Self-Fulfilling Typecasting.

I write a very good Jackass.

The Anti-Hero, the one who would rather snipe than talk about his feelings, the one chock full of issues that will either be his undoing or lead him somehow to great strength and salvation. Or just the plain and simple Sarcastic Friend. That’s my forte.

In an age where there’s a great big bunch of those walking around, that’s not necessarily a problem when it comes to finding an audience. What is a problem is how comfortable a home base that can be, and I do wonder how many other writers run into this.

It’ll get extremely limiting, as comfort zones often do. A good story has a whole world of diverse characters, and even if not every color of the personality rainbow is tapped, it has to at least feel possible for someone else to exist in that world for it to feel real.

But you can’t help but shy away from people like the Tough Grrl, Girl Next Door, Boy Next Door, Well Adjusted Boy, and so on when it’s so much easier to play The Wiseass.

And when you realize you’ve done that? Congratulations, you’ve typecast yourself. This hearth and home you’ve built, fleshed out, made all yours? It will be your undoing.

And you thought that was just something actors had to worry about. Silly.

I think the only answer to this is the kind of therapy I’ve been looking to work out for myself. Write a lot of little stories with a lot of little characters. (There are no small characters, only small writers! … Ahem.) Just do it to see if you can. And if it’s not working, maybe you need to ask yourself why.

If the objective of the game is to get inside a character’s head, then look for the thing you connect with. There has to be some thread in there you can tug on, right? Or, failing that, someone you know is like/has done something similar to that, and there’s your in.

Or, failing both of those, research. And if you manage to make it the dark and unfortunate tunnel such an act can be for some, and come out of it with a good piece of writing, then you have a shining example of your own mental prowess. Or something.

Or maybe you just need to read more.

It’s fun to try, though. A lot of my more recent writing stems from just wanting to see if I could. When it works, it’s a very nice feeling. When it doesn’t, you have yourself a very short sob over what a talentless hack you are, and try to figure out what went wrong.

But especially where I’m looking to get a little more professional these days, I am getting increasingly wary of The Jackass, and the strangle hold this frustrating soul can get on my writing if I’m not careful.

Granted, I know this flies in a lot of books/shows/movies today regardless of my bitching about character diversity, but I’d like to avoid the kind of sameness that derives from every single character being chock full of witty repertoire. It seems like you end up with a sort of fluid redundancy that way, and it makes the wit that does pop out not very funny anymore, even if it’s the most gemlike of gems.

Or maybe I’m just being silly.

What about you, all you other writer types of fiction out there? Where do you dwell on the character spectrum, and is typecasting yourself a worry? I’d be interested to see if I’m not alone here.

And actually, I’m curious about this too. Non-fiction writers, do you find yourself in comfort zones it’s hard to get out of? Where are they, and does that bother you any?

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~ by Sara on November 26, 2011.

4 Responses to “Self-Fulfilling Typecasting.”

  1. You raise a good point. The wise-ass/jackass has become somewhat of a stock character in contemporary culture and, like you, I tend to rely perhaps too heavily on it. I like your idea of developing a wider palette of characters (and types) by writing a lot of little stories with little characters. Josh Emmons did something similar when he was writing his debut novel The Loss of Leon Meed. The project started with a lot of brief character sketches that he eventually tied together into a narrative. All of this is to say that I don’t think you’re being silly at all. I’d rather meet a wide range of characters in a book than be stuck with a handful of wisecracking “wits.” So it goes without saying that I should strive for the same degree of diversity in my writing as well.

    Thanks for this post!

    • I’ll have to have a look for the Josh Emmons book, that sounds interesting. I do like it when something small grows into something like that, it’s good proof of the merit these smaller pieces of work can have. Thanks for the comment, it’s good to know I’m not a tribe of one on this thing.

  2. I don’t know–the Jackass COULD be a one-dimensional or overused “stock character,” but IS he, when you write him? The “bad” guys tend to be WAY more interesting to me, which is maybe why even my “good guys” (and mySELF, in the arena of non-fiction) tend to let their bad stuff hang out there too… 😉

    • I think more often than not I make it out okay. I will drop my boys (and girls!) very quick if I don’t think they’re rounded out properly or just plain boring. But even the most round character will be smushed flat by an over abundance of the same type, as far as I can tell. Which is why even the pansies need their time out in the sun. Just so long as they’re interesting pansies. ^_^

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