Archetype or stereotype?

I’ve loved all the recent posts on Shades of Suspense. Particularly the last regarding archetypes. It really got me thinking, which may or may not be a good thing. πŸ˜‰

My main concern as a writer: How do I effectively use an archetype without it becoming a stereotype?

Just so we’re all on the same page, here’s how defines the word stereotype:


1. a process… for making metal printing plates by taking a mold of composed type or the like in papier-mΓ’chΓ© or other material and then taking from this mold a cast in type metal.

2 & 3 are more of the same and then we reach…

4. Sociology. a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group…

I suppose that, by this last definition, it is possible to turn any one of our standard character archetypes into stereotypes. It depends largely on the writer … and perhaps the reader, as to what type of characters catch on. For many years the most popular archetype — at least in category romance — seemed to be the beautiful, virginal, sweet and naive heroine.

Let’s take one of the heroine archetypes for an example: The Boss. Now how many of you have either read a book or seen a movie/tv show with a female boss character? Many times that character is depicted as the power-hungry witch who cares for no one. So, in that sense, an archetype becomes a stereotype.

Any romance lover knows, however, that her personality is going to have to soften or change completely before we can dub The Boss as the heroine of the piece. After all, not many of us cheer for the corporate raider who grinds her stilettos into anyone who gets in the way. See? Stereotyped, all the way. πŸ˜‰ We do cheer for the underdog secretary or the quiet mouse in the steno pool. Ummm… do they even have steno pools anymore?

Ah, but I digress.

It’s obvious that few of us are any of those archetypes in whole. We all have different faucets to our personalities. Sometimes we just might be that Boss Lady with attitude; at others, we are the nurturers who take care of others because their trials bring out our soft sides. We can be any and all of these women — and so should our characters if we want them to be three-dimensional.

Now this thought-process has been with me for a while as I climb my way back up from the bottom of one rejection and fight to finish another book. My thanks to Jerri Drennen for actually putting it all out there at SOS for me to see and ponder anew. πŸ™‚

I’ve been contemplating the whole idea of character because I worry that my characters are bordering on stereotyped status. Am I re-writing the same hero and heroine over and over? What about my villains? A simple change of name, nationality or hair color will not do the trick.

There is nothing more riveting than a story with three-dimensional beings at center stage. THOSE are the stories I want to write. I want a heroine to whom I can relate on some level. I want a hero with whom I can fall in love. I want a villain who I can curse … and yet, one that draws a bit of sympathy from me, as well. The latter isn’t an easy thing to create.

I think the most difficult character I’ve written to-date has been the sister of my DREAM WALK heroine. At first she seemed to simply be the bitch who did nothing but party and sleep around — and in the beginning of the story, in the beginning of my thought process, she was exactly that. But then I kept writing… and I let the characters speak to me.

I wondered: “Why is she like this? What made her so different from her sister?”

She told me. In a writing session where the words poured like a waterfall, she helped me understand her rather complex personality. And so I began to actually like that character a bit more. She softened right before my eyes. It was an amazing experience.

Will she ever be the heroine, herself? Not sure. I still have issues with her, personally. πŸ˜‰ But at least I know she’s not a one-dimensional party-girl secondary anymore. She became much more sympathetic, at least in my eyes.

So maybe I do know the secret of keeping those characters from becoming stereotypes, after all! Just put your hands on the keyboard… and listen. πŸ˜‰

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