My beloved editor pointed out I give all my heroes green eyes. Guilty, which meant I had to change up the eye color. Some received brown eyes, another one hazel, but none received frosty light blue eyes. I refer to that eye color as serial killer eyes. It makes the person appear soulless. I must have watched too many movies that featured a blue-eyed actor as the sociopath. That’s my perception, but surprisingly many other people share it.
When you’re writing, even though the story is your baby, other people’s slants on life enter into your story or they should. How is that? Writing a romance? You probably don’t want a pedophile or a terrorist as your main character. Truthfully, they probably wouldn’t work well in any novel unless they were the bad guy. Still, there are people we appear not to like almost as much.
A bestselling author chose to make her romantic hero a pharmaceutical executive. Despite the fact it was a well-written tale, she received hundreds of scathing reviews about the hero’s profession. I was unaware pharmaceutical executive were held in such contempt. This probably surprised the author too.
How do you write, knowing if you do not cater to the accepted stereotypes, you might get review backlash? I would like to think if you write a wonderful tale you should be able to overcome this, but I could be wrong. People like what they like. Many times they like what is put in front of them enough times or at least they accept it. Advertisers are very aware of this nuance.
We know this on an almost subliminal level. If you are a romantic comedy fan, you’ll notice the male has dark hair. You rarely read about a blonde male. If he does have blond hair he has to be funny like Owen Wilson. Red hair is the kiss of death for a romantic lead. Someone should have told David Caruso this before he quit NYPD Blue to seek a movie career.
What we see in the media shapes our perceptions. We accept easily that a detective, lawyer, even an engineer can be barely out of school and do expert level work. People who are in those professions will write honestly about their professions and receive reviews stating their tale was unrealistic or even had an unlikable hero. Having lived and worked the profession isn’t good enough because often our takes on particular jobs are wrong.
Do you think there are plenty of handsome billionaires in the world today? According to romance novels or Get Rich quick books, there are plenty. Actually there isn’t. Only about 1000 men worldwide are billionaires according to a 2012 count. It doesn’t mean these men are single, young or handsome. Ironically, these men tend to drive Fords instead of Porsches because they realize a car depreciates. Most live under their means and frugally on top of that. They are more likely to work every day.
It certainly ruins our image of flying to various exotic locales to party. The typical millionaire goes bankrupt two to three times in their life too, which messes with our romantic image. We don’t want reality. Instead, we want our version of reality. It is the glitzier one, which is consistently over the top.
With this is mind, should we cater to our future readers by going the already flattened path? I believe there are of plenty of people out there who search couch cushions and under car mats hoping to find enough money for a burger from the dollar menu. These same people would understand the financial struggles of a money-strapped heroine. It would be a better fit than a heroine who was at the top of her profession at the young age of twenty-six.
Giving people something unexpected also helps people to overcome the adherence to stereotypes. Patrick Stewart, who played Captain Picard in ST: The Next Generation, failed to follow in the macho, impulsive, swaggering role made famous by William Shatner. Stewart was short and bald, not something normally appealing to woman or at least that is what the producers believed. His intellect, dry wit and romantic inaccessibility merited a huge female following. Unlike Jim Kirk, he didn’t hook up with an alien babe at every stop.
Kathy Reichs, author of Bones series, hit upon an unusual character when she made Temperance Brennan, her forensic specialist, so intelligent she was a bit of a savant who had trouble relating to the less smart folks around her. By making her different from all the other capable, beautiful stars in crime shows, she made Temperance memorable.
Next time, you sit down at a keyboard you can type another version of a popular book or you can go for something totally different. It is up to you.
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