Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Writing Prompt: Breaking Character Stereotypes

The Bean in Chicago: We might have expectations of tourists, 
but who are each of these individuals?

Fiction and creative non-fiction authors will ask how to craft an authentic character who initially appears to fit a stereotype. Their goal, of course, is to avoid this and create someone new.

Here's a writing prompt to help you avoid this trap:

Let’s say you’re writing about a rich investment banker and you put your character in a dark, tailored suit sitting at a desk. At first, this character might seem familiar (that is to say, cliché), but once you start to describe the character’s gestures, emotions, actions, thoughts, etc., you’ll be able to define the differences between this character and the readers' expectations of a rich investment banker.

Choose a character you’re working on or create someone who, on the surface, might appear to be a stereotype. For example, a grandmother figure offers certain expectations (encouraging you to eat second helpings, calling you too early in the morning, inviting you to come by daily, asking why you aren’t married/don’t have kids yet, etc.) But, you know your grandmother to be a particular woman – one with unique experiences and concerns. Let the reader see her uniqueness through details. 

For this prompt, craft a scene in which this character is in a particular place (setting) and doing something (plot.) It can be something simple like ordering or making a cup of coffee, or something more dramatic, like responding to bad news.

Write for at least ten minutes nonstop. Set a timer, if you like. If you get stuck while you're writing, simply repeat something like, "I'm breaking a stereotype." Eventually you'll get bored and return to the scene. Of course, if the prompt brings you somewhere else, that's fine, too. A prompt is meant to get you started, not to tell you where to end up.

When the ten minutes are over, re-read what you've written and underline the most interesting ideas, images or lines. These particular words and lines, as well as the brainstorming, might offer you the beginning of a new piece or help you to better understand the character you’re developing for a larger piece.

If you like, share your writing or experiences below in the Comments section. 

Click for more original writing prompts.

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