Avoid Cliché Secondary Characters
Absolutely everyone has an idea of what cliché means when it comes to character creation.
For example, Kailee Schnabele of The Flagler Review Flare, lists off these literary archetypes as being overused:
The Chosen One: “The mystical powers above have graced your protagonist with the sole responsibility to do this one uber important task that will probably save the entire world. Conveniently, only he/she can accomplish this goal because he/she is chosen…”
The Cheerleader: “The majority of cheerleaders do NOT talk like they’re in a bad 90’s movie. Maybe as a joke, but not in real life. Also, cheerleaders are not all sluts… Cheerleaders are not stupid, nor are they all blonde…”
Sassy Black Woman: “This racial stereotype has gone too far, and I’m tired of seeing it on the page. Not all black women are large, and they don’t all snap their fingers in a Z formation…”
She also says she can't stand "The Bad Boy" and "The Tomboy" caricatures.
So that’s Schnabele. As for me, I can’t stand woman power on steroids. To me, a human female character who can do absolutely everything is about as unrealistically stupid as a male character who can do absolutely everything.
The gay best friend cliché really annoys me too if the gay best friend in question is utterly selfish as so many of them are written to be. What kind of nitwit has a best friend – gay or straight – who’s always thinking about himself?
Get yourself a new best friend already, or I’m going to get myself a new book!
If you noticed I got a little hot under the collar up there, here’s the thing. Everyone has a cliché character that drives them insane. Some are silly. And some are right.
That’s how everyone feels about their pet clichés. Which means there’s no way you can please everyone. So, as I’ve advised before, don’t even try.
Just write the character you want to write, and try to follow this guidance as you do. If you pull it off, you might not push away those otherwise annoyed readers after all.
As such, while the advice below is specifically about secondary characters, feel free to take it as truth about your main dish too.
Clichés are... well, cliché.
It’s true your protagonist is the very important person of your novel. But VIPs still have to rely on a cast of other characters in order to be VIP in the first place.
In other words, secondary characters deserve your writing respect just as much as main characters do. They should be more than a cliché or a convenience (unless your whole point is to make fun of clichés). So give them real, believable personalities with real, believable actions and real, believable dialogue lines.
How does that help anything? Let’s explore it further.
Let’s say that one of your secondary characters is Jeannette DiLouie’s #1 most hated character cliché: a she-ra female type.
For starters, give She-Ra some kind of personality soft spot. Maybe she really likes bunnies. Everything else about her is take-no-prisoners, but when she sees a fluffy hoppy thing, she goes all soft and sweet since it reminds her of her pet rabbit when she was a little girl.
That right there instantly makes her less cliché.
And lets say she’s in a fight. Another one, in fact. She’s already been in three so far. Knowing that brute strength isn’t on her side being as sex-kitten slender as she is, she’s using her speed and honed skills to dance her way around her much bigger opponent… Until she slips up.
For the love of all that’s creative, make her slip up. Have her get a little bloodied and bruised every once in a while instead of always getting her man like some kind of unrealistic super predator.
Please. I’m begging you.
And as for dialogue, don’t have her constantly talk about how superior women are. People who have to talk about their awesomeness typically are insecure.
In each of those cases – personality, actions and dialogue – you want to downplay the cliché as much as possible while still honoring your creation as you see it. When writers do that for secondary characters (or any other part of writing), clichés tend to not be so cliché after all.