You Know What They Say About Redheads

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.

Why?

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:

*Ahem*

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.

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About Karen DeLabar

A writer who divides her time between her family and her computer while sparing some time to her other loves of theatre, books and scotch.
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11 Responses to You Know What They Say About Redheads

  1. 2blu2btru says:

    As an African-American writer, I deal with this all the time. Some things are stereotypes, but stereotypes are the real life characteristics of some people. I think it’s how you blend them into the character, mixing them with non-stereotypes, that makes them truer to a real person. It’s similar to how you have some of the stereotypical traits of a red head and not others. That unique blending is what makes people, and characters, unique.

    I’m working on a chick lit story that is about a class reunion at an elite private school attended by African-Americans. I’ve read all about the upper middle class of African-Americans in places like Atlanta and D.C., about the exclusive clubs they belong to, how they only attend certain schools and intermarry in certain circles, and it sounds like upper middle-class whites, honestly. Reading what I’ve read so far, I don’t think most people can tell what race my character’s are.

    One thing that is tricky, though, are the stereotypes of certain African-Americans based on physical attributes like skin color and hair texture. It’s easy to fall back on those stereotypes, especially when you wouldn’t be the one in that group. It’s easy to give a character who does look like you stereotypical traits that you don’t have to try and distance yourself from the character, as well.

    As for which I come up with first, it depends. Usually I come up with a name or personality first, then build an image to either fit that personality or completely contradict it. I love given uptight female characters full, pouty lips, LOL 😀

    • Kaye Peters says:

      What a fantastic comment, thank you fo your insights!

      When I was developing Carissa and realized that she was turning into a full blown stereotype I was appalled. But at the same time I think there was a small part of me that wanted to distance myself from the character because there are a lot of my own traits that are stereotypical. When I stepped back and saw what had happened I had to laugh. Here I was trying to make her unique and to stay away from stereotypes that I even possess and instead I made her the with the classic redhead temperament that can seduce any man with her feline ways.

      Whoops. 🙂

      Its hard to stay away from stereotypes, they exist for a reason. But I like your comment about the blending of popular traits with non stereotypical traits to create a unique character. I’ll have to remember that!

  2. Savana Quinn says:

    I think it is important for writers to be aware of stereotypes when they are writing and try to avoid them. That is not to say you can’t have one ditsy blonde–they do exist in real life. But I have read books where every blonde was a promiscuous ditz, every redhead was bitchy, and all of the brunettes are frumpy and boring and wish they could be more like their lighter-haired friends. Real life just doesn’t work that way.
    I had a friend in college who was a shy red head, had no temper (seriously, she was really laid back), and certainly wasn’t out to steal anyone’s man–she was too sweet. (she did get the same assumptions from people, though.)
    Still, some of our personality does come from our looks, and we can’t ignore that. Those things that we are self-conscious of are a part of who we are. We just need to keep in mind that a feature one person hates about themselves could be another person’s favorite.

    • Kaye Peters says:

      I hated my hair color growing up. I just wanted to be a blonde or brunette, just like everyone else. It didn’t help that I was the only redhead in my family, I couldn’t even find refuge in my own home.

      I agree with you, what we look like influences who were are as a person whether we want it to or not. Its like when you go out and buy a gorgeous new dress that makes you feel awesome. You don’t know why, but when you put it on and walk down the street people look at you. Now, are they looking at you because the dress is amazing or are they looking at you because you’re walking with your head held high with confidence.

  3. Lisa Kramer says:

    Go Red heads! (I know you can’t tell, because my hair has darkened as I got older but I count myself as a red-head. My mom’s hair was your color). I think that writing a character as honestly as possible is the most important thing. If they stereotypes fit the character–well so be it, but I wouldn’t write a character to fit the stereotype. I often picture the characters I love differently than they are described, and once I get an image in my head it stays there. But, Anne of Green Gables will always be a fabulous red head to me!

    By the way, I’m sure I read somewhere that the anesthesia thing has scientific evidence backing it. It is something to do with whatever makes the hair red giving red heads lower tolerance.

    • Kaye Peters says:

      Oh, I had the anesthesia thing explained several times by my doctor’s, still goes over my head.

      Like I said in a comment above, I never really liked my red hair, too different than everyone else. Until I realized that being difficult was ok and then I loved it. Still a little weird when random people ask to take a picture of just my hair for their “red head wall” or when I’m told that its “your kind that broke up my marriage” but I’ve learned to live with it.

      I agree, as long as you’re true to the character and the story, their personality can be stereotypical or not. Unfortunately, there have been books that I’ve read where the characters were just too generic, like the author was trying to fit them into a type. And sometimes, you just have to let the character have some say in their development as well. 😉

  4. Hilary Clark says:

    My heroine is a red head, with liberal blond streaks. The only trait she possesses from the stereotype list in your post is that she’s Irish. She is of Irish heritage because I love all things Irish and she was Irish before I gave her hair. When I was deciding on hair color, I didn’t want to be stereotypical so the red is auburn and the blond streaks are natural. Actually, her hair color was inspired by that of my 3-year old niece, who only has about 1/32 Irish in her but the most beautiful ginger hair.

    My character is strong, assertive, intelligent, and owns her own business. These traits, plus a name, were the foundation of her creation. Everything else: hair color, eye color, build, etc. came after.

    • Kaye Peters says:

      That’s how I usually find a character, I usually start with a personality type, strong, shy, perfectionist, laid-back, like that, then try to match the looks to fit the personality. For some odd reason dealing with a redhead threw my mind for a loop.

  5. Steve says:

    Oh my…Kaye, I had a fiery redhead in my novel you just read, and *spoiler alert* she was a bad guy and died in a horribly-horrible way! Sorry about that… 🙂

    ~Steve
    http://www.SteveUmstead.com

    • Kaye Peters says:

      I’ll forgive you this time. 😉

      For a future novel just make sure to include one that isn’t ripped to shreds and a little bit more likable. She, or he, can still be bad, though, because that’s usually more fun.

  6. Ray says:

    Hi this is my first time on this website and I found it when searching for a book in which the antagonist is a redhead, interested in the exact same subject as you -stereotypes. Stereotypes for really everybody but redheads especially, seeing as I am one myself. Yup my whole life I’ve been bathed in more freckles then anyone could imagine, along with an awfully large mess of red curls atop my head. I have quite a few fellow redheads as friends and whenever someone comments on our fairly unique features we always joke around with them, not taking offense at all. We even often battle about who is “the best ginger” in the school. And when I’m with one redheaded friend in particular and someone remarks on our looks I usualy always tell them she is my little sister, she is sort of on the short side, (like FAR on the short side…) and she hates it but I refuse to stop! And I know a few gingers who get a little offended by these stereotypes but honestly I just find it so hilarious that anybody that doesn’t have our hair color, whether they have blond hair, brown hair or green hair, they think that we’re sexy, soulsucking, rude, seductive, bad tempered people! I find this so weird it’s fascinating to me. I think that your article was facetitious and witty and just really smart. I never did find that book in which a redhead is the protagonist… I’ve actually never read one in my life, so if you know of any maybe you could recommend one? Please, email me!

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