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Building Relatable Characters: The Art of Writing People, Not Stereotypes

Building Relatable Characters: The Art of Writing People, Not Stereotypes

As storytellers, our characters are the heart and soul of our narratives.

They breathe life into the worlds we create, guiding readers through emotional journeys that leave a lasting impact.

However, the art of crafting truly relatable characters goes beyond mere plot devices or archetypes.

In this article, we will delve into the essence of building relatable characters, emphasizing the importance of writing people, not stereotypes, and exploring the nuances that make them authentic and captivating.

How to Avoid Stereotypes When Writing People

Here are the best principles to help you avoid stereotypes when writing people.

Embrace Complexity and Depth

Relatable characters are multidimensional, just like real people. Avoid falling into the trap of creating one-dimensional stereotypes that only serve as placeholders in your story. Instead, invest time developing your characters' personalities, backgrounds, and motivations. Give them hopes, fears, flaws, and dreams that reflect the complexities of human nature.

Understand Their Inner World

To create relatable characters, wanders into their psyche. Understand their thought processes, the underlying emotions that drive their actions, and the reasons behind their decisions.

This understanding will enable you to breathe life into your characters and make their journeys authentic and compelling.

Avoid Clichés and Tropes

Clichés and tropes are shortcuts that can hinder character development. Instead of relying on overused stereotypes, challenge yourself to create unique and fresh perspectives. Subvert expectations and surprise your readers by presenting characters who break free from traditional molds.

Show Vulnerabilities and Growth

Relatability often stems from vulnerability. Allow your characters to be flawed and make mistakes. Their growth and development over the course of the story will resonate with readers as they witness the transformative power of overcoming challenges and embracing change.

Emphasize Diverse Representations

Diversity is a crucial aspect of relatable characters. Represent different cultures, backgrounds, and identities with sensitivity and authenticity. Portraying a diverse cast of characters enriches your story and allows readers from various backgrounds to reflect in your narrative.

Listen to Your Characters

Characters often have a way of guiding the narrative themselves. Listen to their voices and let them surprise you with their choices. Sometimes, the best character moments emerge organically when you allow them to drive the story.

Connect with Real-Life Experiences

Draw inspiration from real-life experiences and emotions to inform your character's journey. Relatable characters are grounded in reality, and by tapping into universal human experiences, you can create an emotional resonance that transcends the page.

Examples of Stereotypes to Avoid and When They Are Problematic

In case you aren't sure, here are some times when stereotypes can unwittingly creep into your content.

The Damsel in Distress

The trope of the damsel in distress portrays women as weak, helpless, and in need of constant rescuing by male characters. This stereotype perpetuates harmful gender norms and undermines the agency and strength of female characters. It can be problematic when female characters are reduced to mere plot devices, serving no purpose other than to motivate the male protagonist.

The Noble Savage

The noble savage stereotype portrays indigenous or marginalized communities as primitive, simple, and inherently virtuous. This reductionist portrayal overlooks the complexities of diverse cultures and history, perpetuating harmful stereotypes and erasing the struggles and accomplishments of these communities.

The Angry Black Man/Woman

The stereotype of the angry black man or woman portrays individuals of African descent as aggressive, hostile, or prone to violence. This harmful stereotype perpetuates racial biases and denies the full spectrum of emotions and experiences that black characters can embody.

The Geeky/Nerdy Social Outcast

Portraying characters with intellectual interests as socially awkward or isolated perpetuates the stereotype that intelligence is synonymous with social ineptitude. It can be problematic when such characters are portrayed as one-dimensional and fail to represent the diversity of personalities and interests in real-life intellectuals.

The Bumbling Sidekick

The bumbling sidekick trope often features characters from minority groups as comical and subservient to the main protagonist. This stereotype reinforces the idea of minorities as supporting characters with no agency or significance.

The Femme Fatale

The femme fatale stereotype portrays women as manipulative, seductive, and dangerous, using their sexuality to deceive and manipulate male characters. This perpetuates harmful gender norms, suggesting that women's power lies solely in their sexuality and undermines the complexity of female characters.

Related: read The Heroine’s Journey: Expanding the Narrative

The Evil Stepmother

The evil stepmother trope presents stepmothers as inherently wicked and cruel to their step-children. This stereotype can be problematic as it demonizes a particular family dynamic and fails to represent the diversity of relationships within blended families.

Write Relatable Characters Without Cheap Tricks

Avoiding stereotypes is crucial in crafting relatable and authentic characters. Stereotypes perpetuate harmful biases and diminish the richness and depth of storytelling.

By challenging these tropes and embracing diverse, multidimensional characters, writers can create narratives that resonate with readers and reflect the complexities of the human experience.

Let us strive to move beyond stereotypes and delve into the true essence of our characters, crafting compelling stories that defy expectations.


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