This post originally appeared on Mysterious Matters on 3/10/09.
The challenge in genre fiction is always to balance the tried and true (including “stock figures”) with the new, interesting, or exciting. Too much tried and true = boring and formulaic; too much new, interesting, or exciting = nerve-wracking to publishers, who can’t easily classify it and/or don’t dare push the envelope too much for fear of unsold books sitting in the warehouse and getting remaindered or destroyed.
While I recognize that certain types of characters are a staple of our genre (sassy heroine, sexy-and-stoic noncommunicative cop), it seems that a lot of the manuscripts I’ve been reading lately — as well as published works — are using the same characters over and over again, and I’m getting a bit tired of them. So, herewith, the top 10 characters I’d like to see retired.
1. The pill-popping, alcoholic, cold society woman. Yes, it’s an easy stereotype because there are a lot of them in reality. (I see them not infrequently in life.) But aren’t there any society matrons who don’t drink a fifth of gin each day, who don’t treat their daughters cruelly, and don’t spread vicious gossip?
2. The overly garrulous neighbor. This character is the lazy novelist’s dream come true. He or she, by virtue of being a true busybody, gives the investigator a true information dump, making the sleuth’s job much, much easier. I like my P.I.’s to have to work a little harder for their information.
3. The bitchy teenage girl. Somehow our society seems to have fallen in love with the positively evil alpha high school girl who ruins the reputations of rivals and leads smear campaigns against those who look at her the wrong way. While my own daughter certainly had her moments of ill temper as a teenager, neither she nor her friends ever behaved remotely like a character in Mean Girls. I really think the proliferation of this type of character is doing young women a disservice.