alien without human traits, aspirations, fears or…any connection at all.

You want emotional attachment, understanding, outrage, something…human. Those stereotypes hit the section of the bell shaped curve where most of us live. But perhaps you might say that by stereotype, you mean something ugly. Wal-martians, anyone? With a single word you get a picture that might take a paragraph or a dozen pictures to otherwise describe.

Science fiction (and, to my way of thinking now, westerns) are about describing alien environments. The world isn’t as we know it but as we imagine it and want to share with the readers. Han Solo is a stereotype. How many would want to get rid of that character? The bar scene is useful in a lot of ways–a stereotype? And using stereotypes to contrast is still using them–how is our new world different? (You ought to ask if 180 degrees away from a stereotype isn’t one, also)

Rather than loudly proclaim all stereotypes to be unusable and even wrong in fiction, think how better to use them. It’s another tool–and we need something more in out tool chests than the single proverbial (stereotypical) hammer. Nail on!



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