Monday, February 29, 2016

Stereotypes are Like Frozen Waffles

I've been pondering this a while as we continue to discuss what expanding representation of both book characters and book writers (aka authors) could, would, or should look like.  And the thing I find some people get all concerned about when writing outside their experience is that if they are going to get slammed for using stereotypes, but what if the stereotypes are true?  I mean, they know this gay guy who likes fashion, there are plenty of them on "Project Runway", why aren't they allowed to use that?  And then, watching last week's "Top Chef", one of the chefs (okay, it was local chef Kwame, who has a new restaurant opening soon that I am very excited about, Hi, Kwame!), well, he decided to make chicken and waffles and to use frozen waffles. 
So, here's the thing.  I get it.  I do.  It was one of the challenges where they had to cook for a large number of people, and the logistics of make waffles on site were going to be tough.  And, as he said, they make tiny frozen waffles. 
But the show is called "Top Chef" not "Best Maker of Things Found in the Frozen Food Aisle" and so predictably, he went home for that.  They didn't love the rest of it too much either, so it wasn't just the waffles. But, why make it easy for the judges to be like, he made us chicken and waffles and he didn't even make the waffles! 
So, as an author, your job is to create a world.  Sometimes you are working from a modern setting, or fantasy, or history, or some blend, but you are creating a world.  And within that world you are creating characters. So, if one of your characters is gay and into fashion (not to pick on this stereotype because there are so many) and you don't further expand on that, you have basically given your reader frozen waffles.  And you can do that.  But if they come back to you and say, those were basically just frozen waffles, they are not wrong.  Because there are gay people who are into fashion.  Just like there are straight people, bisexual, pansexual, and asexual people who are into fashion.  You know why?  Because sexual attraction and fashion are not linked traits.  So, you can write a gay man who is into fashion but you, as the author, still have to hint to your reader why fashion matters to this character.  Just you would need to explain why a character was an accountant, or a bartender, or a collector of beanie babies.  And if you say to me, well, this is just a secondary character, I don't have time to spend on them, my first question is why are they in your story at all?  But again, no one is saying you can't serve frozen waffles on "Top Chef".  It's a free world, you can.  But don't be surprised when it sends you home.