Thursday, January 26, 2012

Breaking Stereotypes and the Use of Physical Traits

Our doorbell rang one day last week, and my husband found a brawny, 6'4" one-eyed ex-convict on our doorstep. You can imagine our initial thoughts when the man (I'll call him Joe) offered to do work around our house. Joe's heartfelt request for work impressed my hubs, however, who sympathized. Parolees have to pay for their ankle bracelets or go back to jail, and Joe also needed cash to support his ex-wife and kids. With that in mind, we decided to take a risk on hiring Joe, because like he told us, who else in our small town would hire "a 300 lb black ex-con wearing an eyepatch and an ankle bracelet?!!!" Within minutes of hiring him to paint our house (for a fraction of what a pro would charge), he rounded up an unemployed woman picking up pecans and 2 more random guys off the street to help him for a cut of his pay. Just like that,  Joe became a boss (and a hero) to several good folks who also needed a break. Under his supervision, the motley crew did such a fantastic job on our house that several of our neighbors hired Joe. They love his work so far.

If I had written Joe as a character before I got to know him, I probably would've cast him as an antagonist. All too often, we create stock characters based on physical traits and stereotypes. Cliches are boring! The lesson I learned from my new friend is that characters are far more interesting when they break the mold, and even ex-cons can sometimes be angels.

Thanks to those who posted questions on my first TEEN TALK TUESDAY. My students were excited to answer your questions and were very delighted to help writers. We hope you'll join us next week for more Q & A with the teens!!






6 comments:

Brinda said...

Cliches ARE boring. I'm glad you guys could help him out.

Catherine Stine said...

What an interesting story!

Sandi said...

Thanks! He's an original! I love being pleasantly surprised by people.

Cynthia D'Alba said...

interesting twist on a the ex-con cliches. Glad it worked out. And I hope "Joe" makes it.

Jana said...

Great story. Hope "Joe" makes it. Your house does look good. :)

Sandi said...

Thanks, Jana! A work in progress. But I'm very happy so far.