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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Characters, Archetypes, and Stereotypes

Yesterday was not a good day for writing progress. It's a long story I would rather not discuss, but hopefully, things will be better today. At least it's starting out more normal. (I probably shouldn't have thought/written that; might have jinxed it.)

I found myself in a number of situations where I had time to think and do little else. One notion I pursued was based on a review of "The Dreamer Gambit" and the role of Victoria, the evil psychologist. Thinking led to a realization about stereotypes.

Back in the day, I took a course in developmental psychology, i.e., studying how the human mind develops from birth to adulthood. A fact that stuck with me was that humans learn about the world by grouping and categorizing things we encounter. We have to. There's far too much stuff in our world to have to identify every single thing as unique. Once you learn the concept of "clock" for example, you will know one when you see one no matter how different or bizarre it is. I'm thinking about some clocks with novelty shapes (a cat with eyes that move) or odd faces without numbers or numbers not arranged as normal. Likewise, you learn the concept of "face" and recognize one on a human, an animal, or an image in a painting. We even look for faces where none exist, like in the clouds.

So on the issue at hand, I considered my evil psychologist character. She was one of those characters who started out as an incidental and became more important and involved. Anyway, the idea occurred to me that someone reading the Jack Watson series might think I "have it in" for psychologists, that I think they are all like Dr. Pressler. Of course, this is not true. I have met a number of professionals in this category who are kind and warm and sincere in their desire and efforts to help people.

Then I thought how it seems that assumptions about a group tend to be negative for the most part. If one member of a category is presented lazy or mean or incompetent, that's what seems to turn into a stereotype. If that member is kind or intelligent or industrious, then he/she is considered an exceptional individual. Back to my novels, I don't think all psychologists are evil, all handsome men are egotistical, all FBI agents are smarmy, all pop singers are sweetly innocent, all secretaries are plump, middle-aged mothers, etc. I create characters to fill certain roles and try to make them interesting in themselves, believably motivated, and memorable enough to stay in the reader's mind doe the length of the book and maybe extending into a sequel.

I checked some definitions--archetype and stereotype--and found that archetype is a model or prototype and a stereotype is something that conforms to a pattern or mold. My conclusion was that people confuse "stereotype" with "prejudice," which when taken apart looks like, and means, pre-judge. That being said, the difference between a stereotype and a character is that a character has more depth, has human wants and needs and history that are uniquely theirs where a stereotype would have those things defined in a set way that is always the same. My dictionary cited the "hooker with a heart of gold" as a stereotype made famous by Hollywood. Yet even one of those can be fleshed out (no pun intended) to be more of a real person, a "real" character.

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