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May 8, 2019

Character Stereotypes – How to break them

By Ela Mishne.

The Chosen One, Dumb Blonde, The Wise Old Man, Queen Bee. We’ve all seen these characters. The scientist is always crazy and looks like Albert Einstein. The bully loves being bad because—well, for no particular reason. The problem with these characters is that they make the story predictable and boring. So writers are encouraged to create fresh and unique characters.
But here’s the problem. Readers love familiar characters because they don’t have to get to know these new people. They feel safe. But safe is boring, and readers should never be bored.

A solution to this problem is to write these old tropes with a twist. A twist can be a hobby or something about the character that the reader would never have thought about. Let’s take Queen Bee for example. This character is pretty, mean, comes from a wealthy family, and surrounded by a posse of beautiful girls. After school she’s probably sitting on her pink bed in her pink room, listening to pop music and polishing her nails. But what if that’s not what’s she likes to do after school? What if she spends her free time playing Overwatch with her nerdy brother? Now, that’s a twist. What if she doesn’t come from a wealthy family? What if she doesn’t like pop music? What if she likes heavy metal? What if her room is painted black? What if she likes playing the piano?
Another way to break character stereotypes is to let a character have a secret. Playing Overwatch with her brother is bad for our Queen Bee’s reputation, so she would probably want to keep it secret. But what if her brother is threatening to reveal her secret to her boyfriend? She’d probably start acting differently, surprising her friends, and the reader.
The third way is to dig deeper into the character’s mind to find the reasons for her behavior. Why does our Queen Bee so desperately want to be beautiful? Does she feel that she’s not pretty enough because her mother has told her that she’s nothing special and she wants to prove her wrong? Is she mean because she thinks that she’s stupid and the captain of the football team only likes smart girls?
Finally, you can break character stereotypes by giving the character a goal. Queen Bee might want to get accepted into law school, so she has to have a high GPA. She secretly poisons her biology teacher when she is not ready to take the test. She threatens to spread mean rumors about her best friend if she doesn’t help her with her math homework. The reader understands why she’s so mean, and might actually feel for the poor girl.


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