Archetypes Versus Stereotypes

Your goal to making characters should be to create real people, not cardboard cutouts. You want characters to feel genuine and fleshed out, not one-dimensional. You also want them to be unique, even when you use an archetype. An archetype is a reoccurring type of character that serves a specific role in your story. So we have the wise, old mentor, or the fool, or the hero. They are familiar characters for us and we know how we should relate to them and understand their roles. However, we don’t want to stray into stereotype territory. Stereotypes fall flat and are full of clichés. For instance if our hero is the “chosen one.” This character is flat and overdone, special through no fault of their own, but just because they were born. But for some reason they’re special and we should pay attention to everything they do. This has been done too many times.

So how do we avoid creating stereotypes? By making our characters three-dimensional. Every character must have a goal to work towards and a flaw to make them human and relatable. No one is perfect, not even our hero, and it’s important to reflect that in our stories. Look at your character’s list of personality traits. Are they unique or overdone? Is your villain a black-eyed devil who dresses in all black and laughs maniacally? What if instead of just being evil he was driven by his mother’s tragic death at the hand of the king’s main advisor? Give him a motivation. Make him interesting. And stay away from black clothes and a maniacal laugh.

Make each character an individual. They should all have different defining characteristics just like in real life. No two people are the same. Give them a quirk. Maybe they always tell bad jokes or they only wear the color yellow. What makes them an individual?

Choose the unexpected. Instead of the orphan boy being the chosen one, make your hero the girl from a family of nine. How can you make your mentor different from the wise old man? Use the archetypes in new ways and delight your readers. Make your characters a refreshing change from the usual.

What are your favorite archetypes and how do you make them new? Share below and happy writing.


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On Strong Female Characters

Today I wanted to talk about female characters and more specifically how to write strong female characters. Now strong female characters have warped into their own cliché and stereotyped forms of the kick-ass heroine who would rather knock you out than talk to you. So how do we give strength to our female characters without the stereotypes? Let’s take a look.

Key elements

  • Write people first and women second. Your character is a human first and foremost.
  • She has to have a goal that affects the plot significantly. She has to have a purpose other than being the love interest.
  • She is flawed and complex. Humans aren’t perfect and neither should our characters be, no matter how strong they are.
  • She has a dynamic arc, meaning she changes and grows as a character from beginning to end.
  • She has agency. Things don’t just happen to her, she makes decisions for herself that drive the plot forward.

One misconception people have about strong female characters is that strong equals masculine. But strong isn’t just about fighting and keeping up with the boys. Your strong female doesn’t have to hate all things girly. Liking girly things doesn’t make her weak. And making her super good at “guy” stuff for no reason doesn’t make her strong either. There are different types of strong from the physical to cleverness to being a good leader to strong communication skills. Value her strengths over her beauty and use different types of strength to empower your female characters.

Don’t turn her into any object, sexual or otherwise. She should never be the prize for any character to win and most strong women are not overtly sexual in order to manipulate others. And what is she like when she isn’t kicking ass? Don’t forget to give her a personality to go along with all those “strong female” characteristics. Stay away from the clichéd troubled past that makes her closed off and a jerk until she learns how to let people in. We want our characters to be relatable so make sure they’re not a jerk who people somehow still like and put up with. And strong women can and do cry. Emotional strength isn’t about never crying. She’s a human, not a robot.

Stay away from stereotypes and clichés when writing truly strong female characters and remember strength comes in many forms. What stereotypes of strong female characters do you hate? Did I miss anything crucial in building a strong female character? Let me know in the comments below and happy writing.

Follow my column at Our Write Side and my Twitter for more tips and inspiration. Find me on Facebook for weekly prompts and stories.