Cultural references again. Positive stereotypes in your writing

12 05 2014

I talked in a previous blog about the difficulty of finding an innocuous name for your heroine without the baggage of being named for someone famous, someone your readers associate with traits uncommon to your character. Depending on the age and demographic of your readers, Julian could be seen as Clary or Fellowes, Tom could be Cruise or Stoppard, Maria could be playing tennis or singing.
Instead of seeking to avoid falling foul of unwanted associations you do have the option to embrace them instead. Find a big personality, someone everyone knows with unmistakeable mannerisms – then take it to extremes in your writing. Give your character the name Biggins and everyone in the UK has a picture in their head which you can build on. Use Eastwood and you will struggle to distance yourself globally from the hard man of film. So do it! Build a tale around an Eastwood who is struggling against the stereotype but cannot help but slip into character when at parties, to meet girls. The accountant who acts a film star?
If I want a quiet northern girl to blossom in my story perhaps she should be a Miss Horrocks? Victoria W is always telling jokes in her job and seeking a way to perform for a living?
Of course, the difficulty with this is that you may be in danger of being sued if the person you are obviously parodying to extremes is not 1) dead or 2) willing to play along with your libellous words. So, using positive stereotypes may be one only for the braver writer. Perhaps the rest of us should stick with making people up –made from bits and pieces of scores of others, but made up all the same.
If one is a gay comedian or another is a short, religious action hero then it is just a coincidence and any reader wishing to overlay a real person on the loose descriptions I write is welcome to do so. It’s all in their heads anyway!

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Is too much detail drowning your readers?

24 08 2013

How much imagination do you have? How much should I, as a writer, assume you have? Can you see your way through an allusion to an Egyptian deity or are you stumped by a simple simile or metaphor?

I ask because I am intrigued. I read an action book the other day. Non-stop rollercoaster ride of guns, explosions, capture and miraculous escape, mysteries quickly solved and a handsome, strong, lucky and brilliant hero (with obligatory wise-cracking sidekick). I turned my imagination off and just read and read and read and it was great.

Then I opened the book at random and read a page or two critically. Do I need to know the exact engine specification of the Bentley Continental or just that it is big and black? Does it help me visualise the action? Do I need to exact model of the gun, the specification of the telescopic sight or a comment on the range and capabilities? It was a sniper rifle handled by an expert marksman – they wouldn’t choose a toy cap gun would they?

Perhaps I’m being overly cynical. I don’t tend to give too much detail – just enough, I think, to let readers make their own pictures in their minds. Which is the right way to do it? Are my books too hard to read and put people off or are his too easy to read and … put people off?

Each to their own. Each genre has its own requirements. I didn’t think the nameless action book was a literary masterpiece but I did think it was a cracking read.

But I will only read it once!