What is a stereotype?
A stereotype is an oversimplified generalisation about a group of people. Not all stereotypes are negative, but many are. For example: older people don’t understand technology; men are not as adept at parenting as women; young people are selfish.
What’s wrong with stereotypes in fiction?
Apart from being predictable and boring, stereotypes make for flat, one-dimensional characters. Human beings are complex and this should be reflected in our stories. Fully fleshed, relatable characters keep readers engaged. Stereotypes put a barrier between the reader and the character. If the reader believes they know everything there is to know about a character, why would they read on?
How do I avoid stereotypes?
Research, research, research!
- Observe people in the demographic you are writing about. Don’t make assumptions about who they are or what they like.
- Listen to them. Immerse yourself in their world. Watch the TV shows and movies they recommend. Listen to the music they like.
When you’ve finished researching it’s time to get creative.
- Think about your character’s backstory. What were they like when they were young? What was society like when they were growing up?
- Design strong and believable motivations for your character’s actions.
- Create well rounded characters with flaws as well as positive attributes.
Common Stereotypes in Fiction:
- The completely EVIL character. Characters with no redeeming qualities are unrealistic and uninteresting!
- The “grandmother character” who does nothing more than bake and knit. Today’s grandmothers come from varied backgrounds and often have a multitude of skills and interests. It pays to remember that a woman who is now 70 was young in the 1950s and 60s – a time of great change, particularly for women.
- The rebellious teenager. Like every other demographic, teens are individuals. If you have a teen in your story, make sure you get to know a few real-life teenagers.
- The gold-digging younger wife.
- The evil stepmother.
I’m sure you can think of plenty more!
Next time you’re tempted to go for the easy stereotype, I challenge you to dig a little deeper. I guarantee your efforts will be rewarded.