Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Don't box me in: Politically Correct and Stereotyped

Delta Dupree and I have been online writing pals for years. I've read most everything she's written, and I can remember each of her characters vividly. To say she knows something about character development is like saying Nora Roberts writes a nice story. Please welcome Delta Dupree to the Five Scribes. ~ Donnell

I detest everything about "politically correct" in any arena, and I say this with gusto. When the saying ventures inside the publishing industry, well, I'm known to bristle on a daily basis without external help. How many times have you heard: Your character(s) are too stereotypical? or this scene (paragraph, phrase ...) might offend members of society?

Fiction is about real characters that a writer meets, passes by, sees on television or hears about in the media? Correct? Sure. Think about the "perfect" story. the villain is nasty and ugly and ... and never bathes (Yuck!) who is determined to confiscate something--the woman, the money, anything. Your heroine is a size five flaunting an hourglass figure, has impeccable manners and has the voice of a songbird--dripping with sweetness. Your lover-boy hero is six feet two, muscled in all the right places, the wealthiest man on the planet who is instantly consumed with the heroine and would give up everything for her. Huh?

Do we really want to read this "perfect" book involving "perfect" characters in a "perfect" world? We need depth to make those characters three-dimensional. Typically, bad people have at least one redeeming quality. Even good people have one or more poor qualities. No one is perfect, good or bad. Make our characters real, not politically correct. Don't believe me? Read on.

Let me step in reverse for a moment and give you a smidgen of personal background before I go on. I'm African American, whatever that means. I was born and raised in the United States like my parents, forefathers and mothers. American. My ancestors are a mix of Blacks, Whites, Indians and Cajuns. I'm Black. My family lived in all-white neighborhoods from the time I turned four years old. Ninety-five percent of my schoolmates were white until I attended college. As I matured, employment relocating me to several U.S. cities with varying degrees of status and success, the men I dated were from a variety of ethnic backgrounds--all of which had diverse educational levels and financial rank. Some were extremely arrogant, some rather dull. But, for the last twenty years, I've been married to a wonderfully romantic man. We're an interracial couple. He's Caucasion.

I'm published in erotic romance, one of the fastest growing subgenres. My first novel, Strip, is an interracial love story that recently hit the book stands. You can read a little more about me, how I got The Call, and the book(s) I've written on my updated website, Blogs and websites are a great way to promote!

Now that I've given personals, back to the dreaded phrase.

Political correctness crosses all genres. Take erotic romance, for instance. Many people consider the subgenre as porn. Why is that, since sex is part of human nature? Eliminate the sensual act and none of us would be here. Is the genre porn because women opened their eyes, began to fantasize, dared to enjoy a good read containing the so-needed satisfaction as they closed the book? You see, men have kept their eyes wide open about sex. They fantasize. They enjoy carnal knowledge. They discuss it! Give it up, boys. You know who you are. Erotic romance is not necessarily about how much sex or how hot or sweet the scenes are, it's the quality of the writing, whether the characters fit the storyline, whether the plot (believe me, porn usually neglects this point) rocks your world--like all fiction genres. Taking it one step further, erotic romance is about two people in love or highly in like. Writers have stimulated the industry with eroticas--gay and lesbian, paranormal, historical, time-travel, mystery, suspense, thriller, etc. For page space I included all areas of sexy stories under the erotica umbrella, which was once politically incorrect, and not virtually accepted. This takes me to the next point.

Who are the characters in all fiction? A character's nationality, religious beliefs, gender, sexual preference, etc., should they matter? For the sake of shortness, let's put this group under DITSOL I'll get back to the acronym in a bit. Naturally, DITSOL includes the entire world's population. Should we as writers, restrict ourselves as to whom we write about? Is it wrong to include an atheist or transsexual or Jupeterian into the mix? We write about the autistic, the obese, children, criminals, heroes, a**holes, the rich, the downtrodden, the dearly departed...I can go on and on. These are (or were in the latter case) real people. Each one fits under DITSOL, no matter the color of their skin, their religious practices, or to which gender they belong. We cannot--should not quarantine the real people who make our stories worth reading.

Part Two--Stereotype. Here's one of Webster's Dictionary noun definitions: "something conforming to a fixed or general pattern; esp: a standardized mental picture that is held in common by members of a group and that represents an oversimplified opinion, affective attitude or uncritical judgment." As an adjective: "lacking originality or individuality." Hmm. Does this mean that my gazillionaire hero needs a wart on his bum? Would readers prefer to hear about the rogue hero who contracted a STD and ignored the doctor's advice, because he's tall, dark and handsome? How about the hourglass beauty with impeccable manners that left her children because the wealthy boyfriend implored she do? Not in romance, not so far. I'm not saying the above is romantic, but these are issues that impact our daily lives. It's only natural for humans to fantasize, but they prefer to dream about all things good. Maybe the perfect life.

For those into paranormal or sci-fi, the auspicious future. And, as writers, we give our audience those fantasies. But our heroes and heroines come in all shapes and sizes with different thoughts and actions, likes and dislikes, loves and hates. All are part of DITSOL, which makes the human race so great because without the "stereotypical" characters, to me, life would be pretty boring. We would all write about the same people, the same characters, and the same situations. The perfect "boring" world.

So, those politically correct, stereotypical characters, put some life into them. Give them one or two defnining qualities that lift the readers' eyebrows. It doesn't have to be an ick factor. It can be--if appropriate to the character and storyline. Make them stand out, make them memorable.

Oh. DITSOL. Diversity is the Spice of Life. Bump your characters up a notch. You won't regret it.

Thanks for joining us today. Be sure to leave a comment and enter a drawing to win, Delta's Debut Novel, Strip.


Edie said...

Great post, Delta! I purposely show diversity of skin color in my books. In my wip, my heroine looks like Beyonce. (Who wouldn't want to look like Beyonce?) And most of my heroines have left size 5 behind them long ago.

But as I read your post, I realized I don't have obese characters. Not even my secondary characters. In real life, I have obese relatives and friends. That's interesting and something I'll need to change in my wip. (Hmm, which lucky character will suddenly gain 50 pounds?)

Keri Ford said...

Good points, Delta. I like to take what's sterotypical and flip a trait so it becomes something different.

Stephanie Feagan said...

I agree, Delta, everyone's writing improves by making their characters more realistic. Not only are readers more sympathetic to a flawed character, they're actually easier to write. An alpha guy who worries if he's got what it takes to make his woman truly happy - endearing. Also a source of great plot points and scene building.
Great post!
I'm waiting for the local B&N to shelve your book. They're always super slow when it comes to romance. *grumble* Can't wait!!!

Delta Dupree said...

Hi all! I'm so happy to be here blogging at Five Scribes. Tahnks for the warm welcomes.

Donnell easily inflates my pride. Always has. She's such a great friend and a great writer. Thank you, Donnell.

Unfortunately, I lost my hard drive yesterday, so today I'm using a different computer. Typing is not one of my best qualities, and using a different system makes the task much harder. To insure my mistakes are kept to a minimum, I'll have to copy and paste.

Be back soon.

Arkansas Cyndi said...

Great post! I deliberately try to make my heroines NOT a size 5, or 2 or even 8. I want them about a size 10-12... a little below "normal", as most women are larger than size 14. And I want my heroes to appreciate curves on "his woman"...if he doesn't, then he gets booted off the page for his best friend who does! :)

Thanks for the reminder that diversity is the key to an interesting character.

Delta Dupree said...

Hi, Edie! Thanks for stopping in.
Yeppers, Beyonce is hot. She's also flawed. What a great combination, isn't it?

But, we also must remember that it's not just physical traits making our characters unique.

Naturally, appearance is the first trait we *notice* when we meet people or read about them. Throughout our stories, physical traits generally become insignificant, letting other surprising character imperfections or wonderful qualities shine through. For instance, the quiet gardener, who has a photographic memory, knows every scientific name of the plants he cares for and who also saw the villain in action. He stutters. To me, it's these types of traits that grab editor/agent attention. Don't get wrong, plot means a lot, writing style makes a huge difference and voice cannot be overlooked.

Delta Dupree said...

Exactly, Keri. No one on the planet is perfect. No one is completely flawed.

Thanks for coming by.

Delta Dupree said...

Hey, Stef, good to see you here. Stef's a great writer who creates the ultimate characters.

Ain't it the truth about readers loving flawed protags?

Delta Dupree said...

LOL, Arkansas Cyndi. I've scratched a few characters for not conforming to my demands, those wanting to be the perfect entity. Lately, though, I've learned to use them because I know they're flawed. They *talk* to me as the story moves along. Sometimees, she or he tells me they need a story.

Delta Dupree said...

Thanks, Arkansas Cyndi, for stopping by!

Donnell said...

I'm not entered in the drawing, Delta. I absolutely loved what you said about stereotyping, and about erotica for that matter. Personally, I like good looking characters, I like to give them internal flaws. It's always fun to make the bad guy extraordinarily handsome, that's part of his charm...or to give the protag some kind of impediment. I read one of Diana Bold's books once where a mail order bride has deposited herself on the hero's doorstep and the hero pulls himself out of bed and opens the door complete with his wooden leg. It was a historial, of course, but what was cool, is I never saw it coming. We don't look for that in a hero.

Delta has a book right now that I can't wait to see on the shelf. The character is an absolute hunk with a serious ailment. Wont' give it away, but you end up caring about the guy from chapter one. Thanks for blogging about this topic! And yeah, I'm a fan!

Delta Dupree said...

Donnell, you're right. Women do want to visualize a fine specimen. I know I do, and I write about them. Even in Strip, hero Bryce fits in that category--although, you couldn't tell by the book cover--but he's a stripper! I just couldn't use a thin man or an abundant-sized fellow to entice a club full of overactive ladies. He has his flaws, immaturity being the worst of them. Maybe immaturity wasn't the best imperfection, but that's how new writers learn. We crawl first, then walk and hopefully run with our ideas. That is, provided we find an editor who lifts their eyebrow and makes the Call.

As for my WIP, yeah, I'm liking the hero, too.

Thanks for having me here. I appreciate those who commented. I'll also let Donnell know who'll get a free copy of Strip.

Paula said...

I found this blog by accident but I'll have to subscibe - great posts and great comments and so much to think about! I work as part of a book buying team and it's interesting to watch our stereotypes form and disolve as we go through the process. I'll keep an eye out to see if Strip appears!

Donnell said...

Hi, Paula, I'm glad you found us! The Scribes concentrate on all things writing. Thanks for posting.

Leslie Ann said...

Delta, Donnell, Paula and gang!
Delta, great blog. Thanks for being here with us.

In my multi-part blog with Marilyn Atlas, you'll find she spoke at length about Stereotypical Characters and Diversity of all might want to check those blogs, because we hit on some hot spots.

This was a perfect follow up to that. It's interesting that it's becoming a topic of some heat. I love it. I think we're all becoming tired of Stepford Characters in both novels and on the screen!!


Donnell said...

LA, that's exactly what I said to Delta when we were discussing topics. We think alike, eh? One of the things Marilyn dismisses when she reads a script is the run of the mill character. Good advice, LA

Delta Dupree said...

I'm back on online again. Yea!

Paula, it's great that you found Five Scribes. Wonderful group of people and excellent topics discussed. Come back again soon.

LA, as always I love hearing from you. I do have to get caught up on previous posts. I'm sure the Atlas blog was superb!

Helen Hardt said...

Hi Delta, and congratulations on the release of Strip! I love Aphrodisia, so I'll definitely check it out.

I love your comments about characterization. Like Donnell, I tend to make my characters very good looking with internal flaws. Without those internal flaws, they lose their uniqueness. And the reader's sympathy.

And writing erotic romance is no easy task! There aren't that many ways to describe inserting tab A into slot B. One has to get very creative. Layering in heat and emotion on top of the act is another challenge, not to mention plot and conflict. The sub-genres have their own difficulties. For example, menages can be pronoun nightmares, LOL.

Wonderful post. It was nice meeting you!


Delta Dupree said...

Well, this is the second time I've tried to get this posted.

Helen, I'm so glad I stopped by Five Scribes again. It's nice meeting you and great to read your comments.

You're correct about writing erotic romance--not an easy task--but is that any different than writing any genre? In some ways, yes. Sex scenes are my most difficult to write. Creativity is supposedly the key. On the flip side, I feel that the lead-in to the actual sex act is more arousing, way more sensuous. Am I wrong?

Is there someone out there to dispute this?

Mary Marvella said...

Excellent observations. I prefer to read about characters who seem like I could actually know them.

Gotta say my 40 year old virgin must be too different, even for women's fiction.