More on Diversity

I have never read a book by Tana French and the first time I saw her name was in the Eagerly Awaited August Books where both Dabney and Lynn indicate that they are looking forward to her new release Broken Harbor.  Then while surfing the Web, I came across  her name again.  She wrote an article for Publishers Weekly outlining her writing tips.

A few of them didn’t resonate, but this one did:

There’s no such thing as ‘men’ or ‘women’. There’s only the individual character you’re writing. One guy emailed me asking me how to write women, and I couldn’t answer, because I had no idea which woman he meant: me? Eleanor of Aquitaine? Lady Gaga? If you’re thinking of ‘men’ or ‘women’ as a monolithic group defined primarily by their sex, then you’re not thinking of them as individuals; so your character isn’t going to come out as an individual, but as a collection of stereotypes. Sure, there are differences between men and women on average – but you’re writing an individual, not an average. If your individual character is chatty on the phone or refuses to ask for directions, that needs to be because of who he or she is, not because of what he or she is. Write the person, not the genitalia.

Since I read contemporary books, I can’t tell you how many times I come across the scenario that women love to shop – usually for shoes or sexy underwear.  And, of course, men would rather run over broken glass than step a foot inside a department store. And then there is the best friend of the heroine -a gay guy, who calls everyone sweetie, lives in an immaculate house and never has a hair out of place.  These characters are not memorable.  And, as a result, many times the book isn’t either.

A few reasons come to mind as to why authors continue to use stereotypes – such as it being a short cut to characterization like the old westerns when the good guy wore a white hat and the bad guy wore a black. Another use is a way to integrate humorous scenarios, and, finally, since it a universal stereotype then it must be true – women love to shop for shoes, and men hate shopping, thus helping the reader identify with the character.

I think what is sad is many authors who use this type of shorthand are really good writers, or they used to be.  I have always been sensitive to repetition.  I think that is one reason I don’t do well with series books – because invariably the character’s quibbles are repeated in every book – but now I find that I am letting go of some of the authors I have read longest because they are stuck in a rut. I still reach for authors who have a trademark style.  However, if they don’t surprise me with characterization, then I expect them to do so with the plot. I don’t believe that I am alone in this.  From just reading the boards, I see readers discussing books with unique characters and storylines.

Data about popular books seems to both our enemy and liberator.  Publishers recognize trends, and the market immediately seems glutted with that type of book.  I can’t tell you how many books that I have seen that appear to be a variation of 50 Shades of Grey but hopefully they will also see that we are not looking so much for a certain type book, but books with unique characters and plots.

There have been several blog written here – one by Blythe and another by Maggie – encouraging readers to send a message with their dollars to publishers that we crave distinct type books. While both Maggie and Blythe encourage readers to either buy or read certain type books – I think there is a missing element: Word of Mouth. Since I tend to overwhelm myself with review books, I can’t often talk about them after reading them. However I admit I have been lazy in posting about other books.  That I hope to change. Because I know there is power in this media.

So, what do you think?  Are there stereotypes that you love – or that you’d love to never see again? Can you think of authors who follow Ms. French’s advice? Any ideas on ways to get the message to publishers that we want diversity in our characters and plots?

– Leigh AAR

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7 Responses to “More on Diversity”

  1. farmwifetwo says:

    I have dumped many long term authors… ok, except for JAK and JD Robb… not because they are amazing writers but b/c they are “comfort” reads. You know going in, the style of story you are going to get. I’ve dumped them all sooner or later. Nalini Singh and Laurie R King being the latest. I have Nalini’s newest on hold at the library and truly have no enthusiasm to read it. I read the travelling ARC of LRK’s and went, meh….

    Series drag on too long. Both these authors wrote something new and fresh when it started. Both did place, time and dialogue well. Both have that feel of “gotta publish by this date” now and the stories are lacking in that depth of plot and character that enticed me to read their books over and over again in the beginning.

    I truly don’t think series’ should last over 3 books… 5 tops. There have been some excellent authors out there over the years and not one can sustain an unending series.

    So, I keep looking for someone new to try but as you mentioned so many try to catch a ride of the “genre” of the day and miss the “original” part.

  2. dick says:

    But, in the end, aren’t all romances sterotypical? Isn’t that, at base, why readers read them? Isn’t that why so many readers have “comfort” reads and reread them when the new and supposedly original palls?

    • Leigh says:

      dick: But, in the end, aren’t all romances sterotypical?Isn’t that, at base, why readers read them?Isn’t that why so many readers have “comfort” reads and reread them when the new and supposedly original palls?

      Sure romance follow a certain pattern and in a board sense you can say that they are stereotypical but comfort reads are usually by authors that have taken a used plot device or character and made it their own.

      When authors get into a rut – I still tend to like the book okay be, mainly because of their level of expertise but the books no longer wow me. Maybe it is unrealistic to expect them to exceed the bar they set – but sometimes author seem like they are phoning it in. A winning formula doesn’t mean that they can’t fine tune it a little.

      Then you have other authors who try to duplicate a formula.

  3. Maggie AAR says:

    OMG, I have so many thoughts on this subject! The first is that authors of genres walk a fine line. Hard as it is for me to swallow (and it is very hard) there are many people out there looking for same ole same old. Change a time period, put it somewhere besides England or America and you are messing with sales. Publishers also want proven winners. Once Virgin River was a success other authors also needed to publish small town romances – Toni Blake now has the Destiny series, Barbara Freethy Angel Bay, and Brenda Novak has just started one. Does this work? I have to say it must or publishers wouldn’t be doing it.

    I think this is why authors have started to write such cookie cutter books. There is a fear that throwing a heroine in who hates shoes and is addicted to soap operas will give the book bad word of mouth, bad sales and throw her career into a spiral. I also wonder if that is why many romance authors aren’t trying to write YA. Lots more room for diversity.

    Anyway, I think a lot of the problem actually lies with readers being as afraid of he new as publishers. I know I have my favorite story types and don’t wander away from them very often. But I’m trying. :-) And I think that’s what it will take – people willing to try the new and then talk about it.

  4. Victoria S says:

    “We have met the enemy and he is us”. I find this to be very true of myself. I am eagerly awaiting August releases, am I searching for new authors to fill the void…nope, I’m re-reading an old “comfort read” by Stephanie Laurens. And I do this a lot!
    I have found many a new author here at this website, and have gone on to merrily glom her back-list. But when I am in a slump, or waiting for a new release I invariably re-read.
    And the sad part , Leigh, is that I honestly don’t know if I “crave distinct type books”, I just want the books I crave to be good.
    I am in a debate with myself right now, whether to buy a “new” copy of one of my favorite comfort reads, or put it on my Kindle. If I put it on my Kindle do I go back and get the entire series (I have a BAD case of sereisitis),which is costly, or just replace the disintegrating book? See my point, I am debating how much money to spend on an author I have already read, rather than pick a new author who I may or may not like.
    Like Maggie, I too have favorite authors and stick with them, with the occasional foray onto new author territory.
    I started out my reading with series; John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe; Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars and Carson of Venus and everything Agatha Christie wrote, So I am prepared to follow an author over the long haul. Yep, I have met the enemy…and it IS me.

    • Leigh says:

      Victoria S: “We have met the enemy and he is us”. I find this to be very true of myself. I am eagerly awaiting August releases, am I searching for new authors to fill the void…nope, I’m re-reading an old “comfort read” by Stephanie Laurens. And I do this a lot!I have found many a new author here at this website, and have gone on to merrily glom her back-list. But when I am in a slump, or waiting for a new release I invariably re-read.
      And the sad part , Leigh, is that I honestly don’t know if I “crave distinct type books”, I just want the books I crave to be good.
      I am in a debate with myself right now, whether to buy a “new” copy of one of my favorite comfort reads, or put it on my Kindle. If I put it on my Kindle do I go back and get the entire series (I have a BAD case of sereisitis),which is costly, or just replace the disintegrating book? See my point, I am debating how much money to spend on an author I have already read, rather than pick a new author who I may or may not like.Like Maggie, I too have favorite authors and stick with them, with the occasional foray onto new author territory.
      I started out my reading with series; John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe; Edgar Rice Burroughs John Carter of Mars and Carson of Venus and everything Agatha Christie wrote, So I am prepared to follow an author over the long haul. Yep, I have met the enemy…and itIS me.

      Of course you are not alone. And it is not that I crave exotic locales, or culturally different characters I just want the ones I read about to be real – for me to feel like I know them not a stereotype.
      Although, honestly I do have a weakness for the stereotype of seemly bimbo heroine – who is hiding brains and street savvy as long as the rest of the story is unpredictable.

  5. ell says:

    I have no idea how to resolve this. I can’t help but think that it would take at least a million of us to actually reach and make a difference to publishers.

    Having said that, let me also say that for me personally, my Kindle has made me a lot more prone to take a chance on new (to me) authors.

    And this: I LOVED Maggie Stiefvalter’s Scorpio Races, and wish she would, if not write a whole series, then at least one more book. She has jumped on to my automatic buy list.