Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Looks Can Be Deceiving

There are quite a few unique characters at my university.

There’s this big guy who always has long (straightened) jet black hair, and he always wears black. Black jeans, black shirt, black leather jacket. His jacket is covered in stitched-on fabric badges that kinda look evil looking. Satanic even (although perhaps that’s a little bit of an exaggeration) (Not that I've looked too closely at the fabric badges). Overall, he definitely looks like a guy you don’t want to meet in a dark alleyway… or between two rows of shelves in the library.

Then there’s a woman who looks absolutely batty. She only ever seems to wear nightdress-like things or a Dorothy-from-The-Wizard-of-Oz kind of dress. Her hair’s always tied up in two long pigtails – the type you see on stereotypical farmers’ wives, hicks, bogans, rednecks, etc.

While these two people certainly look like a stereotype, they certainly don’t fit any stereotypes I know of. Scary Dude in Black is always looking for textbooks in the library, or being quite studious in general. To top it off, the other day I saw him eating a health-food bar. It’s not exactly the food of stereotypical goths. And Batty Farmer’s Wife is one of the most intelligent and nicest people I’ve ever met.

Can you see where I’m going with this? People all around us are not always as they appear. Our characters shouldn’t be either.

And yet, our characters usually are. The mean and snobby cheerleader. The evil knight with black armour. The nerdy schoolboy with thick glasses and a face full of acne.

But why do they have to be stereotyped? Why can’t the cheerleader by friendly but kind of dorky? Why can’t the evil knight wear gleaming silver armour? Why can’t the nerdy kid be pimple-free and wear contacts?

I haven’t read George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice series yet, but I’ve heard/read that he really twists stereotypes. The good guys wear black, while the baddies wear white. Just a simple little change like that makes his characters unique.

So, there’s some food for thought. Tell me what you think. Should stereotypes be shunned, or do you think they can serve a purpose? Do you have any stereotyped characters? Let me know in the comments section!


  1. I think stereotypes can serve a purpose in making people THINK a character is a certain stereotype, when later the author reveals that character as so much more.

  2. I read this post when you posted it, and I really thought I commented—I was checking back to see if anyone else had. O_o Anyway! I'm pretty anti-stereotype. Too conformist, man. =P I just personally hate it when people put me in a box, so I try not to do it to my characters, lol.

    If I see any of my minor characters being a stereotype, like the knowledgeable barman polishing a glass or whatever, I change who it is. I make it a woman, I make her super polite and meek, or I make it a young man barely old enough to run the business, who's still not quite sure what he's doing/learning the ropes. I make them sympathetic, flawed—basically flesh them out in my own head—and that translates into a multi-layered presentation, even if most, or all, of what I made up is never stated.

    I think it adds richness in details and, well, character. And it makes everything about the story feel more real, like there are real people living in that world, and the main characters are just a part of it. Makes the world more memorable—like in Harry Potter. There were tons of minor characters, but each had a personality. They weren't stereotyped, as far as I saw; they were regular people with their own goals and problems. I think that's a huge thing that keeps people wanting to reread, to go back to Hogwarts—it totally feels like it could be a real place. =)

    1. Ooh, I love your way of avoiding stereotypical minor characters! And you're definitely right about the characters in Harry Potter! I've never really thought about it before, but now that I do, I see that you're right.