Breaking the Glass Elevator of Character Stereotyping
Let’s talk about character stereotypes. Over the years you have come to recognize the different types of characters: the protagonist, the antagonist, the supporting character, the love interest, and so forth. In most YA and NA novels, the main female character has a best friend who is usually one of two things: the girly girl or the tomboy. They must present a contrast to the main character but at the same time, many characters fall into a little canyon I like to call the character stereotype.
In recent literature, many topics that people stayed mum on for centuries are now frequently talked about. What do I mean? The traditional gender roles or societal pedestals are being flipped around a little bit. For example, a novel I recently read pegged the best friend as being the tomboyish type, and made a point of highlighting this fact in such a way that the character was portrayed to make her seem stereotypical: metal studded, leather-dressed, kind of terrifying, etc. It wasn't that I didn't believe that there are people like this - of course there are! - but the exaggerations were so great that it took away from the authenticity, in addition to insisting that the character was gay because of the way she dressed. That’s a stereotype. Characters shouldn’t be written to fit into a certain mold – the mold should fit around the characters. Each character should begin as completely unique, with bits and pieces of realistic, real-life personality in them.
Sometimes an author will be pressured into adding a character into their story to include another group or minority. What do you do when this happens? Let’s take a slice of popular literature: Stephenie Meyer includes the Quileute Indians in her Twilight novels, a little-known ethnic minority that resides in the United States. But notice that she doesn’t just have them be Quileute for the sake of being Quileute. They serve a huge purpose in the novels, tying their mythology and ancient legends into the world of vampires, without which Twilight would not be where it is today. So what am I saying? Don’t have a character be gay or tomboyish or girly-girl just in the hopes of pleasing everybody. You can’t! Just write a good story, with believable, authentic characters – whoever they may be – and the characters will become who they need to be - whoever they are! You don't have to worry about peeps not reading your work. Good characters resound with all people all over the world, and there is no need for stereotyping when you have that.