Battling Stereotypes

I like to do this every once in a while since it’s so easy to be writing along and suddenly realize your characters have drifted into stereotypes.  You can have a great plot, lots of events, super dialogue, and urgent tension, but if your bartender is the Sam Spade, your female character is Jane Eyre, and your hero-to-the-rescue is Gandolf the White, then it’s time to rethink.  They’re all great characters, but we’re all here to create new ones, not use the old ones.

So here is a standard plot with fairly stock characters.  Your job is to shake things up and turn these stereotypes inside out.

Female lead:  Wavy black hair, crystal blue eyes, a mouth that’s just a little too wide, high cheekbones.  She’s a cop who looks good even in those ugly pants and tucked in shirts.  College degree in psychology.

Male lead:  He’s in construction, with the requisite wide shoulders and slim hips.  Wears flannel shirts, levis, and work boots.  Sandy hair just a little too long.  Deep set brown eyes.  He listens more than he talks.

The plot so far:  He stops for a beer at the Whaler Tavern, located near the shore in a small tourist town in New Jersey.  A man comes in waving a gun and shoots at the ceiling, then tells everyone to toss their wallets his way.  Female cop walks by the open door and sees the situation.

You can add details, but you have to keep the ones I’ve listed above.  Your goal?  No clichés!  No stereotypes!  No stock outcomes!  Surprise us!

 

39 responses to “Battling Stereotypes

  1. STEREOTYPES NOT

    The blare of the latest Rap number covered up most of the sound of the .22 caliber pistol shots fired into the ceiling of the Old Grogg Inn, just up the coast from Cape Ann. As she passed the front door, Shellie caught a glimpse of the six-footer in his plaid shirt leaning easily against he massive bar. She judged by the dirt on his size sixteen work boots that he was in construction of some sort. She was wrong.
    Larry Flint had heard those meek pistol shots as that idiot drunk tried to get everyone’s attention. He got the attention of the wrong guy, thought Larry. He slid slowly to his right, not even changing his position up against the bar, and kicked the inebriated kid in the right knee. Down he went, howling like a sick possum, and Larry had the gun out of his hand before he hit the floor. He put one of his massive shoes on the boy’s neck and recommended that he be very quiet. No argument from the punk.
    Shellie, amazed by what she just witnessed, entered the Tavern, and approached the big guy with caution. Showing her New Jersey State Trooper badge, Shellie said,
    “What the hell happened here?”
    “This guy decided to shoot a couple of holes in Mack’s ceiling,” said Larry, “so I decided to take him out of commission. Mack is a very good friend of mine. We served together in Iraqi Freedom. You gonna take this guy in?”
    “Not really my jurisdiction,”said Shellie,”I’ll call for a local, and wait here until they arrive. Can I buy you a drink?” she asked, looking up into the dark green eyes that were set like stones under his strong brow.
    “You on duty?” he asked back,”I don’t want to break any rules. Shellie leaned in close and whispered in his right ear, her dark hair brushing his large neck.
    “I’m not actually with New Jersey State Troopers. I’m an actress in costume for a location shot around the corner. We are doing a new television series about crime on the New Jersey shore. I just came in because I wanted to meet you. And as things unfolded so quickly, I decided to use some of my acting talent. Improv has always been my strong suit.”
    “Impersonating a police officer could get a girl in trouble,” he whispered back,”your lucky that I don’t feel like turning you in.”
    “Turn me in? I had you pegged for a construction guy. “ she smiled so broadly that he thought he might be able to see everyone of her perfect snowy white teeth,”so what’s your story?”
    “Larry Flint, Homeland Security specialist,” he murmured, “working a terror cell near hear. I’ve been tracking the creep under my right boot for three weeks. He finally made a mis-step, and you show up.”
    “You don’t have to worry about me calling in the locals, Larry,” said Schellie, “Now how about that drink ?”

  2. Blake strolled down the wood-planked sidewalk in the lazy tourist town on her last security check for the night. She hated this town. Nothing ever changed. Nothing exciting ever happened.
    She was the only female cop in her unit, and she was tired of the sexism she encountered almost daily. She kept her wavy dark hair tied up and under her hat and wore little makeup, playing down her crystal blue eyes. She wore her uniform a half size too big to hide her curves. She wanted to get ahead with her skills, not her good looks.
    She was about to enter the Whaler Tavern to chat it up with the bartender and hear the latest gossip when the shouting and screams cut through her boredom.
    “Everyone get your hands up,” yelled a man in gravely voice. “And toss your wallets and purses over there in a pile,” he said nodding with his head to the area by the door.
    Blake looked in saw a thin, middle-aged man wielding a gun. She glanced around the bar room and then made eye contact in the mirror behind the bar with a man slouched on a bar stool. He didn’t make any move to put his hands up or to hand over the wallet she could see bulging in his back pocket.
    “I said everyone get your hands up,” the intruder yelled again, this time pointing his gun at the ceiling and firing off a couple of rounds. Plaster floated down from the ceiling.
    “Shit,” Blake said under her breath as she pulled her gun from her holster and ducked back just outside the open door. She reached across to her shoulder, squeezed the button on her radio and called for backup.
    She held her gun in front of her and poked her head back around the door. The man sitting at the bar still hadn’t moved. What the hell. Was he on a death wish or something, she wondered. Or was she going to have to deal with some tough macho guy who was going to play the hero and end up getting everyone in the place shot and killed? She gave him the once over. He certainly looked the hero part with his broad shoulders and beefed up biceps. His tight-fitting flannel shirt was tucked into his blue jeans, and heavy work boots completed the look. Probably a local. Probably works on some construction crew, she thought.
    She listened and waited impatiently just outside the door for the backup to arrive and planning what her next move would be if they didn’t.
    “Hey old man, just calm down,” she heard the bartender say. “Johnny here is a bit slow in the head. He don’t mean no disrespect to you.”
    Blake looked in again. She saw Johnny had turned around but still didn’t have his hands in the air. Was he really slow as the bartender said? Blake’s psychology training kicked in. It did appear that Johnny didn’t understand the severity of the situation as he sat there with a silly-looking grin on his face.
    She glanced around the room and took it all in. The late hour had worked to her benefit as only a handful of patrons sat around the tables. They all sat stiffly with their arms raised high.
    Blake saw Johnny scoot off his bar stool. She glanced behind him at the bar and saw he had only been drinking root beer. At least he wasn’t slow and drunk, she thought. She glanced behind her, hoping to see flashing red and blue lights coming for backup, but the street was dark. If good old Johnny didn’t sit back down she was going to have to make her move.
    The gunman saw Johnny get up and swung the gun in his direction. “I said put your hands in the air,” he yelled and fired another shot, this time into the floor at Johnny’s feet. Johnny just stood there, unshaken. Did he think this was a joke?
    Blake stepped into the room and pointed her gun at the robber. “Johnny, you just do as the man tells you. We don’t want anyone getting hurt,” she said sternly.
    “Put the gun down,” she said calmly to the robber. “Put it down before anyone gets hurt.”
    Johnny looked over at Blake. “He won’t hurt anyone, officer,” he said. “He’s just playing cops and robbers like on the TV.”
    “What are you? Some kind of idiot?” the man yelled. He pulled the trigger again, this time firing into Johnny’s right shoulder.
    Johnny grabbed his shoulder and slumped to the ground howling. Screams came from bar patrons as they ducked under the tables. Blake didn’t have any choice now. She fired a shot into the chest of the robber before he could get off another round. He fell just a few feet in front of Johnny, dropping his gun. Blake kept her gun aimed on the robber, walked up to him cautiously, and kicked his gun out of reach. Blood poured from the hole in his chest. His eyes were open. Fixed and wide. Damn.
    She went over to check on Johnny. He had propped himself up against the bar, still holding his shoulder. He smiled as he heard the backup police sirens approaching.
    “Just like in the movies,” he said to Blake, still smiling.

    • galelikethewind

      Carol you really nailed this. I love both your characters and the great storyline!
      Nice work.

    • Good work on the construction worker. Definitely not the stereotype. Your reluctant female cop works too. Fiction imitates life imitating fiction–at least to Johnny.

  3. (To keep this short, I’m not reiterating the prompt character details. Otherwise, we’ll both be here all night.)

    “I don’t need a bag,” Stacy said as she slipped the bottle of Black Jack into her handbag and took her receipt and change from the clerk. No sense giving anybody reason to talk, she thought.

    Booze wasn’t a problem, no way, she reassured herself. She laughed to herself, remembering how she and Lenny used to prove to themselves they didn’t have a drinking problem by not drinking for a full month every year. She tried to recall whose idea it was to make February that booze-free month, the shortest month of the year. She just remembered they had thought it as funny.

    Doesn’t matter now, she thought as she left the store and turned right towards her apartment. Lenny quit the force after the shooting and she’d been riding the Wants and Warrants desk ever since she was physically able to return to work. Riding a desk was chafing, she thought, but better than not being able to work at all until she’d cleared all the hurdles.

    She’d already passed the physical, hard and demanding as it was, and never told a soul how her shoulder hurt like hellfire after the self-defense exercises. At the range, her hand was steady and her aim true, so no problem there.

    The only hold-up was her psych evaluation. What a cluster-foul-up, she thought. With a Masters degree in abnormal psych, she should have breezed through that one and been reassigned to street duty long ago. She longed for the adrenalin rushes of patrol duty again. She was ready, no doubt. Just turn her loose with a new partner and she’d show ‘em. Damn shrink, anyway. What did she know? She’d never been shot, never had her partner quit on her.

    Stacy looked up at a familiar sign: The Whaler’s Tavern, where she and Lenny used to drink themselves blind every night after getting off duty. She almost turned in, but remembering her determination to stay out of the bars and do her drinking in private, she barely paused at the open doors and glanced inside.

    What the hell? Lenny was standing with his back to the bar with his arms raised. Stacy caught only a glimpse of a dark silhouette close to the door but clearly heard his yell. “Toss your purses and wallets towards me, and no funny stuff! First hero gets one right between the eyes.”

    Stacy quickly stepped to the side of the open door. She had her service revolver with her, as required, but no police radio. “BANG!”

    Oh, god, oh god, oh god! She lowered herself to her knees and peeked into the saloon. Pieces of ceiling tiles lay on the floor, and the steady “plop, plop, plop” of wallets and purses reached her ears. She could see that Lenny had moved a couple steps along the bar. She knew he was moving closer to where a pistol was hidden in a holster taped under the bar. Don’t do it, Lenny, don’t do it. She saw his eyes move towards her and flick away before they revealed her presence. She wondered if that was a look of relief on his face.

    Is he expecting me to come to the rescue, like before? I could plug the guy right now, she thought, and her right hand reached towards her handbag. Instead of cold steel, her hand touched cold glass.

    Stacy rose from her crouch and moved into an adjacent alley. She found her cell phone and dialed 911. Suddenly she was aware of a parched throat and an erupting volcano in her rotor cuff. She stared at the bottle of bourbon in her handbag.

    No, no, no, she told herself. Not now. Lenny’s going to be a hero in there and not a successful one. It was up to her to be the hero. She had the element of surprise on her side. She’d go back and nail the perp, without backup. Yes, she would.

    “911. What is your problem?”

    “Stacy Upton, Shoreside Division, badge 1941, 10-31 with armed suspect at Whaler’s Tavern, 920 Seashore. 10-40, perp doesn’t know I’m here. Keep it quiet. Notify SWAT.”

    “Are you on duty, Officer?”

    “No, I’m off duty.”

    “Units responding. Stand by.”

    “BANG! BANG! BANG!” Screams followed the sounds of shots from the bar as if they were attached.

    “Oh god, oh god, oh god!” The sounds slipped from her involuntarily. Stacy moved farther into the dark alley and crouched behind a Dumpster.

    “BANG! I told you! No heroes!” No more screams.

    She saw a black and white ease to a stop across the street, then another. Uniforms and body armored men passed the alley entrance. Walls muffled the sound of a stun grenade.

    The sound of men scurrying. “Clear!” “Clear!” “He’s down. I got him!”

    Lenny, please be okay.

    “Two two over here okay. Three down. Another down by the bar.”

    Lennypleasebeokay.

    “Aw, shit. It’s Lenny Bingham. No pulse, Sarge. He’s gone. Right between the eyes.”

    Stacy fumbled for the bottle of Jack and cracked the seal. The sour mash poured down her throat. She took another and another and another. And she stayed behind the Dumpster until the bottle was empty.

    • I guess this is a stereotype of a different color.

      One correction (so far): She just remembered they had thought it WAS funny.

    • Armed with a smartphone and a bottle. The anti-stereotype here is that the worst happens. No happy endings. Mixture of self-destruction and thin hope leaking away. Great details.

      • The under-lying fault of the protagonist. In a longer work, she has to overcome her drinking and fear of being shot if she wants to prevail. Right? Thanks for your comments, Ann. I’m finished with the scaffolding, BTW. No falls either.

  4. She was glad to be out of her ugly uniform and feeling really feminine in her new Sass & Bide little black dress and the five-inch heels she knew were over-compensation for her deep-seated shortness denial. She was checking out her reflection in the tavern’s front windows, when she heard the shots. She looked in through the doorway. Huh? Some guy, probably juiced on speed, was shooting out the ceiling and yelling something. Trouble was, nobody could hear him over the gunshots and the blaring sound of Gloria Gaynor’s ‘I Will Survive’ playing on the house PA, so he kept firing and yelling louder and louder. The patrons were diving under tables, a couple of them leaping over the bar to hide behind it. Okay, so she was a cop. But hey, she was off-duty. Maybe she could just walk around the block, check out a boutique or two, and come back when it was all over. Then she saw the bright red and yellow checkered flannel work shirt. Shit, it was Lou! Lou, huddled in a corner of the bar and whimpering like a baby, long sandy hair almost white from ceiling plaster dust raining down from above. Lou was trapped in there! No way could she not do anything. Then, finally, the guy with the gun ran out of ammo. She pulled off her shoes, and holding one of them by the toe, crept in behind him and, with all the strength she could muster, drove the stiletto heel deep into the head he was so obviously out of. He crumpled to the floor, as dead as any chance of gender equality had always been in a male-dominated world. She crouched down and used his shirt to wipe the blood and brains off her heel, put both shoes back on, and stepped over the body to where Lou was still huddled, still whimpering, in the corner of the bar. She knew she should be sympathetic, but she couldn’t help herself. She kicked at one of Lou’s custom-colored cherry red Thoroughgood work boots.

    “I’m seriously starting to wonder about us,” she said. “Frankly, I don’t think you’ve got the balls to be the butch half of this relationship, Louise.”

    • Caught me looking on this one, even though Theresa’s a forewarning. Good on ya.

    • galelikethewind

      Love this visual.

      “BANG! BANG! BANG!” Screams followed the sounds of shots from the bar as if they were attached.

      Well done Gully – tons if suspense and whiskey – my kind of story.

      • Thanks, GLTW. Read something similar recently so i appropriated the idea. Can’t take all the credit.

    • galelikethewind

      Fig – Larry, Lenny, Lou & Louise.
      Hmm. Is using L a stereotype in itself?
      Liked you gender switch.

    • Great switch. I’m still pondering the possibility that the off-duty cop and Louise could both be males. Perhaps the ambiguity is part of the fun! For some reason I’m always fond of the backwards phrasing shown here: “drove the stiletto heel deep into the head he was so obviously out of.”

  5. Stupid iPad,always thinking it knows what I really meant to write. “Even though there was a forewarning.”

    • This seems to be causing you all kinds of hassles, Gully.
      If you tap on ‘Setting’ then navigate to ‘General’, then on the right-hand side, you can scroll down to the ‘Keyboard’ setting and select it. You’ll then see ‘Auto-Correction’, and you can press the slider to turn this setting off. Rage against the machine.

  6. “They” say things come in threes. Like Mike standing at the end of the bar at the Whaler sipping a whisky on a slow Thursday womens’ night; Jenny off work, still in police uniform, on the arm of her girlfriend Sandy, off duty for a drink to celebrate her 33rd birthday; and the pair walking into the Whaler in time to see a guy wearing a ski-mask fire a pistol into the ceiling yelling for wallets, purses and jewelry.

    Jenny rips her 9 mm from her holster and catches the masked man’s attention as she orders him to freeze and drop the gun. The room’s silence is shattered by the blaring of disco music. The perp drops his gun, rips his tear-away shirt from his chest, and begins a gyrating seductive walk towards Jenny. A chorus of squeals and cheers erupt from a back table. Jenny takes a quick look. It’s more of her girlfriends clapping and cheering, yelling “Happy Birthday, Jenny.”

    The robber-turned-stripper pulls the ski mask from his face, the women scream with delight. Jenny gives her friend Sandy an apprehensive look and holsters her Glock as the stripper rips away his pants a couple feet away. All eyes now focus on his holstered weapon as he dances circles around the startled police woman. Her friends surround the pair in a pulsating circle, some yelling encouragement to their friend; some dancing and swaying in an imaginary embrace with the dancer.

    Mike walks to the door and hangs a CLOSED – PRIVATE PARTY SIGN in the window. He twists the deadbolt to its locked position.

    Someone thrusts a drink in Jenny’s hand. Her friend plants a kiss on Jenny’s lips and whispers, “Be a good sport, we’ll have time together later.” Sandy unbuckles Jenny’s utility belt, and hangs it on the back of a chair.

    Jenny tilts the drink to her mouth, downs it in two swallows, and looks at the dancer. “You call that dancing? She steps on a chair, up to a table top, lets out a whoop, “I’ll show you some dancing.” With that promise her friends holler encouragement. Jenny unbuttons her uniform shirt, pulls it from her arms, and swings it around her head. In five minutes and two drinks later she is wearing only her briefs.

    In a corner the dancer is giving a couple girls a private lap dance. At another table a couple women in various stages of dress tease each other, dancing, rubbing. Embracing.

    Mike walks to the chair with Jenny’s utility belt, pulls the Glock, and fires a round into the ceiling. He holds Jenny’s uniform hat in his other hand. “Okay girls. Watches, jewelry, cash. Put it in the hat. I am not a dancer.”

  7. Stereotypes? Sometimes they can be fun. Please, Ann, if I may:

    President Obama and his advisors had yet another meeting today, hoping to arrive at some decision about what to do or not do regarding the conflict in Syria.

    I say he should ask the medical community for suggestions. Here are my prognostications as to what their responses would be:

    Feel free to add your own.

    Surgeons will recommend an invasion.

    Proctologists will recommend kicking the crap out of the Assad regime.

    Psychiatrists will recommend shock and awe (electric shock treatments).

    Dentists will recommend extracting all US personnel from the region.

    Physical therapists will recommend a series of ever-escalating military exercises designed to cause increasing pain.

    Chiropractors will recommend manipulation, i.e., blockades, sanctions, etc.

    Opthamologists will recommend a “wait and see” attitude.

    General practitioners will recommend a total examination of the situation, with multiple tests.

    Audiologists will recommend blasting heavy metal music 24/7 from aircraft, while dropping ear plugs to civilians.

    Geneticists will recommend complete DNA testing, specifically to determine if Syrians carry a warfare gene.

    Homeopathic practitioners will recommend all Syrians drink rosemary tea and just chill out.

    (Note: Sometimes black humor is the best way to cope with a horrid situation, especially if there is nothing I can do about it.)

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