Good day, fellow writers! Friday’s here once again. Next week marks the beginning of the second year of my Master’s program, so I’ll be busier than ever. What else is new? After all, I often border on being a walking, talking example of the workaholic writer stereotype, always happiest when I’m busy. Self-destructive but too busy to notice. Speaking of stereotypes, that’s exactly what I want to focus on with today’s writing prompt.
Dictionary.com defines the sociological term “stereotype” as “a simplified and standardized conception or image invested with special meaning and held in common by members of a group”. We’ve all been crammed into a stereotype at one point or another, whether it be an occupational stereotype, cultural, ethnic, racial, gender, religious, social clique stereotype, etc.
It’s a destructive, divisive practice which should have no place in modern society but, much to the world’s chagrin, it still exists. More than exists; it thrives, no matter how hard we try to squash it.
Unfortunately, the very fact that stereotypes are used in real life means that they are also used in literature. Sometimes they’re used to make a point and sometimes the writer doesn’t realize that’s what they’ve written. We often associate stereotypes with flat, static characters. However, they can also be characters who seem to be well-rounded and dynamic but still follow the patterns and characteristics of either a literary stereotype or a real-life one.
For today’s writing prompt, I want you to choose the stereotype which annoys you the most and create a character from it. The stereotype is at the character’s core but you will flesh it out so that it doesn’t seem like a stereotype anymore. While the core features will fall in line with the stereotype, you will add characters, background, interests, and so on which will take the character away from the stereotype.
Once you’ve created your character, written down his/her background and other defining features, write a scene in which you keep the stereotype in mind but develop the character beyond it.
I know that this exercise sounds a little counterproductive. After all, why would you want to keep any stereotypical traits in a well-rounded character? And how can a character be well-rounded and a stereotype?
Real-life people conform to at least one stereotype without realize it. When I was younger, I was a straight-A nerd. Nowadays, I’m an odd mix of the workaholic writer stereotype and the couch potato stereotype. Still, I’m a well-rounded person, as indicated by the fact that I am mix of two stereotypes. I work hard, vegetate hard, am a book nerd and a TV junkie, am kind but temperamental, and am basically constructed of a wide range of contradictions. Nevertheless, stereotypical traits such as overworking myself and being a bookworm are at my core.
We try and reflect real people in our characters. If we want our characters to truly be realistic, we can neither make them stereotypes nor reject stereotypes outright. We must strike a balance, make our characters well-rounded stereotypes, which is exactly what this exercise is for.
When you’re finished, feel free to share what you learned in the comments below. Did you find it hard to keep the stereotypical traits as you developed your character beyond them? Did the stereotype threaten to overshadow the unique characteristics? Have you come to realize that any of your other characters are stereotypes or are so “unique” that they’re unrealistic?
Have fun tinkering with your stereotype and have a productive, relaxing, writing-filled weekend.