carriejones (carriejones) wrote in thru_the_booth,

Character Cliches Continued

If you weren't worried enough about having cliched characters in your novel/picture book/story, check out Guy Howe's fantastic list of ALL-EMBRACING, ALL-INCLUSIVE, FUNKTASTIC COMPENDIUM OF STUPENDOUS STOCK CHARACTERS AND SUPERFLUOUS STEREOTYPES here.

It's pretty scary, actually, because some of them are unavoidable. I am he includes THE WORTHY OPPONENT, and I have to say that I think every book needs a worthy opponent, or else what is the point?

The study of stereotypes in art and stock characters has been around in Western Civilization for centuries. Theophrastus wrote of it in 319 BC. He wrote of 30 character types, which I've listed below:

  • The Insincere Man
  • The Flatterer
  • The Garrulous Man
  • The Boor
  • The Complaisant Man
  • The Man without Moral Feeling
  • The Talkative Man
  • The Fabricator
  • The Shamelessly Greedy Man
  • The Pennypincher
  • The Offensive Man
  • The Hapless Man
  • The Officious Man
  • The Absent-Minded Man
  • The Unsociable Man
  • The Superstitious Man
  • The Faultfinder
  • The Suspicious Man
  • The Repulsive Man
  • The Unpleasant Man
  • The Man of Petty Ambition
  • The Stingy Man
  • The Show-Off
  • The Arrogant Man
  • The Coward
  • The Oligarchical Man
  • The Late Learner
  • The Slanderer
  • The Lover of Bad Company
  • The Basely Covetous Man

Souce: Wikipedia (Yes, I know, but it was in a nice graph form and I didn't have to retype it)

So, here is the thing. Cliches of characters, stereotypes of characters are not a new thing. It isn't as if we suddenly created them in American fiction in the beginning of this century. They have been around almost as long as story telling has been around.

But story characters throughout the centuries aren't always seen as cliches. Why is that? It's because writers with talent and craft go after the details of their characters to move them past the cliche, past the stock image and into something called truth. The Phantom of the Opera in the book PHANTOM is not just an Unpleasant Man, he is something more. Harry Potter's dad is not merely The Arrogant Man. He is something more. Meg in A WRINKLE IN TIME is not merely the brainy girl. She is so much more. Scrooge is not just a penny pincher. He is more.

That's what writers do. We expand beyond the cliche into truth. How?

Create characters in what Wallace Stevens called the time and space in which we breathe.
Make your characters people not representatives, not plot movers, not place holders.
Let the incite, not merely respond.
Let them have ideas and quirks and interests.

As people (and as characters) it is those times when we deviate from what is expected of us that makes us interesting (and sometimes scary).

The villian of good stories is predictability.

The hero of good stories is the author who gives the reader so much more than the stereotypes, the stock figures, and the cliches. We should all aspire to be that hero.


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