Take a shotgun to stereotypes

Yeah, that sounds a bit harsh but (1) these are fictional people and (2) these kind of characters are BORING. And boring is the last thing you want your novel to be because it then becomes predictable.

If I asked you to imagine a shady evangelist, what’s the first thing that would pop into your head? Probably someone like Jimmy Swaggart or Jim Bakker. Maybe Robert Tilton. White. 50+. Male.

That’s why I wanted the main character in Signs and Wonders to be a younger woman. Annie Grace has grown up as part of her father’s faith-healing empire. She’s pretty, dresses sharply and has a little sass going on. I  thought it might be easier for the reader to sympathize with a character who was raised with a belief system and trained to be an integral part of a family business, only to question everything as an adult.

Next, I needed a character who was a best friend, a sounding board, someone with wisdom. (In the movies, this person is often played by Morgan Freeman 🙂 But I wanted this person to be different, so I created Ernesto Diaz — an older Latino man who has known Annie since she was a little girl. He grew up in South Boston. He loves to read Agatha Christie novels. He’s fiercely protective of Annie. Predictable? Not if I can help it.

Does this mean you can’t ever have a stereotyped character in your story? Of course not. It’s too fun to ignore them completely — you just have to use restraint. I have a minor character named Thatcher Nutt — it’s a mashup of the names of SEC football coaches — and he’s pretty much what you would expect a Thatcher Nutt to be: slightly obese, not terribly bright, the kind of guy who always has a barbecue stain on his tie.

All stereotypes are grounded in a tiny bit of truth. That’s how they became stereotypes in the first place. But human beings are multi-faceted creatures with our own quirks. As long as you remember that, you’ll won’t have any trouble creating memorable characters.

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