How do we break stereotypes in fiction?
This post was not intended for this week, but in light of recent events, I feel it may be both prudent and relevant. Some of you may have read about the backlash a book, THE CONTINENT by Keira Drake, received this week in regards to stereotyping specific races. While I have not personally read this book and cannot attest to its particulars, many readers are claiming the author portrays many characters in a stereotypical and racist light. For most, if not all people, this is troublesome.
After all, racism is something humans have been fighting to abolish for decades, perhaps longer. It has taken generations to change the ideology that one race, one religion, one heritage is better than another. Even now we have not fully reached an equilibrium. We are still fighting this battle. And one of the ways we fight this battle, alongside many others, is through fictional literature. Why? Because it directly influences and shapes the minds of young people, the next generation.
Fighting for Balance
Yet, we are still struggling. Even as we acknowledge the abhorrent practice of stereotyping and do our best to support acceptance of all peoples, we may unknowingly participate in it. Such is the still case in many fiction novels today.
There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of novels that show a distinct separation of peoples. Some are considered wild, impoverished, uncivilized, while others are seen as educated, refined, and wealthy. Often times this is because of a separation in history, a geographical divide, that allows the two populations to evolve independently from one another.
It’s easy for writers to fall back on this. It’s easy to create cultures that are opposites of each other because it’s been done before. It’s a tried and true method, and an easy opening for plot conflict, but in so doing, one society often becomes ‘superior’ to the other. One society ends up being seen as ‘bad,’ when bad is merely a matter of opinion. That is the flaw. The portrayal of each society is what needs to be changed.
A Writer’s Responsibility
Just because one group of peoples doesn’t have electricity or plumbing or whatever ‘luxury’ items are required to be ‘civilized’ doesn’t make them bad. They just live different lives. They don’t see the need for such things. They’ve learned to prosper without such things. The real problem is how the writer portrays them as ‘lesser peoples’ because of their lifestyle, but how do we change this?
That’s a good question. The obvious answer would be to make the societies equal, but then where would be the controversy? Where would be the story, as many stories rely on this key element? And I’m not sure I know the answer.
I, too, am trying to find the balance. I, too, write stories with differing peoples. I think the most important part of doing this, though, is showing the flaws and strengths of both cultures. Make them balanced in other ways if not in technology or education. While one society may have technology, they may be narrow-minded, they may be callous, they may be apathetic. While one society may live off the land, they may have deeper personal connections with each other, they may understand the balance between human and nature.
Exercise the Balance
There are many ways to go about this. The important thing is to go about it. Writers are the ones who make the rules and set the standards, and readers are the ones to keep them in balance and catch them when they do something ‘wrong.’ We have a balance to keep. And the more we exercise that balance, the closer we may come to reaching an equilibrium. An equilibrium where people are judged on their actions instead of their appearance, their religion, or their heritage.
Like most changes, though, this won’t happen overnight. It will take time. It will take effort. It will likely even take some heartache and strong words, but where do we start? How do we abolish these stereotypes? How do we bring awareness? What do we strive for to make different peoples seem neither good nor bad? How do we find the balance?
And check out my discussion from last week: