Purple Prose + L — Logic

Creating the Non-Stereotypical Character

How many times have you read a story in which the characters are boring stereotypes? You can guarantee agents’ and editors’ slush piles are filled with these individuals. And we all know what happens to manuscripts containing them.

Author Mary Buckham recently conducted a workshop through my local RWA (Romance Writers of America) chapter. Her exercise had us (including the published authors) salivating at the chance to try this with our own characters.

First, list five character traits associated with your major characters’ careers. If you write YA or MG (middle grade), then pick an activity/interest that’s important to them (e.g. football player, cheerleader, musician, Goth). I’m going to use the examples from the class.


• Emotionally strong
• Aggressive
• Self-sacrificing
• Cynical
• Gruff

(Okay, I know Orlando Bloom looks like none of these. So sue me!)


• Compassionate
• Anxious
• Busy/rushing/stressed
• Intelligent
• Logical

Exotic Dancer

• Outgoing
• Likes to be the center of attention
• Driven
• Easy going
• Mysterious

As you might have noticed, these traits are subjective. Your perception of a cop might be different than someone else’s.

Now switch things around. Take the career title and move it to a different list. For example:

The cop is now:

• Outgoing
• Likes to be the center of attention
• Driven
• Easy going
• Mysterious

Your cop is no longer a stereotype, and how he deals with a given situation will be different than the cop from the original list. And this will make your characters and story less predictable.

Cool trick, huh?

(Note: The Bookshelf Muse announced yesterday their newest thesaurus: Character traits).

book, bookshelf, character traits, characterization, and more:

Creating the Non-Stereotypical Character + L — Logic