Thursday, April 15, 2010
Stock Characters by Elizabeth Spann Craig
But still---stock characters cram books.
To me, these characters jump right out of the book at me when I’m writing. But is this because I’m a writer? I’ll immediately pick up on the dumb blonde, the precocious child, the girl next door, the jock, and the alcoholic cop. Fortunately, they’re not all in one book. Well…there was that one book….
There’s a comfort, though, for readers of immediately “getting” a character: “Oh! Okay, she’s the shy librarian who is actually beautiful if she takes off those thick glasses. Got it!” It’s almost a shortcut for the reader for getting acquainted with a character. And readers seem to really connect them.
But then, of course, you’ve got readers who get bored with this. They’re looking for something fresh and new.
Some of these stock characters do ring true to a certain degree, just like some stereotypes do. I’m sure there are some really free-spirit accountants out there who go sky-diving after leaving the office…I just haven’t met any of them.
What I like to try to do if I use a stock character, is adapt them for my purpose instead of being lazy and just writing the character at face value. Maybe I want the readers to immediately identify with them at the start and get the warm fuzzies about the character…but then I’ll have them be my murderer at the end of the mystery. Maybe I’ll have a character who seems like the girl next door, but she’s actually got a secret.
We can also take a character that’s fairly flat (which stereotypes are) and give them more dimensions. Do they react to other characters in surprising ways? Do they grow or change during the course of the story? What can they do that shows they’re unique?
Turning stock characters on their heads can be a lot of fun. Have you used any stereotypical characters or avoided them completely? What have you done to put a fresh spin on them, if you’re using them, and keep them from being too predictable?
Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams
Pretty is as Pretty Dies--Midnight Ink
Delicious and Suspicious--Berkley Prime Crime...July 2010