Sometimes I think stereotypes are nice for writers. I know that sounds odd to say, but if you’re writing a minor character--if you have your stock nerd, jock, prom queen, etc., the reader instantly gets the character. There’s not a lot of work needed there. It’s easy. And it’s easy for the reader, too—particularly if they’re trying to get acquainted with all the other characters (the important characters) in your book.
But stock characters won’t work for a protagonist or other characters with large roles. Obviously, if our books are overflowing with stereotypes, we haven’t done our jobs as writers.
A cool way to shake up stereotypes and help create unique characters was mentioned in the post “Creating the Non-Stereotypical Character.” Stina Lindenblatt said that author Mary Buckham recently conducted a workshop through her local RWA chapter. In the workshop, she had the writer either pick the occupation or hobby/interest of the main characters in their novel, then list 5 character traits associated with those careers. Ms. Buckham then had the author switch the traits around. You can see some results here.
Another good way to create unique character is by blending the traits of several different strong personalities of people you know.
How do you keep your characters unique? Do you sometimes use stock characters for minor roles in your book?