Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Avoiding Fantasy Stock Characters

A stock character is one that embodies an archetype or falls into basic stereotypes or cliches.  For example, the brave knight or the evil lord.  Especially in writing adventure fantasy or high fantasy, it's easy to slip into stock characters because these forms are so familiar.  But if we don't break the molds, we'll find our writing is nothing but a pastiche of others' work; any originality will fade behind the distracting cliches.

A character cannot simply be an elf any more than a character can simply be a man; that doesn't identify anyone (even if he has his own name).  Delve into their personality, their background, their mannerisms.  The character can still be readily associated with a specific magical race and be well defined.  For example, a distinct dwarf character can still love mining.

If you feel like you're stuck, watch people.  Observe their behavior, especially anything quirky.  Embellish these things for your characters, and you'll see them stand apart in a lineup of stock characters.

Allow for multiple characteristics to permeate; for example, a knight who acts bravely but is guilt-ridden, has insomnia, and enjoys poetry.  One strong characteristic may dominate, but if it aligns too closely with an existing trope without letting anything else shine through, the character will just be another brave knight, ho-hum.

It's okay to reference fantasy races or types of people that readers are familiar with, but don't rely upon them as distinguishing characteristics.  A character must feel real, even if he's a centaur.  Don't be lazy; think creatively.

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