Few believe me when I tell this story, but it’s true. My friends Helen and Jay had a dog, Baxter. He was sort of a Black and Tan and / or Beagle mix. He despised homosexuals and would bark like a PCP-crazed maniac whenever a gay man wandered into his radar.
One time I was out at their house, and we having lunch with friends. Baxter was snoozing under the table. We were talking about pets and Helen mentioned that Baxter hated gay men. One luncheon guest, new to Helen’s odd world, gaped in disbelief, and started to argue. I learned long ago not to argue with Helen. Waste of time.
So, this woman was saying it’s nuts to think that a dog could tell if a man was homosexual, and suddenly Baxter EXPLODED and tore out from under the table like Cujo, his claws nearly ripping gouges in the wood floor. He flew to the front door and had his paws against it, barking and clawing and barking and barking like the devil himself was trying to get in. Jay opened the door and it was a gay friend of ours, blinking, wondering what all the commotion was about.
Have you ever met a dog who hated gay men?
Okay, that said, I’ll mention Ellen Beson’s book. Animation Unleashed. Great book. After you’ve bought your tenth copy of my book, buy some of hers! I was on a panel with Ellen and she taught us the most interesting thing. She asks each of her animation students to draw “a little old lady.”
They do, and then she passes the drawings around the classroom. And they are always all alike! Each “little old lady” has a knee length skirt, a cane, and a bun!
Then, genius that she is, Ellen asks the students to describe their own grandmothers. Not one grandmother has a knee length skirt, a cane, or a bun. They are old ladies, but each is her own, individual person.
Got it? Back to Baxter, the homosexual-hating dog. (Not a winning children’s book title, btw)
Now, you can’t use Baxter in your work, cause he’s mine. But, when you give a character a dog, or when you invent a little old lady, DO NOT DO THE CLICHÉ! Find a way to make your dog or your little old lady (or bank president, or grave robber, or action hero, or corruption-fighting school teacher!) someone unlike anybody else we’ve EVER seen in the movies.
Go find my old posts on Lisbeth Salander if you need clarification on this point.
Beating the cliché is hard to do. I bet you can!