Know your audience
This might seem like a given right from the start, but there are a few specific areas that need to be addressed in order to ensure that your audience is the one you set out to write for, knowing that others can and likely will be reading it (even just for critique).
We’re going to look at 3 main points in this one.
Age Appropriate, Stereotypes, and PC vs Non PC
When JRR Tolkien finished his 30 year writing and named it The Hobbit, he marketed it as a children’s story. Nowadays, it’s classed as adult fantasy/adventure in most bookstores. Education levels and reading comprehension have vastly changed since he published Bilbo’s story, and the “rewrite” as was labeled Lord of the Rings. (Fact: The Hobbit was classed as ‘boring’ and ‘dry’ to at least one of the editors, and Tolkien was told to revamp the story and add more characters and more adventure.
That was The Lord of the Rings – as one whole story with three parts, Fellowship, Two Towers, and Return of the King. The Simarillion was a collection of details that helped Tolkien develop his story of hobbits and dwarves. In essence, it was the scratch notes of his work, published by his son after he had already headed into the west for good.) Sorry, I get a bit passionate and need to nerd-out for a few seconds while I mention Bilbo and the boys. I’m good to go now.
Dr. Seuss spent his book writing career creating silly words and made up places, in order to entertain very young children, and his books haven’t moved in age range.
There are a lot of these. Whether you are intentionally or unintentionally trying to do so, stereotypes crop up everywhere. The best way to ensure that you’re being unique and original is keeping characters away from the stereotypes.
Below are many, but I’m sure you’re going to read one and think of at least one or two more.
These are ones I’ve seen and read about, and some are so groan-worthy, you’re going to be surprised anyone uses them repeatedly (but they still do!!)
- The reluctant hero who invariably saves the day even though he (< usually male) tells everyone he’s given up, hung up the mask, doesn’t care, etc
- The kid who somehow helps hero in times of need, as if the kid were more of the hero than the hero.
- The shady helper – yeah the one who is always in the shadows, giving the key bits of advice and plot moments
- The hot female warrior with the largest breasts describable.
- The mentor who is grouchy, resistant to train, and never explains that they are training the main character/hero until the hero is ready to give up and leave, claiming they didn’t learn anything.
- The guy who thinks everything is stupid and whines through the entire story.
- The silver-haired guy with angst about life, whether he’s narrating or sitting at a table drinking whiskey straight from the bottle, he isn’t moving the plot along, he’s just complaining about things and giving red herrings to the story.
- The perfect kind of girl who never farts or does anything wrong, has a horde of followers, but there is likely only a few moths trying to find the dim lightbulb that is her brain.
- The tomboy who is transformed into the stunning beauty queen for the big reveal.
- The cross-dressing girl who infiltrates a male’s sanctum (locker room, gentlemen’s club, etc), and solves a problem, saves the day, and is the heroine because she did what would be classed as perverse and disgusting if it were the other way around in reality.
- The sarcastic guy who is basically the story’s troll, and invariably ends up being either the sage, the sidekick, or the star of the show.
- The guy who has all the answers and no one listens to him because he’s the nerd. Oh, and his glasses are taped in the middle, he has a pocket protector, and he’s a virgin.
- The ditzy (usually blonde) girl who somehow defeats the evil overlord – has to be the boobs.
- The brash hot-headed hunk who no matter what advice he’s given, he will rogue out and do his own thing, nearly get everyone killed in the process, and yet somehow pulls a victory out of his ass every time (usually thanks to the ditzy girl or a kid sidekick).
- The redneck truck driver who seems all gruff and really is just misunderstood and is a soft soul.
- The ultra religious family member who is way too pious for the amount of skeletons in their own closet, but has time to bitch and chew about every other member of the family, especially the ones that are social outcasts to begin with (ie finding out about a gay nephew), but later has a change of heart and is the most understanding of everyone.
- Angry middle-age women in the midst of divorce
- The librarian who is really a long haired beauty and releases her hair and removes glasses in big ‘reveal’ moment.
- The one person does something shady to get their crush to love/date them, their crush finds out, breaks it off, until the big reveal and boom, all’s fine and happily ever after.
- A sulky, uncommunicative teenager – right; because there are no teens on the planet who aren’t emo.
- A depressed, aging detective who drinks to hide his pain of the woman he lost to the villain.
- A sleepy small town where a big crime/murder/horror happens.
- Two protagonists who start the novel by disliking each other, over time they come to respect each other or in some cases fall in love.
- The rags to riches character; starts off poor, has adventures, becomes rich, saves the day, falls in love and lives happily ever after.
- The villain who always gets comeuppance in the very Hollywoodesque kind of way, instead of actually having their evil plan turn out for them.
- The villain who gives away every last detail to the hero while the hero is trapped in their lair.
- Racial stereotypes (this is not only potentially offensive, it’s unnecessary.) – Tread very carefully here.
- Women as bad drivers. (Yes, I realise there are harsher ones in this section alone, I’m not needing to point them all out though.)
These are a few of them.
The problem is, as you read, you could see at least one or two stories that are well known that fit these. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t viable plot points, but try to be original.
There are exceptions to the rules, obviously, and because of that, you can get ‘away’ with adding these into your story, if it is done for a reason. Why not reverse the roles though if possible? Have the hero want to save the day, and is defeated. The librarian who is just the librarian, and not some stripper.
PC vs Non Politically Correct Words
This leads us into being politically correct. Now, I’m going to be very clear about something: this is an area that is flawed. It seems that many people are social conscious of respecting others, but we have been so bombarded in social media that we become too protected of hurting each other with our words. **I”m about to make a point, and I shouldn’t even have to preface said point, but I am, because it is a “bad” word in modern western society ((that’s the kicker – it’s not even worldwide)).
Many people feel it is unjustified to give such weight to words. Others feel that words can be weapons, just as easily as swords or guns. That’s why knowing your audience will help you use the proper words in the proper way so you’re not vilified in the media as a hatemonger.
There are polarising words. Instant, and unforgettable. Words that are triggers for anger, pain, resentment, and fear. Words that even 5, 10, 40, 100 years ago weren’t given the same weight or inflection, or were used in those times to such a horrific degree and with the intended meaning strapped to them, were debilitating and are now considered dirty or foul.
No, I’m not going to start spouting racist words of hatred.
People have become so fearful of retribution from readers, that very few people use the term to explain something that has been slowed or hindered in some way. Yet, it is a very good word for that. Using it in the proper context that it was originally created and deemed, is not being harsh or cruel toward those who have mental differences. For instance, to retard something, in the verb sense, is to slow it down. Hence why the term (as a noun) ‘retard’ came into existence. Knowing why a word exists helps you understand how to use (or disuse) it properly. Slang version of the mental variance of the term are horrible, and ‘tard, tardo, spaz’, or others are to be avoided unless you want to make your character uttering the words instantly a pariah. Again, it’s all in how you use the term. If you’re in a medieval fantasy world, Dwarf is an entire race.
It is similar to retard for how it is used, though it’s not quite as polarising these days, thanks to Tyrion Lannister’s character being so loved. On the other hand, the term ‘midget’ is still not accepted vernacular, and should be avoided.
Use your words to your advantage. Know the words you are using. Don’t just use a word you think you know. If you don’t know the meaning – the true meaning, it is simple: USE ANOTHER WORD.
We use words every day to shape us and the world we live in. Knowing the words we do will help us better that world.
In the new worksheet, you’re going to have a bit of a chance to start to pick apart your characters – 6.5 Character Breakdown will show you fears and phobias and other issues (and blank spaces for you to add your own!) for your characters to deal with.