Of Writing Stereotypes and Being Exasperated

Snarklings, the Lady of the Manners is trying to rouse herself from the depths of winter hibernation, but gracious, it’s difficult. Still, she has made her way to the goblin city unwrapped herself from fuzzy blankets and brewed an extra-strong pot of tea so she can answer reader questions!

Hey, Lady of the Manners, I’m a babybat with a girly best friend and I have a problem.

See, my best friend (let’s call her B) and I both love to write stories, and I think we’re decent at it. But while I just do it as a hobby, B is serious about writing and wants to be a published author one day. (I’m not sure if that’ll ever happen, but I keep that to myself.) B also posts her stories on Fictionpress and has a decent following.

Now… All of B’s stories always have a token goth character. This character is always female, hyper independent, cynical, depressed, rebellious, etc. Basically a complete stereotype. While I still have a lot to learn about the subculture, this really bothers me. I’ve tried linking her to your site and others like it for resources, but B has made it clear that she respects who I am but has no interest in learning about the subculture. Should I just let it go? If not, what should I do?

-The Goth Friend

Oh, how frustrating! Yes, the Lady of the Manners certainly understands why this bothers you. Should you just let it go? Well, that depends. Are you capable of actually letting it go, of not reflexively rolling your eyes and gritting your teeth whenever you read one of B’s token goth characters? The Lady of the Manners isn’t asking this sarcastically, dear Snarkling; deciding you’re not going to give in to being annoyed by something is one of the most difficult things the Lady of the Manners can think of to do. If you decide that you don’t want to have conversations about this over and over with B., then be prepared to practice some deep breathing exercises that are designed to reduce your stress, and learn to change the subject when she wants to talk about writing.

However, before you decide to ignore B’s habit of writing a stereotypical token goth character, perhaps you should have one more conversation with her about her fondness for that character type. An in-depth, writing analysis conversation. Ask her why she likes to write the character. Ask her what story purpose she thinks the character serves. Ask her if she thinks all goths, including you, are like that; if not, why is she so attracted to writing the same character over and over?

Be very careful not to ask these questions in a dismissive or aggressive way, but with honest curiosity. As a writer, you know that there are choices involved in creating characters, and finding out how other writers approach those choices is always interesting. It may be that she’s never really thought about the reasons and choices behind her creating this stock goth character, and once she starts explaining her reasons, the character may slowly start to evolve out of their stereotyped form.

(This does make the Lady of the Manners wonder, however, if some of B’s other characters are somewhat stereotypical in their forms, and as B. becomes more proficient with her writing, (whether or if) all of her characters will evolve. Because that’s what writing is: constantly learning about and refining one’s craft.)

The Lady of the Manners has a comment for you, dear Snarkling: you say that B. is your best friend, but her refusal to learn more about your chosen subculture seems a bit … dismissive. Now, goths and non-goths can absolutely be friends! And limiting yourself to friendships only with people who share the exact same interests as you is terribly, terribly limiting. Again, ask her why she is so determined to write a stereotypical character when she knows (or should know) that goths aren’t all like that. And perhaps point out to her that her insistence on writing this token character over and over makes you feel like she doesn’t know you (or want to know you) very well.

It may just be that your friend, not sharing your enthusiasm for the subculture, isn’t sure how to respectfully say that she doesn’t want to talk about it all the time. Because that’s part of what true friendship is: respecting each other’s fascinations, with a strong enough bond that you can occasionally look at the other person and say, “Really? We’re talking about this more? What about this other thing?” ::grins::

The Lady of the Manners hopes that you do have a conversation with B. about these things, and that it will improve both her writing and your friendship!

Dearest Lady of the Manners,

Let me first say that I LOVE this school and thoroughly enjoy reading your profound advice. I’m 13, and have embraced my goth-ness rather recently, although I’ve had a dark taste for years. Earlier this week I read one of your articles in which you spoke of how there is no such thing as a REAL goth, and if you believe you’re a goth then you are. I agree with this for the most part, but there is something I must ask about. There’s this 11-year-old girl I know, and she’s the perky-est, bubbliest, dramatic, but brattiest girl I’ve ever met, and she calls herself a goth. Meanwhile, she hates to read, doesn’t listen to music, barely knows what rock is, thinks screamo is a band name (as opposed to a genre), and doesn’t even know what goth really is. Plus, she acts like little miss innocent 24/7, and uses phrases like “OMG there are so many haters out there” She gossips a lot, is mean, and lies often. I don’t hate her, I actually tend to just avoid her, but it just really annoys me when she says she’s a goth because she “likes dark clothes” (not that she ever wears anything even remotely dark and hates chains and such). Am I wrong for getting so annoyed? Thank you so much for your time.

Your grateful snarkling,
Mitchy

PS. I have tried MANY times to kindly explain to her what goth is normally composed of, even generally, but she refuses to listen and then proceeds to throw a melodramatic hissy-fit.

Darling Mitchy, the Lady of the Manners is pleased that you’ve tried to explain to this younger girl what goth is. This is what all goths should be doing: helping each other learn about the subculture! Sharing information!

However. Oh, however. The Lady of the Manners also thinks that in this case, maybe you should stop trying to bring some spooky definition to this young lady’s lack of understanding. It sounds like she takes her definition of goth from the mainstream fashion sites, who fling the word “goth” around any time a pop starlet throws on a black outfit and some dark lipstick.

Are you wrong for getting so annoyed? Mmmm, yes and no. No, you’re not wrong to be annoyed, because this girl is claiming to be part of something you identify with, something that you’ve been interested in for years. Seeing someone you dislike have the most shallow, skimming-the-surface grasp of something that’s important to you is going to make anyone at least a tiny bit annoyed.

But on the other hand, yes, you’re slightly wrong to be annoyed. At the risk of sounding like a terribly pretentious Eldergoth OR someone’s mother: this girl is eleven. Cut her some slack. It sounds like she’s trying out personas and fashions, and that she’ll migrate on to another “interest” in a few months. Instead of spending your time and energy being exasperated by her, focus on what you want out of your involvement with the goth subculture. Explore the music, the literature, the fashion, and don’t spend another minute thinking about her. Ignore her as best you can, and if anyone says things like, “Oh, do you know Miss Bratty? She’s a goth, too!”, just smile politely at them and say, “Yes, I know her. We’re different types of goths”. Just because she considers herself to be one of the “goths” in your area doesn’t mean you need to hang out with her or become best friends.

As the holidays are upon us, here are some goodies from the Gothic Charm School archives that you may find useful!

On Surviving Family Gatherings During the Holidays

Holiday Shopping and Parties

The Gingerbread Bats tutorial!

And now, the Lady of the Manners is going to stare into the depths of her own pantry to see if she has all the necessary ingredients for a batch of festive gingerbread bats, or if there’s yet another trip to the grocery store in her future. But a trip to the grocery store means a chance to look at twinkling holiday lights, which is always good. May each of you have as festive a time this winter as you desire, and may all of you feel safe, loved, and happy. Gothic Charm School will return in January 2016!

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