Well, I guess most people you talk to will tell you that stereotypes are bad. Then again, I’m always reminded of a Dilbert comic by Scott Adams where he introduced a new female character. Scott Adams wrote a note in one of his books that he was later inundated with emails telling him she was too stereotypical. Now this is a female character who was extremely insecure, cracked under pressure and was personally insulted by anything a male said to her. I find it odd that people found this character ‘too’ stereotypical. I don’t know any women like this. Certainly some share a little of one of her traits, but any person who acts like this character would be nearly impossible to deal with.
It was on reading about this situation Scott Adams found himself in that I realised there was no point in worrying if a character is a stereotype or not. What one person sees as stereotypical, or ‘generalising’, or type casting, or whatever, can be taken an entirely different way by another. You’re never going to please everyone so trying to create a totally new character that has no stereotypical attributes is a waste of time and next to impossible.
Instead of worrying about whether my characters are stereotypical I focus on whether they are believable. I look at whether they are consistent. I decide whether they are interesting. These things matter far more than whatever label someone will later smear across them.
That said, stereotypes are good in that they allow you to create a diverse cast. By creating simple labels (for much more complex and interesting characters) you can ensure that you have diversity and within the characters and that they will interact well (or at least in interesting ways). Doing this also allows you to see the lack of realism in some of your choices. A tom-boyish girl is not going to be best friends with the ballerina (unless there is a lot of history that is nicely explained as to the why).
3 things I try to remember:
1. Stereotypes can give you a good starting point or an easy guide to work with.
2. If your character never advances beyond a two-dimensional stereotype they are probably going to be boring anyway.
3. Stereotypes exist for a reason, but they also need to be reimagined to keep originality and interest in a story.
What are your thoughts about stereotypes?
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