Writer’s Toolkit #12: Use stereotypes … very carefully

I recently had the privilege of interviewing a Christy-award winning author who floored me with a straightforward observation. To paraphrase, she noted that stereotypical behavior can help an author form a stellar character. Stereotypical behavior isn’t necessarily unrealistic behavior, just idealistic behavior that’s overdone.

To be clear, I’m not talking about racial or derogatory stereotypes. I mean stereotypes in terms of personality. For example, a strong, decisive male. A woman who struggles with insecurity because of her body/social attitudes.

The truth is, stereotypes exist for a reason. Basically, they are behavior/attitudes that are based off a once-popular ideal. That ideal has lost its impact because it’s been overused, or is no longer acceptable in main-stream society.

But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be the basis for creating a character that really speaks to readers.

In the end, your character should never be stereotypical. That will make him/her flat and emotionally unattractive. But when you’re discovering your character’s personality, don’t be afraid to use generalizations as a foundation.

As your character grows and changes, you’re empowered to build on that foundation to create someone that’s totally unique and unforgettable.

Tips in action: What books do you love that have stereotypical traits in a character?

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