What are Stereotypes and why should you be careful when using them?
A character that is so ordinary or unoriginal that they seem like an oversimplified version of a person, class, gender, etc.
Why should you avoid this?
Stereotypes are rarely accurate. Not only can they be offensive, they make for poor characters because readers can guess exactly what they will think, do, say, or respond. That’s boring.
Straight stereotypes lack depth and are predictable. Readers immediately think they already know how their story will go because they feel like they have already met this character and read their story in a dozen other similar stories. Your goal as a writer is to surprise your readers with new and unique characters and stories.
Should you NEVER use a stereotype?
Stereotypes develop for a reason
High school for example: there are jocks, cheerleaders, nerds, emos, skanks, etc.
- At this age, being defined and having a “label” provides safety and confidence (“self” on some level)
Now think about the adult workplace: there are brown-nosers, slackers, workaholics, gossips, etc.
- You have a wider variety of personalities, but there are always those few in nearly every workplace that fit “the mold”
How do you use this the right way?
Start with a level of stereotype to instantly familiarize readers with the character’s traits…then delve deeper, expand on what is on the surface. You still have to be careful with starting out an introduction with a stereotypical portrayal because it can turn readers off if they think all they are going to get is a stereotyped “blah” character, i.e. the handsome and charming billionaire out to sweep Miss Innocent off her feet.
Make it clear from the beginning that even if this character exhibits stereotypical behaviors, the reasons behind them are deep and layer, and there are consequences for the way the act or live. Hint at complexity so your readers are left wanting more and searching for the truth rather than sighing and thinking, “I’ve already read this a hundred times before.”