One of the things that I hear about stereotypes is, “but there are people who like that.” We all know Southern dudebros who drink brewskis and watch NASCAR. Uptight white guys who can’t dance. Sassy gay best friends. Tiger moms. Fat people who are funny. The Wise Ethnic Elder. Etc. So, how do we, as writers avoid these stereotypes in our fiction? Diverse casts full of these lazy stereotypes can be as tiresome as having a non-diverse cast.
First, a parable:
I used to hang out with a MTF transgender woman who I will call Stevie. Stevie was transitioning at the time, and she was very girly, almost stereotypically so. She loved designer handbags, and getting her hair and nails done. One time, we were out at a bar, and she told me her story. Before her transitioning, she had been an Army Ranger. As in, she would scope and infiltrate hostile enemy territory and knew how to kill a man, barehanded. Behind the BeBe dress, and hair and make-up was a complex person with a rich history. The point is, she was both a girly girl and someone who could back you in a fight.
What I learned from “Stevie” was that even people who appear to fit a type have aspects of their personality that exist below the surface. Your task as a writer is to figure out the stories behind the public personas. Give your background characters histories and agendas. Imagine the babushka in your story has a degree in chemical engineering , and it will change how you write her.
The frat dude bro? Was raised by two women.
Your Rush Limbaugh listening blowhard? Might have once been in jazz band.
In short, humanize your stock characters.
If you want to see an explempary version of a humanized stereotype, watch the character Felix Dawkins (played by Jordan Gavaris) on the clone thriller Orphan Black. He’s flamboyantly gay and full of sassy quips. But, both the writers and the actor give him his own life, history and complexity that makes more than just a Camp Gay from Central Casting.