As a reader, perhaps one of the biggest non-grammatical complaints of contemporary commercial fiction is the incorporation of bigotry and degradation by way of stereotypes that are apparently accepted by the author. This entry will be lengthy, so please bear with me. It never ceases to amaze me how so many authors, instead of being grateful to their reader, or even showing the slightest amount of appreciation that the reader has supported them, the author throws around derogatory insults against entire factions of society as if it were proper. Obviously, they must believe these stereotypes for many can’t seem to accept that their readers may indeed belong to these groups being defamed.
This practice ties in with the dreadful manipulation of fiction, which is marketed as for simple entertainment, to become a soap box for political or social complaints. Any Utopian or Dystopian fiction, or if you’re writing your own version of Atlas Shrugged, or anything of that nature, your work is notwithstanding and this entry will not apply.
Authors are “supposed” to be intellectual. They are allegedly “great minds.” The propagation of stereotypes is a cheap and lazy method for, not good writing, but condescension. It is quite amusing that these same individuals, who eagerly discriminate, based upon valid religious or social/political views, most often can’t believe racists’ sentiments, when there really is no difference. You can’t whitewash or sugar-coat hatred and intolerance in any form.
Many authors have had wonderful beginnings only to completely turn off their audience when their material becomes political propaganda. It should go without saying that if your novel is a government-based story, certainly, there will be politics. Likewise, there is a definite place for showcasing petty politics that we all see played out on a daily basis. If your novel sounds like mundane diatribe from the evening news, however, and the actual plot has absolutely nothing to do with such topics, start over.
Authors should remember that you aren’t writing adult fiction to educate. Otherwise, you should be in non-fiction. Your stories aren’t required to have morals, like young adult novels, and your adult audience already has their own social and political views. Don’t “talk down” to them. Most people do not turn to fiction for information on politics or society, but for escape. Seasoned readers will easily see if you’re actually trying to bring depth to your character or just looking to vent because you’re miffed. Don’t insult your audience for they are the ones who are supporting you and they are more important than your prejudices.
The point that should be made is that you should not insult actual groups of society, which are utterly benign, just because their views differ from your own. Our language is filled with appropriate descriptive terms and great authors can dance around labels from the evening news in interesting and plausible manners. You can say anything about a character, without referencing the evening news. Your reader likely just wants a fictional escape, not to hear more of what is on the evening news or participate in a civics class.
The term “xenophobic” has many applications today and is just as appropriate for many Liberal Democrats as Conservative Republicans or even political Independents. Don’t produce xenophobic fiction. Those who support President Obama are not all on welfare or corrupt. Those who supported President Bush are not all racists or greedy CEOs. Different people have different reasons for their own independent political/social viewpoints and you do not know whom your reader supports politically or religiously. It’s none of your business and you shouldn’t have an axe to grind with those paying good money for your work.
Some stereotypes I’ve discovered in commercial fiction:
Baptist- (Used as a derogatory adjective) This term is a noun, a denomination of the Christian faith. If you can’t find appropriate adjectives to describe characters, don’t resort to lazy stereotypes. Our world is filled with too many unwarranted assumptions, as it is. Many authors who resort to insults such as these wouldn’t dream of issuing insults against Jewish, Hindu or Muslim individuals. Bigotry is bigotry.
“Member of the NRA”- (Also used as a derogatory adjective) They are not all in militias or have arsenals. They do not all have dubious purposes. No, you do not know “what they’re like.” This stereotype has been used in fiction for well over a decade. Find something at least remotely fresh and original to describe your character.
Celibacy- Whether for religious purposes or for personal purposes, some people do choose this lifestyle. No one is asking you to approve or understand, but it is not grounds for degradation. They are not “freaks” or “fanatics.” They are human beings making their own decisions. Again, many authors wouldn’t dream of insulting homosexuals for their lifestyle, this is no different.
Freemason/Masonic- (Also used as a derogatory adjective) It’s a social club. Nothing more.
Republican/Democrat- Again, these are not adjectives and do not described anything beyond one tiny faucet of the individual. For the most part, have they absolutely no place in fiction, unless you are specifically writing about politics in the overall plot.
The Tea Party- (Also used as a derogatory adjective) It’s a grassroots political party. Don’t buy in to the mental instability and paranoia we see so often surrounding them. If you define the entire person, through nothing more than political beliefs, you have some serious issues with people in general.
General Social Bullying- If your novel just so happens to have a “gang-up-on” mentality towards an individual, for practicing a faith, for their lifestyle choice, or any other aspect that implies your reader will wholeheartedly go along with you, start over.
Fiction is an amazing element of our lives. It’s remarkable and beautiful when done well. Many authors are quick to point out flaws in what they read because it does indeed cheapen and dishonor the practice of writing. Writing 100K words is an arduous task and every writer puts much blood, sweat and effort into producing the best work they can. It is wisest to be certain your audience will appreciate that struggle. Far too many artists today forget the very individuals who made them wealthy and successful: their audience. If you can’t possibly find original and appropriate terms to describe characters, you need to improve your vocabulary.