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I Belong

Guest Author: Gini Koch

Author Bio: Gini Koch lives in the American Southwest, works her butt off (sadly, not literally) by day, and writes by night with the rest of the beautiful people, while she listens to a lot of rock ‘n’ roll, particularly Aerosmith, at all times.

Her interests include seeing how often she can ask, “So, have I told you about this plot twist yet?” of her husband before he goes insane, going to rock concerts with her daughter, and training her pets to ‘bring it’. Gini started writing to have an excuse to stay up late playing on the computer while listening to music and mooning over pictures of Steven Tyler and Joe Perry.

Now she’s expanded her thinking — she moons over a wide variety of hunks in order to keep the visual creative juices flowing. So to speak.

To find out more, please visit her around the web here: Website

Archetypes, Stereotypes & Clichés…and How to Use Them

By Gini Koch

There are a lot of books out there teaching about characters and characterizations (“Characters & Viewpoint”, by Orson Scott Card, is my personal favorite). And most of them tell you to avoid clichés, stereotypes and archetypes.

I turn that around and say that you can’t avoid them. There are no new story ideas under the sun (the Bible and other religious texts have them all, and the few they missed, Shakespeare covered), and there are only three ‘true’ plotlines (boy meets girl, good vs. evil, and man against nature). And myriad books arguing all of this. Sounds like a new author’s beaten before the fight’s begun.

But my motto’s always been: if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em and usurp from within. I say, embrace the archetypes! Hug the clichés! Use the stereotypes to your advantage! And then, find a way to make them your own.

Official Definitions

Cliché: Something, most often a phrase or expression, that is overused or used outside its original context, so that its original impact and meaning are lost. A trite saying; a platitude.

Archetype: An archetype is an original model of a person, ideal example, or a prototype after which others are copied, patterned, or emulated.

Stereotype: A commonly held public belief about specific social groups, or types of individuals. Stereotypes are standardized and simplified conceptions of groups, based on some prior assumptions.

Gini’s Definitions

Cliché: Phrases or sayings people have liked well enough to run into the ground generation after generation. The old, threadbare, and yet comfy armchairs of the world of words.

Archetype: The person, thing, or theme that’s in some ways bigger than life, while being like life just enough that they’re both recognizable and attractive. What characters want to be when they grow up.

Stereotype: A category description that’s so used it’s probably its own sub-archetype by now. Something that is or used to be an easy way to categorize a group of people, whether or not the assumptions made are accurate.

To show that I actually put thought into this (I did, just now, right here), here are some rules (okay, they’re more like guidelines) to follow when fighting the good fight.

1. Understand why a cliché is a cliché, and why stereotypes and archetypes exist — Clichés are clichés because people use them, like them, can relate to them, and understand them. Archetypes exist for the same reasons, only more so. People created archetypes, and people need them. If there is a Hero, then The Devil will be overcome, at least for today. Stereotypes have a lot of roots in prejudice but not all. All blondes are not dumb, but that stereotype is used with great success in a variety of ways.

2. Know what you’re messing with — What I mean is that in order to know if you’re using a cliché, you have to be well read enough to be able to recognize it. It’s one thing to know a rule and break it on and with purpose. It’s another to merely be clueless. By the same token, it’s hard to recognize an archetype unless you’ve read enough to be able to go, “Oh, all these guys fit the same mold, and that mold is the Scapegoat.” You need to know what a stereotype is, and many times dig to the root of why it came into existence, to determine if, how, and when you’re going to use it.

3. Put your own spin on it and it becomes new, or new enough — it’s easiest to point to some TV shows here, “Seinfeld” in particular. “No soup for you!” has existed in various forms (“Homey don’t play that!”, “I don’t think so!”, “You got some ‘splainin’ to do!”, and so on — the short, emphatic reprimand). But the show turned it into a catchphrase, and now it’s a cliché. But, take something similar, and make it your character’s signature line, and it’s not a cliché now, it’s that character’s catchphrase.

The character of Kramer out of “Seinfeld” is an archetype — the Idiot/Savant (or Jester, if you prefer). Sitcoms in particular have used that archetype for probably as long as there have been sitcoms. However, within that archetype, what they did with the character of Kramer was give him tics and mannerisms, ways of speaking and presenting himself, that made his Idiot/Savant persona seem new and fresh.

‘All blondes are dumb’ is one of our stereotype examples. It’s easy to take that and turn it on its ear — the blonde woman who appears to be a ditz but is really conning everyone, the blonde whose ‘dumb’ is shown to be simple smarts, etc. Stereotypes help you with characterization — we know a lot about a person if, while in his POV, we see that he considers all blondes to be dumb. We don’t need to have a lot of explanations or descriptions given when a character believes in certain stereotypes.

4. First drafts are a worry free zone — use clichés, stereotypes and archetypes to your heart’s content in your first draft. Why? Because it’s a draft, and the first one, ergo, it’s not headed for publication without at least one (if not many) edit. Worry about making a cliché sound fresh, mixing up a stereotype, or putting your own special twist onto an archetype after you’ve got the initial words down on paper.

As Nora Roberts says, “I can fix a bad page, but I can’t fix a blank page.” Writing that a character’s skin was like fresh milk is a cliché. But it allows you to describe her, and when you go back, if that description kicks you in the gut, it also allows you to change it, because it’s clear what you want to alter. Get the words down first, worry about what clichés to take out, leave in, or alter and how to add special quirks to your archetypes later. Maybe you want to use the strong and silent cowboy stereotype to create your hero. Fine, do it. You can find ways to un-stereotype him in later drafts.

5. It’s the little things that matter — No matter how you slice them up, archetypes fall into categories, and that means most if not all of your characters will fall into an archetype category. And so what? If there’s nothing new under the sun (and there isn’t), then what makes your characters individual from others is the same thing that makes each human being a little different from the others — the small things.

Because archetypes are so prevalent, it becomes nothing for them to turn into stereotypes — our strong and silent cowboy hero, for example. Again, so what? Nothing new under the sun gives you the freedom to create who you want, stereotypes or no stereotypes.

Give your characters an aspect that makes them seem more real, more human (or alien, or inhuman, and so on), that sets them apart from the others in their archetype and/or stereotype category. I’m not talking about looks (though if everyone on the planet has red hair, a brunette is absolutely going to stand out), but more like personality ticks, attachments to a certain object, quirkiness.

6. Too much of even a good thing is more than enough — overuse of catchphrases, like overuse of clichés, gets wearing. Overabundance of tics and quirks to make your character stand out from the others in his archetype category may mean you have a character that’s more twitchy than intriguing. Too many layers of stereotyping — that cowboy knows blondes aren’t dumb, and he’s into poetry, too, and has a broken heart over a long lost love — can create a character that feels over-used.

My general rule is one to two catchphrases and/or personal quirks is probably good, three might be overkill. But your mileage may vary, and it’s better to try something out and cut it than to leave it off and end up with something that feels bland and just like everything else out there.

7. Do what feels right to you — When push comes to shove, the bottom line is (yes, clichés totally intended) that you can do anything you want if you do it well enough. Don’t let the ‘experts’ tell you how to create your characters; they aren’t doing the writing, you are. Let your characters be who they want to be and say what they want to say, and you’ll be doing it right.

Touched by an Alien is the first book in her urban fantasy Alien series.  Touched by an Alien is scheduled to be released on April 6, 2010.  The book will be followed by Alien Tango, which will hit bookstores in December 2010. You can read an excerpt here.

Synopsis (Product Description):

How can a sexy marketing manager join forces with an Alpha Centauri male in Armani to save the planet-using hairspray, a Mont Blanc pen, and rock n’ roll?


She’s Touched by an Alien

Marketing manager Katherine “Kitty” Katt steps into the middle of what appears to be a domestic dispute turned ugly. And it only gets uglier when the man turns into a winged monster, straight out of a grade-Z horror movie, and goes on a killing spree. Though Kitty should probably run away, she springs into action to take the monster down.

In the middle of the chaos a handsome hunk named Jeff Martini appears, sent by the “agency” to perform crowd control. He’s Kitty’s kind of guy, no matter what planet he’s from. And from now on, for Kitty, things are going to be sexy, dangerous, wild, and out of this world.

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One Response to “Guest Author: Gini Koch

  1. Heather (DarklyReading)No Gravatar

    I love the post! It drives me nuts when book characters say too many cliches or an over-abundance of puns – it makes it really hard to get into the story when you keep thinking to yourself – do he/she really just say that…again? As for adding your own twist to an archetype or stereotype – I think the most important part is writing a good character – though if the quirks you give your character make them more relate-able then all the better..the hard as nail’s heroine who hates spiders or the tough alpha male that secretly wears high heels. If it works with the story all the better! I’m really looking forward to Touched by an Alien and I love the cover!

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