Since people have been telling stories, they have been using certain tricks to get their listeners/readers to grasp what is happening and the essential message of the story. One such trick is the use of certain character kinds.
We’ve all read/watched these characters. Those characters whom we feel we know by getting one little fact about them. I don’t even necessarily mean the famous stock characters of fairy tales or folk stories. Some kinds of character have been so often used that they pretty much played themselves out.
- The half-asses tragic hero: They often say that no matter what will be written, Shakespeare did it better. Well, that might just be the case here. There are countless examples of so called tragic heroes who are supposed to incite sympathy with their tragic flaws, but just end up being ridiculous and trying too hard to be liked despite their rotten attitude. I dare you to compare one moody vampire to Hamlet and not laugh at how far apart they are.
- The girl no one notice, but is just so darn lovely: Another often used character type, so often used, that actual lovely girls whom no one notices have become rather annoying in real life for being who they really are. This kind of character is often a major character in YA novels, for understandable reasons, but an author can do a little more and put some meat on those fictional bones and give her some personality beside being… lovely.
- The architect: No, I am not talking about a person who designs buildings. Everyone, by now, knows the movie cliche created by the Wachowski brothers. It doesn’t even have to be as bad as a person sitting in a chair and telling your readers everything you could find a better way to explain by showing, it’s enough that you push an “exposition” spewing character into your book to cheapen the reading experience. Readers want to find things out slowly, they want to see how an imaginative writer would tackle the challenge of explaining complex things (plot related or otherwise), and having some character come at the right time and say the right thing just ruins that.
- A token character: I’m going to make this clear and simple: If the sole purpose of the character is to be black/Asian/homosexual/transsexual/Muslim/etc. for your story to seem more inclusive, than don’t bother. It isn’t respectful, it’s cheapening. Don’t. If you want to show your respect towards any group, don’t make their difference an issue. Having one character around that is supposed to represent an entire segment of the population is reductionist and insulting. I am not by any means saying don’t have a character that is black/Asian/Hispanic/homosexual/transsexual/Muslim/etc. there just to be there. Give them a personality, make them an integral part of the story.
- Your friends and loved ones: We are, as writers, obviously inspired by the things that happen to us and the world around us, which includes the people close to us. It may sound like a great thing to do for someone, to immortalize them in a book/short story, but that could cause a few problems. It might distract you from your story as a whole. You’d work so hard to make a nice, wonderful, as true to life as possible representation of your friend/significant other/mother/father/sibling/etc. an that might cause you to neglect the intrinsic realism of the world you created. A further problem might arise from them being displeased by your representation of them. On the other hand, we are all human and might do something like this, I admit I did in my book, but if you do go down this path, try to keep things vague. Capture that friend or loved one with their abstract traits rather putting a literary simulacrum of them in your writing. That will help you maintain a certain detachment.
- A cross between Sauron and Bill Lumbergh: Every story needs a villain, and we often want to make sure that our villain is perceived as a villain, which would encourage our readers to root for our hero. Often, writers tend to create forms of ultimate evil as their villains, all in their respective fields; whether it’s the ultimate fantasy villain in Sauron (or his boss Melkor) down to the everyday villain in Bill Lumbergh and everything in between. (Un)Fortunately, people are beyond the concept of ultimate evil. Readers today want to know what makes evil tick. Is there true evil? What makes evil evil? Can evil be redeemed? Is evil born or made? Is evil a good bowler? Readers want to know the answers to these questions. Books and films from the last thirty years have given us increasingly complex villains that are sometimes more likable than the heroes, which is in itself an important point.
- Damsels in distress: I’m just going to put it out there, those stopped being relevant in the 1950’s. Women today, besides being a huge readership, know that they are capable of anything. The image of a lady who needs a big, strong man to come and rescue her is a thing of the past. It worked fine in a time when women were subjected to social regulations that deprived them of agency, but today, that is no longer relevant. Even most men would find this image of women dated and dull. There’s only so many times you can save a girl before you just decide to teach her self-defense.
- Mr. Randy “Macho Man” Savage: The polar opposite of point 7, the macho man is the epitome of manhood. He is Ron Swanson wrapped in Hulk Hogan and dipped in Chuck Norris. He has hair everywhere. He wrestles bears. He shaves with a cleaver and hunts deer with a flamethrower. He is utterly ridiculous and quite sad. He is a manifestation of someone’s sad nostalgia for a time when Arnold Schwarzenegger spewed out oneliners and flexed pretty much everything for the camera. This outdated vision of masculinity is no longer relevant and should only be integrated into a story as a caricature or a part of a satire. Even if you are trying to write about some hero super-soldier or a gruff gunslinger in the old west, or a centurion battling the barbaric hoards, show him to be a human being rather than some male fantasy of an unattainable masculinity, it would make him much more likable.
I can’t (obviously) force you to implement my advice, but I ask you to think about it. It would enhance the immersion in your story, and thus its quality.