Stereotype Shuffle

By Gloria Adams

I recently attended a lecture by award-winning author Celeste Ng in which she talked about “upending” your characters. What she meant was that if your character is a stereotype, have them do things or say things that are in strong contrast to the perceived stereotypical view.

Her example was a main character in her book, Everything I Never Told You. The father in the story is Asian American, but he is a professor of American History with a specialty in Cowboys. Very unexpected.

This really hit home with me as a wonderful new tactic to make characters more interesting.

Start by doing a series of “What if’s.”

What if your character is a tiny, 5’2” blonde woman who seems very frail, but actually holds a black belt in karate and works in gym teaching boxing?

What if an ex-con covered in tattoos and piercings holds a Master’s Degree in storytelling and has a passion for cake decorating?

Try it with animals, too. What if your main character is a giraffe who is a wizard? Or a wolf that likes to wear hats and moos instead of howls?

The possibilities are endless, and any character who can change the perception of a stereotype should prove intriguing to your readers and leave them wondering what on earth you are planning in your next book.

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