Recently, we discussed how to make your characters more three-dimensional in my latest article, 7 Secrets to Building Awesome Characters. But what happens when you create a character so awesome, they’ve been overdone?
Well, here’s one little secret I’m going to let you in on; they probably have. That’s not to say they aren’t good, but it more than likely means you’re not going to “WOW!” anyone.
Like in everyday life, we judge everything. For instance, if you meet a perfect stranger, you immediately categorize them according to the groups you recognize. Are they male or female? Are they taller or shorter than you? Larger or smaller? Darker or lighter skinned? What colored eyes do they have? What colored hair do they have? What kind of accent do they have? All this tells us, subconsciously, who they may be, where they possibly came from, and what culture or background we believe they have, all without asking them.
And it’ll be done to your character’s as well.
It’s built into our biology. The more like us the stranger is, the safer and more secure we feel.
Characters can just as easily make a good or bad first impression, which can ultimately make or break your book. As writers, we can use this to our advantage, but we must approach this with caution. A character that brings in a stereotype is normally met with recognition by the audience, but that can be where their interest ends.
Stereotyped characters can come off boring and predictable, which can make your story boring and predictable. However, if they are able to break the stereotype, you have introduced a reason for your audience to become curious, and their interest will spike!
Here are 4 examples of Popular Characters (with stereotypes) that could slay your novel or potentially earn you a book deal!
1. The Wise Mentor
A popular use of an older character with special abilities that appear to be unmatched. They are placed in a particular setting, and their purpose is to motivate, encourage, and train the hero.
Remember Dumbledore? Merlin? Gandalf the Grey? Obi-Wan?
The list is endless, and it all amounts to roughly the same. You take an old man, you take a young hero, you smash them together, and you get an odd relationship that’s meant to only last until the hero has fulfilled their destiny. And then the Wise Mentor mysteriously vanishes (or in some cases dies), and they’re never to be heard of again, while the rest live in harmony.
2. The Chosen One
This and the “Wise Mentor” go hand-in-hand. The “Chosen One” is a character with a great destiny. They either come from humble times or a shady beginning, and they are meant to lead the world, or a fraction of people, into some great purpose or other.
Nowadays, the Chosen One has erupted in fantasy literature and has become a predictable trope despite many author’s attempting to surprise the audience with a good twist. If this is done right, the Chosen One can become a best seller, but only if the recurrent character traits take a back seat.
3. The Brokenly Misunderstood Bad Boy (With Riches)
In all honesty, this specific stereotype more or less fails (despite its popularity and uprising) with a few exceptions, and I’m going to use one.
We’ve all read Fifty Shades of Grey, the epitome of this trope. If you haven’t, then may I do a forewarned spoiler alert?
A man comes from a broken past with unhealthy coping mechanisms but has become a successful entrepreneur by creating his business empire that makes him billions of dollars. Leading a double life, his private time consists of tying up women and having sex with them in his BDSM lifestyle.
Along the way, he meets a woman he believes he can manipulate and control – this shy, timid twenty-something year old virgin is swept along a wild ride of crazy, kinky sex, secrecy, and betrayal, all the while believing she can fix this broken man. It takes three books and a lot of dramatic air, but the happily ever after she has always wanted is achieved, and guess what?
The brokenly misunderstood bad boy (with riches) gets the girl!
This book started as fanfiction for Twilight, got a book deal, became a best-selling novel, earned its way to Hollywood, and found itself at the top of the totem pole.
Because it’s a twisted romance that appeals to our inner nature as humans who feel the need to fix, to nurture, and to be needed by someone. The novel worked due to the connections it made with its audience; it’s an entanglement of lies and deceit, of love and doubt, trial and error, and unhealthy attachments with a heavy dose of denial.
Despite the flaws within the content, the connection was there, and that was what got it to the tippy-top.
4. The Womanly Crusader
I love a good book with a strong female lead! Nowadays, female superheroes are popping out of nowhere and it is AWESOME! However, there is a line that should never be crossed when using the “Womanly Crusader” as your lead role, especially when said power woman is surrounded by men who are used to being in the lime light.
Do you see where I’m going?
I’m talking about the cliché “strong woman shocks all men” stereotype. We don’t live in the stone age any longer, and men don’t club women over the head and drag them back to their less than cozy caves anymore. In today’s world, woman have climbed the ranks and become powerful in their own right; role models, political leaders, singers, actresses, teachers, police, and they are even respected in the army (and not just as nurses).
So, when writing your novel, you must decide what era you want it to take place in and adjust according to that era. The Womanly Crusader does not fit in all genres and all periods, so think carefully when approaching this character. She’s a fantastic one to use, but a doozy to control.
What’s your opinion on stereotyped characters? Do you have a few in your desk you love to use? Are there any you absolutely can’t stand? Why? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below!