#TheWritingDesk: 5 Tips on How to Avoid Writing Cookie Cutter Characters
In my debut novel, one constant feedback I received was how Jasmine wasn’t likeable but her best friend, Meghan stood out. That’s because without really meaning to Meghan defied the role of a traditional best friend character. She wasn’t there for the sake of being there. She had agency and her absence in the story would have steered it in a very different direction.
As authors, we are constantly told that we need to make our characters likeable. Sometimes we confuse that for predictable and end up conjuring yet another cookie cutter character.
Definition of Cookie Cutter Characters - Characters that are one-dimensional, predictable, and lack complexity or depth. These characters are often based on stereotypes or clichés. They can feel artificial and uninteresting to readers.
For example - The reluctant hero/heroine trope has been overplayed and overused by this point. We saw it in Harry Potter (Harry Potter Series), we saw it in Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games Series), we saw it in Elena Gilbert (The Vampire Diaries Series) and recently I personally watched it in Alina Starkov (Shadow and Bone Series). I wondered why I was feeling apathy towards her until I realised I’d seen her story being told countless times before. It couldn’t hold my interest.
I’ve been creating characters for as long as I can remember. Some of them were exactly like me, others were so far removed from me that my long term readers reached out to me and asked if I was suddenly becoming unhinged.
For example: Jasmine from The Secret Proposal was exactly like I was at twenty-one. But Diya Rai from All Signs Lead Back to You wasn’t anything like I would like to be. She is cruel and manipulative, and can do just about anything to get her way. Her belief is that the ends justify the means. While it was hard to write from the point of view of someone so steeped in mind games, it was fun, and my first real step away from cookie cutter characters.
5 Tips on How to Avoid Writing Cookie Cutter Characters
Avoid stereotypes: Instead of relying on preconceived notions of what a character should be like based on their race, gender, or other traits, take the time to develop a unique and complex character with their own individual quirks and traits.
Give them flaws: Characters who are too perfect and have no flaws can come across as unrealistic and unrelatable. By giving your characters flaws and vulnerabilities, you can create a more realistic and nuanced character.
Develop their backstory: A character's past experiences and history can greatly impact who they are in the present. By developing a detailed backstory for your characters, you can create a more fully realised character with their own unique motivations and goals.
Create complex relationships: Characters who only exist to serve the plot or as a foil to the protagonist can feel artificial and uninteresting. By creating complex relationships between your characters, you can add depth and complexity to their interactions.
Give them agency: Characters who are passive and simply react to the events around them can come across as boring and unengaging. By giving your characters agency and allowing them to make their own decisions, you can create a more dynamic and interesting character.