It actually comes from one of his lesser known books. It’s a non-fiction work titled Last Chance to See which describes his journeys around the world in the company of a zoologist to find a number of endangered species.
At one stage on his travels, they encounter a couple of German backpackers. Douglas Adams becomes really frustrated at the fact that this pair exhibit all the characteristics you would expect of stereotypical German backpackers (e.g. ridiculous efficiency and a strong sense of superiority) and hates the idea that he might be writing anything that would reinforce such stereotypes.
And that’s when he decides that he won’t. From here on in, these backpackers won’t be German, they’ll be Latvian instead.
He keeps to his word. In the chapters that follow, there are lots of references to those Latvian backpackers, and their sense of Latvian efficiency and superiority. It’s a great part of what is already a great book (and highly recommended).
What did I learn from this? It’s the basic idea that writers should not be reinforcing stereotypes. We should always be finding new ways to see the world and the people within it. In my writing, whenever I feel like I’m resorting to some sort of cliche or fixed type, I always try to pull back and think about how I could inject some originality or find some new way to express my ideas, rather than resorting to hoary old stereotypes.
Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes, it’s a little bit unavoidable. But it’s always something I aspire to. And just another reason to give thanks to the great Douglas Adams.
Posted by Jonathan Gould and tagged as