Differences vs Stereotypes

One thing I have not posted about which I think is important is to highlight “differences” vs “stereotypes”.

I do not think anyone will dispute difference and stereotypes are not the same.

There is a danger when writing to turn differences into stereotypes and that is where people get angry or upset. This is a true danger, not only for romance but also gender among many other character development traits, characteristics or preferences you can write about.

There is a lot of confusion about writing a difference and a stereotype.

Writing about differences successfully is about appreciating those differences and at the same time allowing for the fact that there are individuals that do not fit the typical pattern.

Writers should try to convey to their readers that there can still be something different between characters (e.g. men are taller than women) AND there still can be variation within generalities and exceptions (e.g., a woman who is taller than most men).

Writing a single statement does not provide sufficient information for an audience to decide if a writer is writing about a difference or a stereotype.

“Drug users are more aggressive than non-users.” is such a statement. Is the writer conveying that on average, drug users are more aggressive, or are they trying to tell the reader that all drug users are aggressive, and they should be seen as a monolithic block?

The readers will need to continue the story to find out.

What can we do as writers to avoid writing stereotypes?

  • Avoid writing that everyone is in a monolithic block that act like a Borg collective.

    • People who believe stereotypes typically do not accept the idea that is a sizable minority of individuals who do not fit the overall pattern. They may allow for exceptions, but the exceptions are rare. They may be seen as the exceptions that prove the rule.
    • These types of stereotypes are descriptive… describing “the way a group is”
  • Avoid writing that people should be a particular way

    • People will often set forth rules on how people should act, talk, learn, and everything else that can make them different from others. “Children should only talk when spoken to.” is a common dictate of earlier times.
    • These types of stereotypes are prescriptive … a particular monolithic group of people should do this or refrain from doing that; this type of writing is usually influenced by a writer’s strongly held beliefs.
  • Avoid making inferences, or assumptions, about individuals being written about.

    • The most telltale sign, and problematic aspect, of stereotypical writing is that stereotypes are used to define characters through inferences or assumptions. @greendaisy points to the typical (stereotypical) written lesbian couple of consisting of one butch person and one feminine person.

Writing about differences is a powerful tool to help make our characters well constructed both in depth and breadth.

If we are not careful in writing these differences, we, as writers run the risk of perpetuating stereotypes and in doing so, we defeat our goal of writing inclusively.

Because differences related to gender, ethnicity, and race are complicated and can lead to stereotypical writing, sometimes it may feel easier to sweep them under the rug and avoid writing about them.

I don’t think this is the right answer. Instead, I think we should push ourselves to write about differences in a better way.

The ideal is to have specific feedback regarding these differences. Not everyone can afford a sensitivity reader/editor to help us in our writing.

If you review your writing looking for the above pitfalls, you can often improve your writing, making sure differences in your characters are inclusive.

Like reading your material out loud, this is a way you can improve your own writing without spending a lot of money on a specialist.


Very interesting topic. Thank you for sharing :blush: