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IWW Practice-W Exercise Archives
Exercise: True to type?

These exercises were written by IWW members and administrators to provide structured practice opportunities for its members. You are welcome to use them for practice as well. Please mention that you found them at the Internet Writers Workshop (http://www.internetwritingwor kshop.org/).

Prepared by: Patricia Johnson
Posted on: Sun, 17 Jun 2001
Reposted on: Sun, 7 Jul 2002
Reposted on: Sun, 22 Jun 2003
Reposted on: Sat, 24 Apr 2005

(based on an idea by Florence Cardinal)

People naturally categorize people, places, things and events in their minds. This is helpful in organizing, remembering and associating memories and information. We all need rules to help us react to situations in a timely fashion. A flashing red light might mean danger - and if I stop to consider all the alternative meanings, I might not react quickly enough to the danger.

However, when applied to people, categorizing can lead to stereotyping. Stereotyping involves the labeling of people into broad categories where individuality is replaced with fixed ideas and generalizations. Stereotyping can be seen in our level of trust in a situation, a person or a thing. Most stereotypes are negative; they lead to assumptions and misconceptions that are unfair or simply inaccurate. A good example of a stereotype is Boo Radley in the novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Both Scout and her brother have built up an unfair idea of him from appearances and gossip they have heard. His true nature is revealed when he rescues Scout and becomes a family friend and quiet hero. There are many more great examples in literature.

Exercise: In 300 words or less, write a story where a character is presented in a stereotypical way. As the story unfolds have the stereotype turn out to be inaccurate by revealing to the reader the character's individualism and true nature. This will allow the reader to make necessary critical judgments to understand the story.

Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: Sun, 24 Jun 2001

Thank you all for a successful exercise. The submission numbers were high, and of great quality. The submissions fulfilled the exercise criteria in almost every case. I find it easier to write character traits than to work on abstract concepts; maybe others did also. At any rate, it was a great week, good work.

It was interesting to note that the characters in the stories revealed both flaws as well as altruistic traits. Some of the character types were real surprises. There were telemarketers, Harley gang types, military figures, lovers, and psychologists to name just a few. These characters dealt with sensitive issues like race, sexual-preference and vanity. This is just a sample, the submissions were varied, and handled sensitive subject matter respectfully.

There was some discussion about length of entries. It seems easy to get wordy with character studies. The quality of the submissions naturally left one wanting more information and to read more. Editing to word count is tricky when addressing character development. It forces us to become adept at showing characters succinctly. It seems this exercise forced us to practice our editing skills as well as character development.

Good work and now on to the next week's exercise,

Patricia Johnson

Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: July 15, 2002

Thanks to everyone who submitted and critiqued the True to Type exercise this time. Many of you thought of new angles, new types of human behavior to bring out of the shadows of stereotypes. It was interesting to see characters change from a preconceived idea into a believable person with unique qualities.

Many of the submissions this time had more than one of the main characters come out of a stereotype and reveal unique qualities. That was an interesting development.

I hope everyone enjoyed the exercise and will have time to participate in this week's exercise, a free-for-all.


Patricia Johnson's wrap-up
Posted on: July 2, 2003

Last week's repeat of the True to Type exercise revealed a varied array of characters which included a macho man, a rock star, a country woman, a young officer, a violin player, a homeless man and more than one African American stereotype.

Many devices came into play to make a character's stereotype believable. Character's actions were one of the factors that aided in the initial stereotype and became an effective way to reverse the stereotype later in the story line. Sometimes the darker side of a character seemed more believable than the opposite in the stories. Well-crafted dialogue made characters believable. Surprise endings were present in many submissions. A second character with a second stereotype appeared along with the main character/stereotype in some stories.

Two other observations were that it took more than just character details to develop a believable stereotype, and that the character's differences had to be established early enough to allow for a reversal.

A word count of 300 words may be too restrictive. In order to have the character develop a stereotype and have a reversal of that stereotype, it may help to add a longer word count the next time we use the True to Type exercise.

Thanks to all of the practice-w members for making this a successful exercise.

Patricia L. Johnson

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