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.
A mantra for all authors, editing is my friend, editing is my friend. Welcome new friend. Let’s hope we enjoy a long and happy relationship.
Editing is such an important process. Read over what you’ve written, edit. Then take a break. Return to it again. Read it aloud. Edit again, and again, and again. You get the picture.
But don’t become obsessed, editing is important but so is a life.
Joining a writer’s group can be really helpful. Also it can drag you away from the internet for a while and you can interact with people face to face which is nice from time to time. Not saying that it’s not nice having internet pals too. They’re cool too, but you know what I’m talking about. I found having other writers critiquing my work scary to begin with but it’s well worth it. Don’t be put off by what people say, accept changes that you agree with and ignore opinions that you don’t agree with. Believe in yourself, after all it is your work, your story, at the end of the day you have to be 100% happy with it. Yes 100%. I’m talking to writers here.
Simple editing mistakes are easy to make. I have just found some that I didn’t notice when I was typing the following short passage for a FutureLearn exercise, so I thought I’d share them with you, as an example of why editing is so important!
The Red Notebook:
I followed at a short distance behind her as she entered the refectory. She wore a plain white cardigan reminiscent of cling film. Her mother kept a clean house and was always wrapping everything up in neat little cling film packages. She hated it but her influence was all pervasive, even her socks clung to her feet, neat dancers socks, moulded to her skin, cutting all hope of circulation. Her jet black hair was tied back in a pony tail that seemed to be wrenching the very roots of each follicle of hair from her scalp. No lipstick blemished those full lips. Her only adornment was the bright red notebook which seemed at odds with the rest of her ensemble. The notebook took pride of place on the table in front of her and next to this, she discarded a heavy set of cumbersome keys.
I stood up and crept behind her. I tried to see what she was writing, but the words were as bloodshot, and unreadable as her wild eyes. She picked up a plastic cup of water, gulping it down in one ferocious gulp. She spluttered, droplets of water fell from her lips blemishing the creased cover of her notebook. She wiped the water away, staring at it hysterically as if she was searching for answers. Her fingers ironed the crease but the crease remained, mocking her.
She stood up, toppling her hair back in one swift movement. I caught it. I felt responsible but I didn’t know why. “Are you ok?” I asked. She looked right through me as if I was transparent. I picked up her keys, trying to elicit a response by saying ” Don’t forget your keys.” She ignored me as if I was transparent, an unnecessary interference to her otherwise perfect day.
At least one of my mistakes was amusing! Toppling her hair back! Well it could have been, who needs a chair? The rest as far as I can see were missing hyphens, and I said transparent twice.
Reading in the genre you are intending to write in is so important. I read a lot of YA because I write YA. Also it is equally important in my opinion to read all sorts of books, these help broaden your writing skills. Anyway I love reading so it is all good! Oh and do reviews. I’m new to this but I’m sure this will help too.
On the subject of books, I just love the artwork in the Shatter Me series, aren’t they fabulous?
Varying the structure of your novel using different words is an important skill. Short words add pace, as do short sentences. Leave out too many adjectives, and adverbs. (I find this one difficult!) Use a dictionary, and a thesaurus. Leave out clichés.
Don’t destroy what you’ve written. This sends shivers down my spine. Keep less than perfect pieces as a reminder of how your work has progressed. There might be a good idea in there that just needs reworking.
My fantasy YA novel is currently in its final stage of edit. I didn’t follow a plan. I just had lots of ideas and wanted to get them down quickly before they evaporated! I found this approach was great creatively but had the down side of an awful lot of re-editing and re-structuring, so I wouldn’t recommend this. A little bit of planning is important. So next time round I’ll do a rough plan which will allow me flexibility if I want to change it.
The level of research required depends on the novel you’re writing, e.g. I imagine historical fiction is one of those genres that involves masses of research. Even so, I had to research crystals, shadows, the Corpus Christi Clock, Grantchester, and Cambridge ghost stories for mine.
I joined a local writer’s group, Cambridge Writers, http://cambridgewriters.net/ and have found this very helpful. I would highly recommend finding a group in your local area.
Alternatively try an on-line writing group. My fellow Futurelearners suggested these two websites:
One thing that surprised me about the following FutureLearn exercise, is that I found an idea for a story from a radio prompt. I have never tried this before, so thanks Futurelearn, good tip. In the first draft I just quickly typed in some rough draft ideas. In the second draft I developed the idea by using different words, for instance I took out the word stared and used a different word, barrelled to suggest her eyes moving furiously in excitement, and I changed some of the other details to make the paragraph more interesting, using everyday words such as nettled, sting, mirror, signal, manoeuvre, tank.
Amy stared at the on-line application form for the local radio apprenticeship scheme. “I would make a great local apprentice because,” ……………The next prompt was easy, “If there is one thing I could change about where I live it would be…..
All of her eighteen years she had lived in Cambridge. There was one thing about Cambridge that really riled her. Public transport. She lived on the outskirts, in suburbia, and the buses were non existent in the evening. Nights out meant asking her long suffering parents to pick her up or get an expensive taxi home. Or even worse accept a lift from one of her friends. Not that they drove home drunk but their lack of attention to detail made her wonder if they had bribed the driving instructor to get their licences. Why had her parents decided to live in this no go zone? What was wrong with living in the centre of the town?
A message on her Facebook flashed up. Harry had liked her new profile picture. Her shoulder length blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and clear complexion, made her laugh. No evidence at all of all those late nights. She was the perfect candidate for a job in local radio. Six o’clock starts. No problem.
Amy’s wide eyes barrelled along the prompts on the on-line application for the local radio apprenticeship scheme. “I would make a great apprentice because,” I’m super cool, of course! The next prompt was, if there is one thing I would change about where live it would be.” Simple, child’s play.
All of her eighteen years Amy had lived in Cambridge. Sigh. There was one thing about Cambridge that really nettled her. Public transport. A sting in the backside. She lived in wretched suburbia and buses were an alien species in the evening. Night outs meant asking her long suffering parents to chariot her home, or get a taxi, sorry wallet. Or even worse steal away in one of her friend’s cars. Not that they drove home drunk, at least she hoped they didn’t, but mirror signal manoeuvre didn’t seem to be in their dictionary. Why had her parents, god love them, decided to live in this no go zone? Even combat troops have better transport facilities, a tank would be acceptable.
A face book message, flashed up. It was Harry. Hope he wasn’t flashing his pecs again! Harry had liked her new profile picture. Her shoulder length blonde hair, bright blue eyes and clear complexion were a hit with the boys. No evidence of those late nights lingered, she was an accused but flawless culprit. The perfect candidate for a job in local radio. Six o’clock starts, no problem.
Just to keep you from getting bored I thought that I’d end on a light, well rather silly note.
An earlier Futurelearn exercise using familiar words in unfamiliar places:
Arthur’s hair sat on his scalp like an apologetic cowpat. His life had turned into a hopscotch, he leapt from pat to pat but nothing changed. His horizons narrowed with every throw of the dice. He was not a gambling man but he sensed that his luck was out. The aloe vera juice oiling his biography had formed a stagnant, tropical pool.
Cowpat was a bit of a crazy choice of word but I thought it suggested that Arthur wasn’t a happy type of bloke and that he felt crushed, and trampled on. The hopscotch notion I used to convey a sense of childishness. I’m not sure about the aloe vera juice I think I may have gone too far with that one!
Thanks to Futurelearn for all the tips. Enjoying the course.