h2>Dating : Profession Stereotypes are just as Bad
Think outside the box!
Hit the ground running.
Tough as nails.
One thing I’ve learned over the years of reading and listening to brilliant writers is that you have to remove overused tropes and cliches from your writing. These lines stick out like sore thumbs (that’s another) and can leave your readers to think your writing is childish or boring.
I’d like to add to that pile of “stop doing these things”: stereotypical character personalities.
Some easy ones to put on this list would be that the bad guy always wears black, a damsel in distress, or the nerd who saves the day by hacking the mainframe. We have ingrained these types of stereotypes in our brains for so long that they immediately appear lazy. Sure, back in the day (there’s another one), these were once new. It’s hard to believe but one point in history, no one knew what a hag was. But now you can instantly picture one in your mind with no description of what she looks like.
The stereotypes I’m interested in talking about are the ones based on their profession. The ones that see little air time but are still carbon copies of someone else’s personal history or a false expectation of reality. Take my short story “The Airman” as an example.
The Airman takes place in the “not-so-distant” future where the outside air is so poisonous to us, that we can only breathe clean, manufactured air. And, since I live in a capitalist country, it would make sense that companies exist to sell this air to consumers for profit (Sorry basic utilities).
Enter our salesperson, Gary Flannery: a mild-mannered, charming, presumably helpful individual, that is interested in doing the right thing. It isn’t until the end of the story that the Airman becomes frustrated and steps out of his bounds with the rude customer.
Upon submitting a few pages to my writer’s group, I was immediately hit with inconsistencies of my character.
- Why is he so nice?
- He should talk faster; never letting the customer a chance to speak.
- In reality, he would have put his foot in between the door to stop it from closing.
- He should hard sell. Tell the guy he’s making a big mistake from not buying from him. That he’ll regret it.
- You should make him more sleazy.
- He’s just not believable.
I was taken aback. No believable? My thought process went from “geez, do you all know what a salesperson is?” to “who hurt you? Point them out!”. And it wasn’t just one or two, it was the entire group of some 10 people.
That wasn’t the only take away from the critique. There were WAY more wonderful suggestions and edits than there were head tilting ones. But it got me thinking, profession stereotypes are just as damaging to a piece of writing as overused tropes and phrasing.
I’ve been in commission sales for over 20 years. I’ve paid my bills, put food on the table, and patched up the roof over my family’s heads by selling products higher than the cost of production resulting in a small commission. I’ve been around the block and the things I heard that described my profession made me sick. Is that how I come off? Do you really not love me? (That’s a lie, of course, you love me *kiss*)
Again, this line of thinking is stereotypical of the role of a salesperson based on falsities and overblown situations. When I was training at my first sales job, they taught against dealing with customers who try to treat you like a “used car salesman”. Instead of being combative, be compassionate. Instead of pushy, be accommodating. You don’t get paid unless they buy (and in my case “keep”. If the customer returned said item within their return period, my money returned with it). So it made sense to follow this approach more often than the other. You might not make as much money as quickly as you would pushing people to buy, but you’d make more money over the long run, build clientele with good word of mouth that’ll drive more new business for you. It made sense. But the initial perception… oof.
Your character’s job should be reflected by the personality they have not driven by it. If you have a passionate character, that passion should come off regardless if they build cars or bus tables. If they are evil, see it by the similar way they carry their trash to the curb and how they carry their newborn. Being a CEO doesn’t mean they want to crush the competition by any means necessary. Being a dog walker doesn’t mean you like pets. It’s just a job. What your characters bring to that job tells a better story than letting the job tell who the characters are.