13. Destroy stereotypes in the name of realism

George R.R. Martin has two middle names and one hell of a resume. He’s best known for his fantasy series Song of Ice and Fire, the fantasy novels that are now being played out in HBO’s series Game of Thrones. In his series of novels, he created a world that allows him to showcase all of his writing talents: imagination, complex plots, and character development. 

A reporter once asked Martin, “There’s one thing that’s interesting about your books. I noticed that you write women really well and really different. Where does that come from?”

Martin’s response was blunt and brilliant. “You know, I’ve always considered women to be people.” 

This is what I want to talk about in this post. Whenever you set out to create an identity for a new character, the first things that comes to mind are stereotypes. Gender, race, age, occupation. Whoever you’re writing, there’s a stereotype out there for them. 

It’s your job as a writer to sift through those stereotypes, those predestined tidbits of predictable information, and get deep inside your character’s head. Write about something that counts. 

Martin’s quote was a really succinct way of saying, “You need to put yourself in your character’s perspective. How do you think they perceive themselves? What goes through their mind? What are their crippling insecurities?” 

I love writing for this reason. You can create an entire persona that actually evolves over time. Yeah, they’re just words on a page, but they can tell a really powerful story if you make it a point to develop your characters in a natural and honest way. Abandoned all stereotypes. You don’t need them. If you’re writing about a woman, and she likes to cook, write about it. But explain why she likes to cook. “Jane’s mother died on her third birthday, and her dad was incompetent behind a stove. She was making omelettes for her younger brothers by the age of eight.”

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