Archetyping without Stereotyping

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Archetyping without Stereotyping

#1 Post by Sword of Akasha » Mon May 25, 2015 7:37 am

In real life our jobs are part of what we do and there's varying degrees to which they define the 'who'. Yet, in fiction I see certain tropes concerning attachments and expectations associated with person's job. A front line warrior is meant to be extroverted. A healer is meant to be sensitive and caring. I guess it's understandable, in fantasy names, jobs, and personalities all seem to be in line. However, what if you hated your job? What if the name you got, wasn't the one you would ever want?

I guess I'm invested in this dynamic in more ways than one. I'm trying to build characters that are more than their first impressions and aesthetics while working with audience expectations.

For example, Leaf Wind is character I'm developing. Her temperament is opposite to her katana's grace and her role in battle as a 'fragile speedster' or 'glass cannon' archetype. People will expect a certain amount of 'eastern-ness' to what her aesthetics would invoke. While I've included tidbits of her cultural upbringing, I feel a great pressure by pre-readers to cater to their biases.
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Ziara hails from Zebrika (an all to obvious allusion to Africa). The real Africa comprises of such disparate ethnic and cultural diversity, I feel it would be an insult to leave the specifics of hers unexplored. I was startled by the unintentional racists comments by one reader. Simply identifying her as 'african', unaddressed would force upon default cultural connotations.
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Idk, I do know that we wouldn't expect a person with dwarfism in real life to possess a battle axe or inclination for hard drinking. However, in fiction it seems almost mandatory that some of these stereotypes are invoked. All and all I feel it strips a degree of person-hood from the characters we hope to humanize. Yet I feel as a shorthand and tool in fiction it is irrevocably intrinsic to the craft if only to deconstruct.
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Re: Archetyping without Stereotyping

#2 Post by trooper6 » Mon May 25, 2015 10:06 am

You don't have to do anything you don't want to do, especially to appease an audience member who is racist, stereotyping, sexist, etc.

You make your game based on your vision to the best of your ability. An audience can be found. It may not be the pre-readers you currently have. So rather than change your game, change your pre-readers.
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Re: Archetyping without Stereotyping

#3 Post by Mad Harlequin » Mon May 25, 2015 10:10 am

Sword of Akasha wrote:I do know that we wouldn't expect a person with dwarfism in real life to possess a battle axe or inclination for hard drinking. However, in fiction it seems almost mandatory that some of these stereotypes are invoked. All and all I feel it strips a degree of person-hood from the characters we hope to humanize. Yet I feel as a shorthand and tool in fiction it is irrevocably intrinsic to the craft if only to deconstruct.
One thing to remember is that many instances of dwarfs in fiction (or dwarves, if you're used to the Tolkien plural) aren't meant to be equated with real people living with dwarfism---at least not nowadays. They're often made into something human-like but not human, and are sometimes magical. But I agree with you that following the same character tropes (gentle healers, etc.,) can get boring. On some level, though, they're a product of cultural mores---in Norse mythology, for example, you don't read much about gentle men. Fierceness in battle was greatly prized in old Norse societies.

I don't know if it's mandatory to invoke certain tropes, but it's very much a reflex, especially in the wake of writers whose works are held in high esteem or are popular.
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Re: Archetyping without Stereotyping

#4 Post by RotGtIE » Mon May 25, 2015 12:24 pm

Sword of Akasha wrote:I do know that we wouldn't expect a person with dwarfism in real life to possess a battle axe or inclination for hard drinking.
Phhbt, speak for yourself. They better be able to arm-wrestle me out of my chair, too, or I'm going to be sorely disappointed.

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Re: Archetyping without Stereotyping

#5 Post by Rossfellow » Mon May 25, 2015 1:34 pm

An approach I like with this is just to write what inspires you. If you think it's cool, write it. If you think X personality will make Y scenario shine, write it. Don't overfocus on character traits and details and try to pay more attention to what you actually want with your story/work. I say forget the whole concept of archetypes and stereotypes while you write. Those are not important.



These are thought processes I get when I create characters.
This [Event] is a really important development in the story. I need a character to do something crucial to push the plot towards it. I need a character I can foreshadow.
I need throwaway characters for a horror scene involving a monster carnage on a Japanese high school. They don't have to be memorable.
I need a character that can interact with [Character M] in ways that others don't and bring out a side of [Character M] that other's don't see.
I need a character who can make use of [All The Research I've Done For Months™]
It would be pretty cool if I can cast someone who can use [Weapon X]
I need a character that can express my endless, burning love for ponytails.
I think this approach is much better than trying to fit or avoid character templates. If it ends up following a common stereotype and you're not comfortable with that, you can change around a few things. But in the end that's not really important. You should first address things that are more important.
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Re: Archetyping without Stereotyping

#6 Post by Kuiper » Mon May 25, 2015 2:07 pm

I think it's valuable (and often important) to create unique and distinct cultures. But you can often run into problems when you don't properly separate the characteristics of a culture from the characteristics of individual characters. Fail to do this, and you wind up with characters that are walking caricatures.

It's very possible to create a "traditional" dwarven society that supports the existence of the battleaxe-toting bearded drunkard, but not every person in that society will be the living manifestation of that trope. In fact, that image may not be what dwarven society is so much as what it glorifies. It's difficult to construct a post-neolithic society where everyone is prancing about swinging axes all day; to support that society you need to have farmers, tailors and seamstresses, bakers, bankers, and blacksmiths, not to mention brewers (and/or distillers) to support the needs of a beer-swilling populace.

One way to emphasize both an individual character and the culture they hail from is to compare and contrast them. There are numerous story tropes which support this, like the rebellious teenager ("My mother and father wanted me to study archery like a good little wood elf, but I decided to run off to the city and become a stone mason's apprentice instead") or the "stereotype in recovery" who is able to speak on a personal level about the trappings of a certain aspect of society (like the alcoholic dwarf who is five years clean and sober). When you have someone whose personal beliefs or lifestyle run counter to the culture of the society that they occupy or are raised in, that makes for some interesting conflicts. And interesting conflicts make for more interesting stories and characters. I think that you're doing yourself a great disservice if you avoid these conflicts by making your characters perfect reflections of their native culture.

Another common trap that authors sometimes fall into is painting with a broad brush, as if entire geographical regions or continents are represented by a single mono-culture. For example, Africa is a large continent. Egypt and Uganda are very different countries with different terrain, different climates, different languages, and different cultures. By the same token, realize that Asia consists of countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, as well as Korea, China, and Japan. And you could write a story comparing Korean, Chinese, and Japanese people and come up with a long list of cultural differences. Even comparing different regions within a large country like China or the US will reveal many differences in culture.

It's often tempting to construct homogenized mono-cultures, and most readers will let you get away with it (you're not likely to offend anyone by making all of your elves the same). But as an artist, I find that my best work comes when I paint with a finer brush that allows me to address the more subtle nuances of cultural distinction.
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Re: Archetyping without Stereotyping

#7 Post by Rossfellow » Mon May 25, 2015 3:04 pm

Kuiper wrote:I think it's valuable (and often important) to create unique and distinct cultures. But you can often run into problems when you don't properly separate the characteristics of a culture from the characteristics of individual characters. Fail to do this, and you wind up with characters that are walking caricatures.

It's very possible to create a "traditional" dwarven society that supports the existence of the battleaxe-toting bearded drunkard, but not every person in that society will be the living manifestation of that trope. In fact, that image may not be what dwarven society is so much as what it glorifies. It's difficult to construct a post-neolithic society where everyone is prancing about swinging axes all day; to support that society you need to have farmers, tailors and seamstresses, bakers, bankers, and blacksmiths, not to mention brewers (and/or distillers) to support the needs of a beer-swilling populace.

One way to emphasize both an individual character and the culture they hail from is to compare and contrast them. There are numerous story tropes which support this, like the rebellious teenager ("My mother and father wanted me to study archery like a good little wood elf, but I decided to run off to the city and become a stone mason's apprentice instead") or the "stereotype in recovery" who is able to speak on a personal level about the trappings of a certain aspect of society (like the alcoholic dwarf who is five years clean and sober). When you have someone whose personal beliefs or lifestyle run counter to the culture of the society that they occupy or are raised in, that makes for some interesting conflicts. And interesting conflicts make for more interesting stories and characters. I think that you're doing yourself a great disservice if you avoid these conflicts by making your characters perfect reflections of their native culture.

Another common trap that authors sometimes fall into is painting with a broad brush, as if entire geographical regions or continents are represented by a single mono-culture. For example, Africa is a large continent. Egypt and Uganda are very different countries with different terrain, different climates, different languages, and different cultures. By the same token, realize that Asia consists of countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Iran, as well as Korea, China, and Japan. And you could write a story comparing Korean, Chinese, and Japanese people and come up with a long list of cultural differences. Even comparing different regions within a large country like China or the US will reveal many differences in culture.

It's often tempting to construct homogenized mono-cultures, and most readers will let you get away with it (you're not likely to offend anyone by making all of your elves the same). But as an artist, I find that my best work comes when I paint with a finer brush that allows me to address the more subtle nuances of cultural distinction.
These are good points. I'm reminded of why I love FFX so much (My friends hate it for some reason). Cultural development is very nice to have, and in the end it's what makes an Original setting memorable. If you plan to make a fictional world you're going to want to spend enough time developing the setting as you do developing the story. If you manage that then it will pay off big time.

That ratio does depend on what you want to focus on, though. For example if I'm writing speculative fiction, and the story takes place entirely inside Umbrella Corp's underground facility, then I am going to focus only on the facts and details of this corporation (Who are they? What are they doing? What went wrong?) and how it would affect the story.

tl;dr The creator gets to (has to) decide how grand and complex his work needs to be. There are good points in both fully fleshed out worlds and simple settings.
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Re: Archetyping without Stereotyping

#8 Post by Sword of Akasha » Mon May 25, 2015 4:48 pm

Kuiper wrote: It's often tempting to construct homogenized mono-cultures, and most readers will let you get away with it (you're not likely to offend anyone by making all of your elves the same). But as an artist, I find that my best work comes when I paint with a finer brush that allows me to address the more subtle nuances of cultural distinction.
I like your style, it's very much my tastes. I like to construct realized worlds to almost insane degree. I find I'm concerned with even the minutia of their various customs. I like to prioritize characters' humanity and individuality though over aspects that are just part of their makeup.

I hate how some authors though just present something in black and white terms. They paint whole nations, as 'those idiots who wear blue hats' or worse entire races are characterized as 'shifty cut-throat thieves'.

I've seen that we do that in real life too to a disturbing extent.
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Re: Archetyping without Stereotyping

#9 Post by Mad Harlequin » Mon May 25, 2015 8:58 pm

Sword of Akasha wrote:I hate how some authors though just present something in black and white terms. They paint whole nations, as 'those idiots who wear blue hats' or worse entire races are characterized as 'shifty cut-throat thieves'.
Here's a question for you to consider: are those beliefs imprinted on the story as a consequence of the prejudices of the time? Or is something presented that way because the characters themselves adhere to those beliefs? It's not a given that the author shares the same thoughts as his or her characters.
I've seen that we do that in real life too to a disturbing extent.
Yes, we do. It never stops bothering me.
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Re: Archetyping without Stereotyping

#10 Post by Sword of Akasha » Tue May 26, 2015 7:48 am

Mad Harlequin wrote: Here's a question for you to consider: are those beliefs imprinted on the story as a consequence of the prejudices of the time? Or is something presented that way because the characters themselves adhere to those beliefs? It's not a given that the author shares the same thoughts as his or her characters.
Ah yes there's definitely a distinction to be made. Some authors play favorites and certain characters of theirs become mouth pieces for their ideas. Then there's the over-arching narrative that can frame the story.

Here's where it gets difficult. Tolkien was an vocal anti-nazi, however, the imagery of racial distinction in his writing was so strong that he was actually approached by Nazis who wanted to put out a 'german' edition. At that time with Hitler in power 'german' was near synonymous with Nazi. Yes so authors can be subject to the Zeitgeist of their era. I still don't like the 'dark' imagery associated with the Orcs in Tolkien's work. I would too be legitimately angry if I were an Orc marginalized to the fringes and categorized as evil creature by every other race out there. The matter of nature vs nurture comes to mind.

I'm harsh on Tolkien because I've read Huckleberry Finn. Mark Twain humanized Jim and made Huck and the audience question whether the the societal mores of Jim's disputed humanity were correct. The racism in that book was deliberately used to illustrate how messed up morally the south was for retaining a class of people they considered less than people. According to society then, Jim was property. Mark Twain publishing in an America fresh from the civil war and nearly hundreds years from the civil rights movement, he was very much immersed in a climate of racial hatred. Yet he wrote Jim as a human being rather than the archetypical 'negro' that was a popular as comedy.
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Re: Archetyping without Stereotyping

#11 Post by Mad Harlequin » Tue May 26, 2015 11:48 am

Sword of Akasha wrote:I still don't like the 'dark' imagery associated with the Orcs in Tolkien's work. I would too be legitimately angry if I were an Orc marginalized to the fringes and categorized as evil creature by every other race out there. The matter of nature vs nurture comes to mind.
I'm not fond of that either, but it's not just Tolkien who does this. He drew from things like the Prose Edda (his conceptualization of dwarves, for example is essentially lifted straight from it, along with their names). It's very, very old symbolism, and very common in some cultures. I've certainly read essays that point out what you have. Yes, through a certain critical lens, it's marginalizing, and I'd be lying if I said that didn't bother me. But if my high school and college literature classes have taught me anything, it's that it's possible to interpret a work in innumerable ways. I have a couple of books of literary criticism on Tolkien's work, and it's easy to find Christian and environmental symbols, too, though Tolkien himself insisted he didn't write allegory.
I'm harsh on Tolkien because I've read Huckleberry Finn.
So have I. There's a reason why I've always preferred Huck to his friend Tom.
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Re: Archetyping without Stereotyping

#12 Post by Kailoto » Tue May 26, 2015 8:11 pm

Mad Harlequin wrote:
Sword of Akasha wrote:I'm harsh on Tolkien because I've read Huckleberry Finn.
So have I. There's a reason why I've always preferred Huck to his friend Tom.
Yes, Tom's a bit of a prick. His book was still fun to read, though, because Mark Twain has such a great writing style.
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Re: Archetyping without Stereotyping

#13 Post by Sword of Akasha » Thu May 28, 2015 4:03 pm

Yes, Tom's a bit of a prick. His book was still fun to read, though, because Mark Twain has such a great writing style.
Lol I think Huck was on the cusp of an epiphany regarding Jim's humanity. Then came our friend Tom to welcome back into the fold of society. Epithany meh.
I'm not fond of that either, but it's not just Tolkien who does this. He drew from things like the Prose Edda (his conceptualization of dwarves, for example is essentially lifted straight from it, along with their names). It's very, very old symbolism, and very common in some cultures. I've certainly read essays that point out what you have. Yes, through a certain critical lens, it's marginalizing, and I'd be lying if I said that didn't bother me. But if my high school and college literature classes have taught me anything, it's that it's possible to interpret a work in innumerable ways. I have a couple of books of literary criticism on Tolkien's work, and it's easy to find Christian and environmental symbols, too, though Tolkien himself insisted he didn't write allegory.
Tolkien: I think was indeed a product of his time. I'm not giving him a free pass, but I think he should be credited for establishing the definitive pattern of Fantasy literature for weal and woe. Maybe part of that popularizing of fantasy came from the fact that his narrative was so easy to identify with in its simplicity of good versus evil. The idea of a fallen society with us living in the wreckage of it harkens back to the dark ages. Peasants stood amidst the rubble of the Roman Empire, having forgotten the engineering skills that built the likes of he Colosseum and aqueducts. They then get a nostalgic feeling for the 'grandeur of the past' having also forgotten that such a society thrived upon conquest, brutality, and slavery.

Then there came George R.R. Martin and sort of torpedoed that aging ship. We're invited in The Song of Ice and Fire to humanize what would be stereotypical one dimensional villains in other works. Even the evil queen archetype gets explored. Heck you may be rooting for Jaime Lannister, who committed incest with his sister. The 'good' guys are also shown to be the idiots they are and that 'good' isn't a guarantee of any degree of success.

In my own writing I guess I try to avert binary morality due to its dehumanizing aspects. Instead of an overarching evil, I'm trying to establish and interplay of competing ideologies, ideals, and personal goals. The friend of one play-through may be the nemesis of another.
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Re: Archetyping without Stereotyping

#14 Post by Mad Harlequin » Fri Jun 05, 2015 4:51 am

First, let me say that I'm sorry I haven't replied in a timely manner. I'm enjoying this discussion and I did want to continue. It just slipped my mind.
Sword of Akasha wrote:Tolkien, I think, was indeed a product of his time. I'm not giving him a free pass, but I think he should be credited for establishing the definitive pattern of Fantasy literature for weal and woe. Maybe part of that popularizing of fantasy came from the fact that his narrative was so easy to identify with in its simplicity of good versus evil. The idea of a fallen society with us living in the wreckage of it hearkens back to the dark ages. Peasants stood amidst the rubble of the Roman Empire, having forgotten the engineering skills that built the likes of he Colosseum and aqueducts. They then get a nostalgic feeling for the 'grandeur of the past' having also forgotten that such a society thrived upon conquest, brutality, and slavery.
Oh, Tolkien definitely helped establish the popularity of modern fantasy structures. (And before I continue, let me say that I'm not giving him a free pass, either.) But one could argue that the "weal and woe" pattern is something else borrowed from old stories and fables, and I'm not sure that I want to write off Tolkien's work as simplistic. In The Lord of the Rings, at least (I know the most about it and the surrounding lore), I definitely don't think that the narrative is simply "good versus evil," in spite of the color symbolism and other techniques employed. There's much more to it than that. There's definitely an undercurrent of binary morality present, but it's the frailty of the major characters that drives the story. I could quote pages and pages of one of those books of critique that I have, but I think I'd run out of room.

Anyway, if it were purely a matter of inert good versus evil, Frodo would have thrown the Ring into the fires of Mount Doom on his own, and wouldn't have needed Gollum to act as a catalyst for its destruction. Galadriel would not have been tempted by it. And Boromir is a decent man on the side of "good," but he also desires the Ring's power. Even Sam is tempted, though he imagines himself as a mighty gardener who could bring life to Mordor instead of thinking of the Ring as a tool of war.

[nerd mode]

The wizard Saruman, as one of the Istari sent to challenge Sauron, was decent once, and he was Saruman the White before he declares himself Saruman of Many Colours (I'm just following Tolkien's imagery here; don't mind me). He is corrupted by his desire for Sauron's power.

Sauron doesn't start out as evil either, though that's a long and complex history I'll let people look up for themselves.

[/nerd mode]
Then there came George R.R. Martin and sort of torpedoed that aging ship. We're invited in The Song of Ice and Fire to humanize what would be stereotypical one dimensional villains in other works. Even the evil queen archetype gets explored. Heck you may be rooting for Jaime Lannister, who committed incest with his sister. The 'good' guys are also shown to be the idiots they are and that 'good' isn't a guarantee of any degree of success.
I can't comment on George R.R. Martin's books specifically since I've not yet read them. But I can name plenty of heroes and villains in other works that aren't necessarily "good" or "evil." I don't know if any single author can be named as the one who "torpedoed the ship," as you put it---nor do I think that the ship was really torpedoed so much as modernized.
In my own writing I guess I try to avert binary morality due to its dehumanizing aspects. Instead of an overarching evil, I'm trying to establish an interplay of competing ideologies, ideals, and personal goals.
Same here. Regardless of our positions on different authors and works, I think we can both agree that the best writing, in any genre, does this. (Tolkien's included, IMHO---the overarching evil is created by personal goals, though you do have to dig deep in Middle-earth lore to know this, for better or for worse.)

But that's enough about Tolkien from me! I feel I must be weighing down the thread! What are some other works that you all find to be worthwhile in understanding archetypes and tropes?
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Re: Archetyping without Stereotyping

#15 Post by E-night » Fri Jun 05, 2015 5:40 am

Tolkien is not simple in it's good and evil. The very fact that Frodo actually does fall to the corruption of the ring and suffers a long standing consequence of bearing it, is not something many did Tolkien after. (which is a pity).

I do agree with the orcs, though. They are problematic. If I was an orc in Lords of the Ring, I would side with Sauron too. I wouldn't have much of a choice :cry:

But race of 'always evil' is always a problem, espically if they are sentinent. The only thing worse is race of destructive monsters bent on eating/killing humanity, because then they are not just evil, humanity is justified in exteriminating them since they have no choice because of survival.

Basically I will take orcs (they at least is capabe of minding their own busniness as long as their overlord isn't there) over Martin's 'others' any day.


As for the OP. If you want to break steorotypes go for it. The only way to get over compulsion of that certain types have to act in a certain ways in fiction is for somebody to write them differently and somebody has to be the trailblazer.

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