Stereotypes are fun to play with. I have fun leading the reader along the garden path, thinking they know where I’m going with a character…and then taking a total left turn.
People are complex, and if we’re writing even remotely true to life, then our characters have to be too. I have a whole series built around geeks. Some of them have elaborate home gyms set up in their basements…and actually use them. Others might have a large collection of firearms, or an unexpected flair for gourmet cooking. One of my cowboy heroes is an Ivy-League educated attorney. Another writes mysteries. I have s computer-hacking dragon. A strong, powerful gargoyle is a comic-book artist, and a selkie is a children’s librarian. Mixing things up is fun. One heroine’s deceased grandmother was a lesbian…figure that one out! But it works in the story because life is like that. People refuse to be relegated to tidy lists, and that’s part of the fun of writing, to capture those quirks that make people unique. Face it, quirky people are a whole lot more interesting than one-dimensional archetypes.
Now mind you, I’m not saying the archetypes are useless. They're handy for those walk-on roles often give us a starting point. We can introduce the hard nosed cop, and if he’s only going to be in the book for five minutes, we may not need to flesh him out any more than that. If he ends up being around for a while, though, we might find out that he takes ballroom dance lessons on Friday nights, or volunteers as a clown at the local children’s hospital. The snooty rich housewife might be enough for a half-page encounter, but if she becomes a significant character, we might find out that she’s really trying desperately to hide that she grew up homeless. Sometimes it doesn’t happen until book two or three, that an insignificant character develops into something deeper. That’s okay. We use those same impressions in real life. We see the patient librarian, or the harried postal worker, and our mind files them as such and moves on, until we get to know them better. That's when we find out that the librarian is into punk rock or the mailman crochets.
As the wise Dakota said earlier in the week, sometimes it’s okay for the cop to eat a donut. But sometimes he eats sushi…or even cooks it.