Prompt: Generalizations

The prompt this week was on stereotypes and sweeping generalizations. The comment “all red heads have fiery personalities” labels all red heads, but when applied to the individual may not be true.

We discussed stereotype and sweeping generalization examples and how and where they are applied. In general, stereotypes and sweeping generalizations.

In writing, the inclusion and use of stereotypes and sweeping generalizations are also called characterization frames. When used well, the adjectives that define these stereotypes help the reader to make quick judgement calls about the characters. When used expertly, generalizations set the character up for conflict, with others and themselves. An Asian student struggling with the Asian F demand by parents and culture to get only A or A+ (and anything less than that like an A- is considered an F), may uncover a learning disability which puts the character in conflict with expectations of scholastic achievement within themselves, with their family, with the school system expectations and assumptions, and within their society. A fiery redhead who becomes a quiet librarian, encouraging an antagonist to “light the fire within” that just must be there because that is what defines someone with red hair, right? A redhead deals with societal preconceptions and expectations on a daily basis, and such pressures are felt internally as well, trying to live up to those assumptions.

Stereotypes are typically defined by the following:

  • culture
  • expectation
  • adaptation
  • conflict
  • dos/taboos

Culture sets attitudes and expectations about behavior, manners, etiquette, and relationships such as no sex before marriage, the wearing of the hijab, length of skirt, bowing as greeting or handshakes, language usages, etc. We expect certain behaviors within groups and societies, as a large encompassing group or within a small social circle. As we enter a new group, we use cultural norms to start, the expand what are acceptable behaviors within that group, such as a group of high school girls hanging out in the bathroom smoking, trusting the others not to tell on them. People moving into those circles must adapt, or conflict, avoidance or the accepted response in a conflict situation. Teens outside of the smoking girls group learn quickly how to behave around them, even though they are not part of the group. They support the group behavior. Thus, it becomes a social norm and expectation, and conflict arises when they are challenged.

The dos and taboos of a group or society dictate attitude, behavior, and define those social norms. These come in many forms from the innocuous, the choice to wear white shoe in winter, to the dangerous and threatening like road rage.

A character’s actions often define stereotypes, as does their language and thought process. How you choose to use these helps to craft and frame your character.

The prompt is to find a character that is part of a “group” and write about them. What group are they a part of? What are the expectations, behaviors, dos/taboos, and cultural impositions about that group? How does the character behave within that framework? Let us see them in a situation where these sweeping generalizations are challenged, helping us see deeper into the character’s story and development.

From the Prompt: Vacations

A Break Away

by Susan Schmidlin

I had a marvelous vacation away from the farm recently (it has been quite a while since I ventured away for more than just day-trips). The vacation was a real chance for me to get away, re-group, and have fun. Most people who hear about my fun tend to roll their eyes and give me strange feedback on what I call enjoyment, but this break was a true treasure.

The distance from the farm was less than 3 hours away, in the wilds of Western Washington. My niece and nephew-in-law had just purchased a house with property and had invited family out to have a retreat/work party to get the house ready for remodel before they actually move in.

It is an absolutely beautiful piece of property with several shops and out-buildings, a small creek that runs through the middle of the place, and a house that will be amazing after the contractor does some magic. The family, in preparation for the contractor, got to tear up flooring, remove moldings, smash and scoop tile and make run after run with wheelbarrows to the large, truck sized refuse bin that was located half a football field away. There was a lot of noise, a lot of dust, and a lot of laughter as we all tackled the projects with wild abandon.

Into the afternoon, the family broke up into 2 groups. By this time the temp had climbed into the upper 90’s and the creek began to call our names during lulls in the frantic pace. The creek gave us the opportunity to break away and cool off with a little splash now and again before returning to work. The fans were set up in the house to keep an airflow going as the power equipment and hammering dusted inside the structure.

The fellas stayed mostly indoors, sledgehammering and scooping up tile, while the ladies started outside to tackle the overgrown vegetation that had, over the years, enveloped most of the yard and the house.  The amount of plants around the house and yard was staggering. I think that the sheer variety and volume of growing species would surpass most garden centers.

It was obvious that the previous owner not only had a green thumb but was a true collector of diverse species. Plants had all but swallowed the house, darkening all light access inside and many were planted so close to the house that the branches were rubbing on the siding and hampering gutter structures. The ladies of this outting attacked the bushes with the same vigor as the boys and their sledge hammers inside the house.

Once we got into a rhythm of hacking our way into a densely packed area, we started trimming up the plants that were just overgrown and totally removing those that were too monstrous to leave so close to the house. There was a steady barrage of questions to my niece and to the group debating if a plant should be trimmed or removed. A chant was started to deal with the questions, “If in doubt, grub it out.” 100’s of the plants still had roots remaining and will continue to grow back, we just slowed them down a bit. It will be much easier to make the final decision after we have this first clean-out complete.

Finding many branches too big for long-handled clippers, I asked about a using a saw. I was expecting to have a bow saw or hand saw available for the task. I was delighted to be told that there was a power saw. Oh my gosh, I thought, that would make the job so much easier. I was absolutely floored when my nephew-in-law pulled out a brand new Stihl chainsaw!

Now I have used a lot of saws, and I have seen new saws at the local hardware store, and I have even used saws that have had new chains on them, but I have never ever had the opportunity to use a brand spanking, not a single ding, first-time fired-up chainsaw. I was giddy with the prospect of tearing into the massive overgrowth of vegetation. I yanked the rope and the saw sprang to life.

I took out rhododendrons that were twice my height, stumps from trees that had been cut off many years ago, laurel bushes that hugged the roof-line of the house, and downed a couple of fir trees that were too close to other trees. I was in heaven. It was so much fun!

The decision about what to do with all the yard debris gave the new owners pause. While they thought about it, all the branches and whole plants were piled along the yard. My brother took one look at the amount of plant material and stated that it looked like a bomb went off in the front yard.

The decision was made to get the mess of debris off the yard and a large pile was made on the other side of the driveway. By the time we were done with the pile it was nearing the size of a semi-truck. Did I mention that the property was overgrown?

It was a totally exhausting time.

This was just the best vacation I have ever had!

Where Do Clouds Go?

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Patti Bond.

Clouds are beautiful.
They have their own distinct calling.
They produce rain, snow, overcast,
Or hide so clear, blue sky shines forth.

Where do clouds go?
Do they go off the face of the earth?
Isn’t the sky where heaven resides
Letting people think about their loved ones?

The earth is so unending.
One client can be hot, rainy, and snowy
For the seasons are endless.
Maybe that’s where the clouds go
To other parts of the earth.

Gotta Dance

The following is by Writers in the Grove member Gretchen Keefer, inspired from Prompt-a-Month: Dance.

“You there, Kevin! Stop adding those curlicues and follow the plan!”

Kevin, embarrassed, quickly found his place in the formation and continued practicing with the other dancers. He stumbled a few times, which added to his embarrassment, but gamely continued with practice until the choreographer called a break. Shoulders slumped on his lanky frame, Kevin ambled to the corner where he had stashed his pack with his water bottle.

“Don’t be discouraged,” Angie, an older, more experienced dancer, said to him, handing him a towel. “Barrett is hard on everyone. He gets great results, but we all work like the devil getting there.” She looked Kevin over. ‘You have good moves and a classic dancer’s body. You’ll do all right.”

Kevin smiled his thanks for the encouragement, pushing a lock of his dark hair off his forehead. “It just seems to me that the moves are too simple. Any second year student could do them. I wanted to add some pizzazz.”

“If you want to stay in this game, remember rule number one: always do what the choreographer says. He sees the routine from a different perspective, from the audience’s view. HE’s the artist; you are just his tool.”

“Thanks. Say, do you want to get something to eat?”

“Sorry,” Angie held up her own lunch. “I really have to be careful with food. I’m not as lucky as you youngsters. Ask Lindsay there”. She nodded towards a petite blonde.

Kevin moved towards the younger girl. “Hi, I’m Kevin the bumble-footed. Would you like to get some lunch? I hear there is a deli around the corner with great salads.”

Laughing the girl replied, “I’m Lindsay the famished. I’d love to have yet another salad. Maybe there is something there without lettuce.”

After covering the requisite information about backgrounds, the two young people continued their conversation with dance topics. “I love ball room dancing,” Lindsay said. “I was on a ball room dance team in college. We won some competitions. It was a lot of fun.”

“Congratulations. That must look great on your resume. I prefer jazz dancing, and physical, creative tap.” (more…)

The Athlete

The following is by Writers in the Grove member, Susan Schmidlin, based upon the Prompt-a-Month: Water.

With the wind rippling the surface of the lake, the breeze cooled the picnic area while the throng of on-lookers watched. They were all enjoying the competition.

A jet boat towed a gangly teenager toward the ski ramp. The long arms and legs of the teen created quite a spectacle of awkward movements and uncomfortable contortions. Holding tight to the tow rope, he barely stayed upright as he bounced along the white water wake behind the boat. The look of fierce determination on his face belied his struggle, his bent knees barely able to stand on the bumpy chop of the lake surface.

The jet boat revved up as it came toward the wooden deck of the ramp. At the apex, he let go of the tow rope and became airborne before the downward arc of gravity took over. The voluminous splash of a perfected cannonball was the accomplished goal and the crowd cheered during that hot summer afternoon at the lake.