By Kailee Schnabele
Writing a story is an art similar to cooking. There are certain ingredients you need to have: a setting, a plot, and characters, for instance. Characters are often the best ingredient of the whole story. Unfortunately, when a writer adds cliche characters, the whole story tastes terrible. Want to avoid leaving a bad taste in your reader’s mouths? Make sure to stay far away from these characters tropes!
The Chosen One
The mystical powers above have graced your protagonist with the sole responsibility to do this one uber important task that will probably save the entire world. Conveniently, only he/she can accomplish this goal because he/she is chosen. Cool. The question here is whether their epic responsibility even makes their actions heroic? If I was the sole person who could save the planet, I would feel morally obligated to do so.
Let’s be honest: Most people in this world are average. Wouldn’t it be more realistic to have an average character rise to the occasion as a hero? For example, consider all of the soldiers who have taken bullets and died for freedom. We all have the ability to join the army and be heroic. So, instead of making your character the only one in the entire universe able to save everyone, make them choose to save everyone.
How many times have you cringed at the words of the stereotypical cheerleader on the page? “Omg, hashtag YAS. Like, lolz.”
The majority of cheerleaders do NOT talk like they’re in a bad 90’s movie. Maybe as a joke, but not in real life. Also, cheerleaders are not all sluts. Let me repeat: they’re not all sluts! Cheerleaders are not stupid, nor are they all blonde. I was a cheerleader in high school and college, and we all had to maintain a 3.0 or we were kicked off the team. Were there some cheerleaders who happened to be blonde? Of course, because it’s like any other sport. You’re going to have all hair and body types represented! So let’s please just leave the outdated cheerleader stereotypes in the 90’s, okay?
Also, cheerleaders are not all sluts!
Sassy Black Woman
This racial stereotype has gone too far, and I’m tired of seeing it on the page. Not all black women are large, and they don’t all snap their fingers in a z formation. I’ve never seen Michelle Obama snap her fingers like that, so let’s stop with the stereotypes! These sassy black women stereotypes are harmful, and its time for them to stop!
The Bad Boy
We all know this cliche as it has become immensely popular, especially on self-publishing platforms. The high school punk with twelve tattoos who smokes and never goes to class, yet is somehow uberly popular is a very hard character to believe. This bad boy character is also known to drive a motorcycle and possess an unrealistic tragic backstory. Of course, he is always saved by the shy girl who helps him discover his emotions.
Yuck, right? I get it, bad boys are fun to write, and they can make things more interesting. So, if you just have to have a bad boy, at least make him unique in some way and try being more realistic, especially with the tattoos. Honestly, if your character is in high school, he probably shouldn’t also have 12 tattoos.
“Ew, makeup and dresses. I grew up with 23 brothers and have never worn a dress in my life!” – Cliche Tomboy character.
I get it, girls can do whatever they want. I completely support feminism and girl power. However, I don’t support strict tomboy tropes.
The typical tomboy character insinuates that there is a right and a wrong way to be a woman. It also inevitably features a big reveal where the tomboy will finally wear a dress and makeup and the love interest will realize how beautiful she was all along. Why does it take a big moment like this for the tomboy to be seen as beautiful?
Also, why are girls only tomboys because they have brothers? It seems that every female character in books, movies, and TV shows is only good at fighting or sports because her brothers taught her. Let’s empower women to be amazing at “male” activities because they find those activities enjoyable, not because they have brothers.
Are there more cliche characters you should avoid? Of course! The ones I listed above are the ones I’ve found more often than not. The overall takeaway is this: STOP stereotyping, generalizing, and putting your characters in boxes.
Write real characters. People will identify with your characters. If all these books are telling cheerleaders they’re stupid and that we can only change the world or do anything of consequence if we’re chosen, people will believe that – especially younger audiences. As a writer, you have the ability to change your audience’s perspective. Accept responsibility and change people’s perspectives through your work.