In the story and creative world, there’s two fairly obvious things wrong with stereotypes:
- They tend to reinforce prejudice and discrimination, and reduce the particular group of humans down to just a few elements (but people are complex and aren’t just their appearance or intelligence or food choices).
- They are boring to read and don’t provoke critical thought
As gross or uncomfortable as it may feel – start by writing a list of 5 – 10 common stereotypical characters you can think of from the book and entertainment worlds. Then, take each of these and turn them on their heads – not only reverse or counter the stereotypes, but add layers of complexity and interest to the characters. Here are a few examples I came up with:
Dumb blond female: A female medical complaints investigator with short blond hair and a constantly concerned facial expression. She is chatty, likes to get up for early morning walks, and lecturers students on medical fraud three days a week. In her early 60s, she’s just starting to get a bit tired, after decades of 70-hour weeks.
Religious Muslim: Abdullah is starting out as a journalist. Born in Palestine, he now lives in the US, and while he’s been writing short opeds for free for a few years, he’s now keen to be paid for his articles on innovations in the sports industry.
Athletic Black man: X has always been in a wheelchair, though he feels like his Asperger’s syndrome is more of a challenge in life. He is a games programmer who also enjoys musicals, memorising all the songs and dialogue.