Loch Awe in spring - Photo courtesy of Neil Donald Photography






Saturday, 16 March 2013


Breaking Down Stereotypes: A Hymn to Tim

By Jennifer Young



Need a hero? (Photo by Michelle Ward)
It was my fellow blogger Mary who first got me thinking with her post on ‘What’s in a Name?’ (4 February).  Then it was Jenny, in a comment on her own post: “Will Self believes that the name Tim is a serious handicap in life, apparently. Tim the nightclub bouncer? Somehow, it doesn't seem to work!”

This is the reason for a spontaneous and totally appropriate burst of public laughter from my good self the other week. I was standing watching a school rugby match, a mud-stained slugfest between 30 boys-just-turned-men on a miserable morning. As one youth cannoned into another sending him to earth so hard that I’ll swear the ground shook, a voice from the sidelines cried out “Great tackle, Tim!” And I laughed.

Once I had recovered from the scowls around me and clapped politely (because it was indeed an excellent tackle), I took stock. Tim, on closer inspection, turned out not to look like a man handicapped by a girly moniker: indeed, in 15 years or so, given a brush of stubble and a line or two on his face to hint at an interesting past, I’d say he’s a certain graduate from half back to heartbreaker. 

Rugby-playing Tims aren’t news, as it happens. Currently Scotland regularly unleash their own man-mountain, Tim Visser, on terrified opposition. And yet, in the face of the evidence in front of me, I know Jenny and Will Self to be right. A rugby player called Tim, your reader will say, shaking her (or his) head? Really?

No-one wants a mousy heroine
At this point I should confess to something of a bee in my bonnet about stereotypes. I’ve never quite recovered from a long-ago critique in which I was told that my novel would never be published because my heroine wasn’t feisty and my hero insufficiently manly. The fact that the plot required this quiet and unassuming pair to go through hell for one another and come out of it as a couple who each achieved fantastic and fearless things for the sake of the other was irrelevant. They may have ended up as heroic – but they didn’t start that way.

I know that readers are looking for a certain something and that’s what writers have to give them, but I don’t believe that those readers have to be – or want to be – spoon-fed. Out here in the real world there aren’t enough heroes to go round: people have to fall in love with Mr I-Suppose-He’ll-Do – and, astonishingly enough, they make it into a happy ever after.

Now, I’m not suggesting that we reject the stereotypes altogether: after all you can argue that a stereotype is what underpins genre. But I do think we can nibble away at the edges and at least make our stereotypes interesting.

So I’m going to set you a challenge. Next time you’re scratching around for a name for your muscle-bound hunk of heartbreaker, think of me – and call him Tim.

 

15 comments:

  1. Okay, Jennifer, Tim it is. I must admit though, none of my characters, even the minor ones have ever been called Tim!

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  2. I look forward to reading all about him, Chris!

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  3. Ooo not sure I could manage to make Tim into a successful hero. But I do agree with the rest of your post, we are too hide-bound by all heros having to be wonderful and heroines feisty. What I look for when I'm reading is that characters should be, first and foremost, interesting - and that's what I aim for in my writing too.

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    1. It's true. My gripe with this decades-old critique (not that I'm bitter, honest!) is that it essentially required an author to show the fully formed character too early. It didn't allow the characters to change or develop.

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  4. Noooo - I can't do a Tim or a Timothy - but I agree that sterotypes must be avoided. One dimensional characters don't break hearts or indeed mend them in my book! How about a Jeremy...?

    Janice xx

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    1. My problem with Jeremy as a name is that the only literary Jeremy I can think of is Jeremy Fisher.

      I di have a Jeremy ion a novel once - he was nice but a little bit wet and the heroine, sensibly, turned him down.

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    2. I rather like the name Tim and wouldn't mind with it being the name for a hero - not Timmy, though. James would be okay but not Jim.
      You have provided much food for thought here, Jennifer.

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  5. Great post, Jennifer! I blame the children's books, Topsy and Tim, although Timothy Dalton was one of my favourite actors (not that I'd refer to him as Tim). You are so right about stereotypes and characterisation - but I guess readers have certain expectations.

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    1. Ooh, I like Mr Dalton too, but he's definitely not a Tim - any more than James Bond is a Jamie. (Can you IMAGINE!)

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  6. It IS interesting! My latest hero is called Ibsen Brown, and he's a gardener - which leads to the question, why? His father (also a gardener) was self educated. And Ibsen is a man of contradictions and challenges. And, thankfully, has a sense of humour.

    Tim, though? Not for me, I don't think.

    Interestingly, Paul is also seen as a weak name...

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    1. I don't think I've ever used the name Paul - interesting, because I've known many Pauls and some of them were certainly powerful and dynamic.

      Your Ibsen is a good example, Jenny - it's unusual, it's challenging and it tells you something about the background of the character. We should all remember that - it's th parents who choose the names.

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  7. Oh dear....the poor Tims of the world. They are much-maligned I feel. We had a neighbour called Tim who was the kindest soul (and totally macho with it) one could ever meet so I don't have a hang-up with this name at all.
    That said....a dear young friend of mine has just introduced us to her new man....Tim....and my husband and I (makes me sound very Queenly saying that!) can't warm to him at all. So maybe there is some underlying prejudice regarding Tims. But I will rise to the challenge....I will write a short story with Tim as the hero and let you all know if he sells or not....:)

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  8. Perhaps he'll sell but they'll change his name. That happens - in one of my stories a practical, maternal, down-to-earth Joanne stepped out of the pages as Jolene - I was shocked!

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    1. I've sent my story off with Tim as my hero....watch this space!

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    2. Good luck - now I'm all nervous!

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