I have a confession to make, it probably won’t surprise you, especially if you’re a reader like I am, but here it goes. Whenever I read a book, any book, I immediately measure myself up against the heroine. It doesn’t matter if its a romance, a science fiction, a fantasy that involves blue elves, I compare. I think we all do it on some level; having a main character that’s identifiable and accessible to the reader is something all writers strive for.
However, with me, there’s one case where I go over and above the normal “trying to identify with the main character” spiel. Its a real battle if the heroine has red hair. When that happens all hell breaks loose. I find myself focusing on the smallest of details pertaining to her character, everything from her style of dress, to her mannerisms, to the way she brushes her hair.
I think its because I’ve been measured up against numerous stereotypes pertaining to my hair color that its just engrained in my head to look for those in others with red hair.
What stereotypes, you ask? Let me give you just a brief list of the all the traits I was told I have by someone sometime in my life:
You’re a red head so you must:
– be Irish
– be extremely outgoing
– zany, crazy
– have a low tolerance for anesthesia (oddly, this is true for me)
– be extremely seductive, a siren, a home-wrecker (yep, been called a home-wrecker based on the color of my hair.)
– be a witch (again, I’m serious. I was just in middle school when a woman approached me and asked if I was a witch. I thought she was crazy until it happened several other times. Apparently, there are a lot of crazy people out there.)
– be good in bed (Well, how else would I steal all those husbands?)
And last, but certainly not least,
– Have a fiery temper (ok, so, I may be guilty of this one on occasion.)
I bring this up because I’m currently working on the character development for my new paranormal romance. One of my characters is a redhead. I have an interview type template that I started filling out for Carissa, the character, and found myself developing her around the stereotypes that drive me absolutely batty.
That got me thinking; these are stereotypes for a reason, right? There must be some sort of truth for them to be believed by so many. However, on the flip side, someone with dark hair could be Irish, and its just as easy for a blonde to be crazy and zany as it is for a redhead. I mean, look at Ke$ha, she a freaking dollar sign in her name.
I recently spoke to an author whose protagonist was a redhead. Since I talked to him before I read the book, I asked him what his character was like, I was curious to see how I measured up. The character didn’t fall into the stereotypes, I loved it. When I read the book I was still super focused on her personality and mannerisms, but she broke through the stereotypes; that made me happy.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read books where the main character is a redhead and a lot of those stereotypes come into play. But I can see how its done. We grew up with these stereotypes. They are in movies, on tv, even in the news. We incorporate them into our lives probably without even knowing it.
What’s the one thing that is always heard about blondes, that they’re dumb, right? Its not true, well, not always. Brunettes are supposed to be smart and plain, but I know plenty that are by no means plain. And redheads, well, apparently we’re witchy sirens with a bad attitude.
When you develop characters do you pay attention to stereotypes that follow certain builds, coloring, heritage? Do you come up with the personality first and then try to match a description to it, or the other way around?
Before you go, I found quotes about my fellow gingers that I felt I should share:
“While the rest of the species is descended from apes, redheads are descended from cats.” – Mark Twain
”According to the wire, you are resting well and are being taken care of by a nurse. I hope she is beautiful and that she has red hair. I don’t know why, but whenever I dream of a nurse she always has red hair. Red hair makes a man want to recover his health quickly, so that he can get on his feet and get the nurse off hers.” – Groucho Marx, in a letter to his son
“Blondes are fun, Brunettes are true,
But you never know just what a redhead will do” – Unkown
Apparently we’ll steal your husband while passing out from a low dosage of anesthesia.