Friday, November 8, 2013

Typecasting in Real Life

In real life, people tend to be almost "type cast." Know what I mean? Like the ER nurse I saw the other day, who looked like he probably lifeguarded as a teen--he was tall, nice looking (although my husband is much better looking--just throwing that out there in case he reads this. Haha.), and very much gave the impression that the situation was under control. My husband and I actually laughed on the way out of the ER (everyone seems to be fine, by the way) because he looked SO MUCH like an ER nurse who should have been in some medical drama.

But seriously, this happens in life all the time. People LOOK like the kind of people they are, or like the job they have, very often.

When was the last time you walked into a library and the librarian was a 6'4'' man with broad shoulders and a young-Harrison-Ford-as-Han-Solo smile?

We make generalizations about people for a reason. Life experience has taught us that it's often right. Now, let's translate this to stories. What this means for me in my writing is that I know I have to make characters look a certain way for a reason. I'm not saying my character has to look stereotypical, by any means. Let's look at our librarian character, okay? You don't have to make the librarian a woman with mousy brown hair (said by a woman with hair about that color so I'm not hatin' okay, y'all? Haha.), who's petite with thick glasses, and always wears cardigans buttoned all the way up. If you want to, that will resonate with people. They'll think "Yes! Librarian!" And that's okay. I'm not arguing for stock characters, per se, not if they're important to your story, but sometimes people look like we'd expect and they should in our fiction too.

But what about the opposite? I think it's MORE than okay too! Say you want your librarian to be a 6'4'' man with broad shoulders and a young-Harrison-Ford-as-Han-Solo smile. That's totally fine, but let's face it, you've going to have to address that. Some character is going to make a comment about how he does not look like a typical librarian. There's going to have to be a reason he became a librarian instead of a football player, or police officer, or soldier. See what I mean?

Basically it breaks down this way. How your characters look matters. They almost (over-simplifying this a little) need to look just like their personality/job dictates, or totally opposite. Or even if you don't find that to be true, they need to have their looks for a reason. Don't give everyone blue eyes just because you like them. Don't make your hero look just like your favorite actor because you like how he looks even if it doesn't fit the character, okay? =)

How do you pick how characters look? Do you think you think through their physical descriptions consciously, or do they just "end up" looking like they're supposed to? Do you find pictures? Draw pictures?


  1. Too funny! I'm dying over your example...
    I picked a name and a general personality for my new character. Then I went on a hunt for what she looked like--I knew she was introverted but had some superficial qualities (with good reason, of course). Finally found a pic that made me happy. Then I did a personality test (thanks, Sarah--that's one of my new favorite tools even though I never commented on that post!) and looked at some possible careers. She's a LIBRARIAN.
    And no, she's not a mousy brown with glasses. She's got honey blonde hair with high lights--but now I think she and may wear contacts. In fact, that's perfect for my scene right now. Thanks. LOL.

    1. I'm so glad the personality quiz helped too!

      I think you started these thoughts in me, talking about finding pictures for your characters (which is so smart!) and then the ER nurse just clinched that I had to write about this. Haha, glad the contacts idea fit into your scene. =) Now go write some more words. =)

  2. I'm a librarian, and I do rock the cardigans.
    However, the idea that librarians are introverts is probably based on what books/movies have portrayed. Today's libraries (both school and public) are often loud, chaotic places. I work at a school library, and it's rarely quiet. We are making crafts, reading books, and playing games.
    And most librarians I know are very outgoing kinda have to be to work with a ton of strangers each day. :)

    1. I'm not a librarian and I TOTALLY rock the cardigans. Haha. Yes, you're right on that one--it's a bit stereotypical, maybe not the perfect example for how libraries have changed and people have changed with them. =)

  3. First: are you OK? ER?

    Secondly, good post. :) I tried to do that in my WIP. A mention is made that one of my protagonists does not look like the sin-hardened young man he is. He looks pleasant, well-mannered. Closest comparison I can make to what you are speaking of, as I write historical-fiction. :)

    1. We're okay, thanks for asking, Alicia! My oldest son has been having allergy issues--hopefully we'll be able to get him tested soon and figure out what's causing the problem. Feel free to pray for him! =)

      I think yes, how you've "translated" this post to your historical fiction is exactly what I was getting at! And I'm intrigued by your character. People whose looks don't match like that intrigue me. =)

    2. Praying for him!

      Thank you! Perhaps you'll get a chance to read the book when it comes out and find out all about him. :)