Stereotypes become ingrained in us through culture and habits.
When we writers create characters, we should know the basics of their personalities before we begin to write the story.
Whether heroine, villain, or sub-characters, we have a sense of the types of personalities that should people the plot.
In fleshing out those who move our stories along, we give them jobs, family, myriad habits, and quirks. We assign stations in life, perhaps borrowed from personalities and the belief system we were taught, or from history itself.
Villains of old were ugly and ornery. They were evil and vile and we could not expect anything from them except dastardly deeds.
These types of characters that we loved to hate, over time, became predictable and boring.
Writers receive praise when they break from worn-out formats and begin casting villains as ordinary people later exposed as evil. This not only makes stories more surprising, but in films as well, gives actors roles that challenge their abilities.
These turncoat characters became unpredictable and interesting in spite of their disguised audacity. They put a whole new spin on the climax or denouement of a plot.
We must be careful to make our characters interesting and, hopefully, memorable.
However, in no way do stereotypes apply only to villains. I found a perfect example of stereotyping in my own writing.
While writers now distance themselves from such stereotypes as the predictable villain, so must we distance ourselves from typecasting ordinary uninteresting people.
In my thriller, Down to the Needle, which has just been released, I first cast the character, Nettie, as a black woman running a soup kitchen after her Fire Chief husband dies.
Another character, Lindsay, is a young white girl working in Abi’s (protagonist) baby clothing boutique.
Nettie becomes a widowed white woman who ignores the social stature achieved by her deceased Fire Chief husband and answers the call to community service. She runs the soup kitchen and is known for her charitable acts.
Lindsay became a wild pop-rocker African-American girl with too much business savvy to stay in her dead-end job at a music store in a mall. Needing to improve her lot, she applies for a sales position at Abi’s store.
Lindsay comes to her job interview still in her music shop persona; wild Afro, nails and lipstick painted black, and wearing a skimpy hip hugger mini.
Young, but learning quickly, the next day, she returns to the store simply to apologize for her faux pas. She wears a chic pink business suit. Nails, lipstick, and clothing accessories complement the outfit. Her hair is totally braided down.
Realizing Lindsay is serious about work and can make great adjustments, Abi hires her on the spot. After Lindsay proves her worth, (through some dire situations in the story), Abi offers Lindsay a full partnership in a second store.
While the lives of Nettie and Lindsay in their new character sketches seem ordinary it would be flat, even pathetic, to cast a black woman running a soup kitchen.
And Lindsay would be just another white girl climbing the employment ladder through the work-a-day world. Ho-hum.
Breaking stereotypes for this story not only enhances the plot, it gives a chance to deepen various aspects of each character’s personality.
Breaking stereotypes also offers a subliminal message of uniqueness that can be applied to any story.
I’m pleased with the changes away from predictable characters because of the way their new personas offer more to further enhance the story overall.
These two sub-characters become exciting to know. Their lives take on more meaning and will not be skimmed over by a reader in a hurry to get out of a dull scene.
In fact, once I rewrote these characters, the story wove together tighter than I had imagined. You can only know that kind of joy if you carefully build each character’s personality and allow no stereotypes in your writing.