In general avoid those stereotypical characters, they just might get you into an awful lot of trouble!
In the Futurelearn Starting Fiction exercise we looked at stereotypes, with a twist, a characteristic which is not normally associated with their type. So I came up with these:
A gymnast who likes to show off but has a fear of competing.
A dare-devil who’s not frightened about anything except children’s water parks.
A dog owner and breeder who loves cats more than dogs but won’t admit it.
A mechanic who hates getting his nails dirty, and likes a manicure as a treat.
(One of my fellow Futurelearners commented that she used to know a mechanic like that!)
A black witch who likes to be a white witch on a Sunday.
A fish and chips shop owner who never eats chips and goes ball room dancing.
Do you know somebody like that? I know a female hairdresser who wanted to be a mechanic when she was young. Her dad was a mechanic. She’s very feminine, not the type you would think of servicing your car! Just goes to show stereotypes are born to be broken.
Here is my short character sketch of a stereotype with a twist:
Ann pushed her gold-rimmed glasses up her nose, smudging her lenses in the process. She saw a customer heading in her direction. She responded by fidgeting nervously with her name tag. It hung like an accusation around her neck. She wondered if she could rush off to the toilet, and escape before it was too late. The girl was already in front of her desk, poised to assault her with a round of questions, so Ann had no choice, she had to speak to her. “Can I help you?” Ann enquired, in this high-pitched voice that clung to the word help before assaulting the recipient’s eardrum. The girl appeared disoriented, as if she had just had a bout of severe vertigo. She recovered enough to stop swaying and then as if acknowledging that she was cornered, she stayed. Ann appreciated that, it would be impolite of the girl to move away, and Ann appreciated good manners. The girl almost sat down, she floated in the air just above her seat. The girl cleared her throat reluctantly and asked for help. What a mistake! Ann liked to help people, she did, but somehow she just couldn’t handle it. She always had trouble working the library computers. She still got lost in the library, even though she’d been working there for two years. To be honest it would be easier to find books yourself than to ask Ann. Ann was hopeless. Ann was a mess. Ann was only good at one thing, and nobody knew about that one thing. Ann liked to bungee jump. It was a secret passion, an adrenalin lover, a million times better than a real one. The ties were there but they were rope, not shackles. She would fling herself off a cliff top without a second thought, shouting, “Can I help you,” at the top of her voice, with this insane grin on her face. She felt free in that moment, knowing that she didn’t have to help anyone, all she had to do was jump. It was a wonderfully liberating feeling, nothing could surpass it. As she hung at the end of the bungee, she always pointed her finger at the unsuspecting air, and exclaimed, “I can’t help you, air, but you and I are free, yippee, I’m no longer the librarian, I’m the bungee jumping, adrenalin, kick ass, lady!”
My librarian in the above sketch went against common expectations. We tend to think of librarians as being quieter individuals who are less adventurous and prone to spending the majority of their time amongst dusty books. But is this fair? I tried to go against the stereotype, to make her extreme. I hope it worked. Who knows maybe she exists somewhere, let me know if you’ve met her!
This penchant for extreme sports might lead to lots of librarians trying these:
Relying too heavily on stereotypical, one-dimensional, characters can make your writing look unimaginative and at worst bigoted. Rounded characters give writing that extra something that makes the reader want to read on. As a reader you have to care about the characters or else you will lose interest in the plot, and if you lose interest in the plot, the story dies.
What do you think? What makes a character special? Do you know anyone that doesn’t fit their stereotype? Or can you come up with a new and original stereotypical twist? Please feel free to leave a comment in the comment box. Thanks.
Thanks for your message Victoria: “I love this exercise 🙂 Might try it when I’m stuck on characters one of these days. The characters that stick with us are the unusual, contradicting, memorable ones. Haha, I love the bungee-jumping librarian. Good snippet :)”
Victoria Davenport, http://coffeewriterepeat.wordpress.com
Yes, it’s a fun exercise and I’m enjoying the Futurelearn on-line course. I’m starting a new course today, about reading the Literature of the English Country Rose, (also on Futurelearn,) so will be doing the two courses side by side!