On Tropes and Stereotypes


Can I make a confession?

It’s hard avoiding cliches in your writing. As someone who has seen a multitude of red lines through my work, I try hard to avoid the standards that make readers roll their eyes. Of course we keep at it, but sometimes, the cliches might be there for a reason. I love writing that can twist a trope. Give me the usual, the everyday, the things you’d expect – and then throw them out the window. It’s how many of the fairytales we know and love are still alive today, with interesting twists to bring them into the modern world or make us rethink what we know about the evil queen.

I’m obviously going to use #HoA as an example, because I fully admit there are some stereotypes. It’s a superhero storydon’t readers/viewers expect a few things they’ve seen before? Think to any of your comic book stories or even today’s heroes and how their stories progress. There are plots points or character details that we might know are coming, but still enjoy seeing. (The cackling villain, the bumbling bad guys, femme fatale, etc.) Check out any of the superhero shows on TV or in movies today – you’ll see a bevy of stereotypes, some flipped on their head, and others fully embraced for what they are.

I think it’s important to include things readers will expect from your book – not necessarily spelling it all out for them so they see it a mile away, but simply including a few familiar pieces to keep the reader engaged and grounded in what they expect. That way, right when they’re comfortable in seeing what they expect, you surprise the heck out of them with something unexpected. (Maybe the cackling villain is a terrible smoker, or the femme fatale is actually a pretty happy person outside of her job description, or those bumbling bad guys are actually quite good at riddles and puzzles, just not guns or fighting. It can be anything. You get the idea.)

Nova is your typical teenage girl. You know, except she’s super strong. I really enjoyed making the girl the one with all the strength. And even with all her strength, she’s still a scared teenager, at least at first as she learns how to become a superhero (and even then, she’s still scared, but it’s overcoming it with bravery that helps Nova become who she’s meant to be).

I’ve mentioned before that Cole is the romantic one of the duo. That happened organically, but turned out to be something I’m quite proud of. While Cole is a handsome teen hero, he’s actually more brains than brawn. He loves Nova’s strength and isn’t at all emasculated by the fact she can outlift him by a ton (maybe literally).

Because we’re used to seeing females in the typical reporter role (thus leading to the damsel in distress in some instances), Henry Wheeler was fun to write here instead. He’s a stubborn kid who’s determined to find the truth, no matter the cost, and even lands himself in a bit of trouble (very damsel in distress of him). But all in all, he has no problem with a girl saving his ass, as long as it gets saved! 

Dev Patel is an Indian man who owns a convenience store in town. Stereotypical, maybe, but he’s proud of his role in the community and makes an honest living for his family. He will continue to work hard everyday and bring honor to his name for owning his own business. And he’s not afraid to proudly speak up to reporters – and to Arcania in general – and tell them the HoA saved his way of living, at least for a night. In his own way, he’s standing up to violence in the city by supporting the HoA. 

I liked the idea of Huan, the Chinese man who is a wonderful friend to Cole, struggling with his words – that’s because he’s continues to work his ass off to improve his English. Cliched, maybe, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who works harder than him. Despite his broken English, he runs the local planetarium and knows all about the stars, so he’s intelligent. Brilliant, actually, and came to America for a better life. And he loves people, especially curious people, so he’s glad to be friends with Cole, a teen boy who treats him with respect. Even when he’s attacked by Fortune, he remains positive and will not run scared from the city that he loves. 

These characters, even the secondary ones or those who pop up for only a scene or two – exist in real life to some extent. In my head, they have backstories, but none of that makes it to the page, you know? But we know these people, at least in passing. If we are the heroes of our own stories, then these are the background characters you don’t notice very much. But that doesn’t make them any less important to the story.

Those last points, the bolded ones, are not necessarily pieces the reader might consider about the characters even after they’ve finished the books. I didn’t spell it all out for them on the page; instead it’s implied. So yes, there are stereotypes, but there are plenty of people in real life like this who exist. I bet you can name several people off the top of your head who fit stereotypical descriptions – and most of them might surprise you with insight or quirks or flaws you might otherwise not see due to those stereotypes. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. 

It’s a writer’s job to bring that to the page without hitting the reader over the head over and over again. (Because in turn, I also think it’s part of the reader’s job to infer this stuff – and to pay attention to the details the writer leaves behind.) You see a lot of development with main characters when it comes to their growth, but even secondary characters can have depth. Even with tropes and stereotypes, you can make them individuals with something to lose or gain. That in turn will have readers more invested, unwilling to part with even the smallest of characters – which of course will make their circumstances (or deaths) even more vital to the story. And of course, the reader will not only have zero problems with the stereotypes, but they’ll be waiting for the next big twist, which is what writers want them to expect and love.

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