The Barking Cat: Messing With Stereotypes
Cats that bark rather than”meow” are rare,
but if you’ve been around cats a lot, you’ve probably not surprised to learn that I’ve heard a barking cat. Yeah. Really.
But that’s not why I called you all together today.
I want to talk about messing with stereotypes.
First, let me say that the immediate response to the sentence above is to use the rule of opposites. Don’t do that. Doing the opposite of a thing in order to shake up your reader is too slick, too easy, and often comes across as juvenile.
Instead (and remember, the opposite of cat is NOT dog), the act of “messing with stereotypes” is more complex, and can be a lot more rewarding than the opposites game.
Think about the stories, novels, TV shows or movies you’ve experienced where the main character suddenly (and seemingly out of the blue) chokes up. Shows fear. It is outside of the stereotypical hero’s persona, but it isn’t so “out there” when you place the hero stencil over a normal man or woman.
We jump at loud noises. We flinch if someone punches at our face or pokes at our eyes. Our hearts race if the elevator starts to move too fast, or stop too quickly. We react. We jump. We flinch.
Allowing your characters to move outside of a staid and tired stereotype, especially in the direction of humanity, might be just the thing to make your characters really live.
The bottom line here is that cardboard cutout characters do not excite the mind. We already and always know what they will think, say and do given any circumstance.
Isn’t it time to shake things up a bit?