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Three ways to say no to stereotypes and surprise your readers

A sure way to suck the life out of a story is by using stereotypical characters. For one thing, it usually means the rest of your story will be stereotypical – and predictable.

Stereotypical characters are stereotypes because their character traits have been repeatedly used and with little depth or complexity. You’ve seen them before: The popular blonde cheerleader, the cynical, hard-boiled private detective, and the cold-blooded hitman.  They rob you, the reader, of surprise because you automatically know what will happen next.

Try these techniques to create unique, complex characters who keep readers in suspense until the last page.

Take a stereotype and flip it. In the movie, “Shrek,” the story itself contradicted typical fairytales and, in their description of Shrek, writers contradicted the stereotypical idea of an ogre by making Shrek a pacifist and a good guy.

Create conventional characters. It may seem counterintuitive, but conventional doesn’t mean boring. It just means more like real life. Conventional, real characters make your story feel more authentic. Just give them distinctive but realistic character traits to make them interesting.

Call on your experiences with people you know. If you’re creating a character who is a construction worker, hair stylist, doctor, or nurse, think of someone you’ve met or know in that profession who stands out. Why do they stand out?  Whatever trait you remember is likely a trait you should use to make your character memorable to readers.

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