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I am seriously considering adding a character based on a man I know. This man is very irksome, rather pretentious and refers to himself in the third person.

He is flamboyant, opinionated and one thing that is very important to him is his sexual orientation - which he announces to anyone who will listen.

He is judgmental, though sees himself as a shining light of tolerance.

He is a pretentious jerk, but he is interesting in his certainty of so many things, including his own worth. My lack of pity, to him, he sees as failing to understand his situation or care about him. My empathy goes elsewhere and asking for pity is an odd thing.

I want to add him, but suspect that it might seem insulting if I make the character gay. I would rather just have him a pretentious twat and be silent on orientation.

The rest of my characters are either presumed heterosexual or nothing is said on the matter.

What would be the best course with this pretentious character?

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    Hey Rasdashan. While I get what type oper person you're talking of, you may want to tone down the question so that it looks less like a personal vent.That's probably the reason for the downvote (not mine, but anyway). – Liquid Jan 8 at 8:26
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    Is there any reason you can't just be silent on his orientation? You're the author, after all. – eyeballfrog Jan 8 at 9:13
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    @Liquid I actually downvoted for much the reason you describe (although I believe there was one prior to me), while I think there is an interesting question being asked. 90% of the question as written is just the OP telling us how and why he hates this person. – motosubatsu Jan 8 at 15:05
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    Keep in mind that just because a person exists in real life does not necessarily mean that they make a good character. – Philipp Jan 8 at 18:01
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    I think I know the same guy! :) More to the point though, does your story need an antagonist/annoying person, or is this just an outlet to vent? Even if your idea for a character is ok, the fact that you think he might come across as an insulting stereotype implies to me that he may just not fit naturally in the story at hand. – Meg Jan 8 at 20:14
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There is nothing wrong with having a person who is a member of a minority, and extremely annoying. 'Minority' can be sexual orientation, it can be disability, it can be religion or skin colour - whatever.

However, if the annoying character is extremely annoying and the only representative of their minority in your work, there is an implication that you consider all members of that minority to be like this. Especially if the annoying trait ties to the minority trait (e.g. a gay man ranting about his orientation).

The reason you don't see a lot of annoying minority characters in modern media is that as often as not, there's only one minority member to "represent" their minority, and, often enough, their minority status is their only character trait.

The way forwards is therefore to have more than one member of the same minority, and give them different character traits. One is annoying, another is really nice, a third has his rough edges in ways that have nothing to do with their minority status. In that way, the negative-stereotype character is just one of many, he cannot be taken to represent the group as a whole.

That said, I must question whether your story needs a character with all those traits you've described? Or only some of them? Don't let your story get sidetracked by your need to blow off steam. Write the characters that advance your story, don't shoehorn characters that don't belong, just because you know a person like that.

For example, J.K. Rowling has based Umbridge on a person she once knew. She disliked that person, for reasons undisclosed, and the person had a love for twee. There the commonalities ended - the real person did not look like a toad, nor was she an unapologetic Nazi supporter. Rowling took one colourful trait from a person she knew, and used it to make the character she needed in the story come alive. Umbridge was there because the story needed her, not because Rowling wanted to write an annoying acquaintance into the story.

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    I don't think I've ever said this before on SE.. but I genuinely wish I could upvote this more than once. – motosubatsu Jan 8 at 15:00
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    The sentence "The way forwards is therefore to have more than one member of the same minority, and give them different character traits." is the absolute correct answer. This is how you avoid tokenism; have a set of characters that are all interesting and unique, and make sure you don't have just one [black person/gay man/disabled person/etc]. – Blue Caboose Jan 8 at 16:38
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Galastel covers much. The other way, if you are reluctant to create a cast of characters, is to give your character some prominent sympathetic and non-stereotypical trait; so the reader doesn't perceive them as a stereotype.

IRL (Here in the USA) I have a family member that claims to be a staunch Republican. However, he does believe in taxpayer funded public services like health care for all, he also believes "serious" college education should be free for anybody that can pass the entrance exams. (By "serious" he means no art, dance, music, interpretive literature, etc that he thinks won't get a kid a "real job" outside of academics itself. His condition is the free education must be in pursuit of a Bachelor's and perhaps Master's degree that on average increases job income, and doctorates in things like medicine or law).

Those positions are firmly in the camp of Democratic Socialism, but he will angrily reject any notion he is a Socialist, no matter what the definition. He claims he believes in leveling starting points for kids, but once they leave school they are on their own. Unless economies of scale (like in health care) can reduce the average cost for everybody. And he walks his talk, he has adopted two kids, funded their college education, and is funding the education and health care of two of their kids.

So he is a contradiction, but if I wanted to write a non-stereotypical Republican, I might borrow some of those attitudes; i.e. a Republican character with a soft spot for all kids, and believes collectively we should all sacrifice to help them reach their maximum potential, but at the same times does not believe the same thing about adults.

Invent something about your character that goes against the stereotype, figure out how to justify it, make it prominent, and your character will no longer seem like a stereotype.

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    "give your character some prominent sympathetic and non-stereotypical trait" but then that itself can be seen as bashing the whatever group that character's primary affiliation is with. All the negative traits to the character come from their group, all the positive ones are neutral. So a woman can have negative traits related to femininity but positive ones that are not gender based, which still sends the message of "women are bad". Same with minorities. – VLAZ Jan 9 at 7:40
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    @vlaz Fair enough as a point of logic, but we are talking about writing entertainment here, and impressions of stereotype. This is how you round out a character to make them NOT a stereotype, but an individual. And no readers want to identify with a stereotype, the motivation here is they don't want their beliefs stereotyped. Thus making a character with a mix of traits doesn't seem stereotypical to any individual; and more like a real person. In writing fiction this is how to avoid the sense you are using a stereotype when you have only one member of a group. – Amadeus Jan 9 at 12:18
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So this recalls a Key & Peele sketch featuring two office workers, one who is an ordinary office worker and the other who is a flamboyant gay stereotype cranked up to 11 who believes that said ordinary office worker is persecuting him for being gay. The gay character is loud, obnoxious, and annoying and the ordinary office worker is being driven out of his mind by the antics of the gay man... that's when the office worker's own boyfriend/husband (it's never clear) appears, asks if he's ready for lunch, and if the gay guy is the guy that the office worker has talked about. After the couple leave the, gay man is forced into a terrible conclusion, "Maybe I'm just an asshole."

The humor of the punch line is that, not all gay people act that way and that as annoying as they are to straight people, they are just as annoying to other gay people, who are just like your regular co-workers.

There could also be some ways to make the annoying character sypathetic. Maybe he's had a hard time coming out and never really gotten over it and wants to force everyone to accept him because that's all he knows how to do. Maybe he's subject to alot of prejudice in the gay community (yes there are some very judgemental people).

You could also offset this by having another office worker (even the one the gay man thinks is gay) turn out to actually be gay... but doesn't want to reward the sterotypical behavior of the guy who guessed it and besides, wouldn't do any good because the more quiet guy still thinks the other guy is a jerk and too toxic a personality to peruse a relationship.

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Two things to keep in mind.

First, stereotypes exist for a reason. Pattern-matching and association are what the human brain does best, and when lots of people notice the same thing, that many examples of a category have certain characteristics, we form a cultural-level association between the two. That's what a stereotype is, and that's why they're frequently (but not always) accurate. I'm sure that if you think about it, you can think of a few stereotypes about the "type of person" you are that fit you pretty well. I know I can!

Second, a person is more than a stereotype. Despite you being in many ways a stereotypical [insert type of person you are here], I'm sure you can also think of several (this word is important; if your character is "this stereotype plus one quirk thrown in for good measure" they'll look exactly like "a stereotype plus one quirk thrown in for good measure") traits you have that don't fit the stereotypes and might even surprise someone when they find out these things about you.

There are a number of ways you can play with this:

  • The character embraces the stereotype so that people can easily categorize them and don't look closer, because there's something they don't want others finding out. It's possible that they may even not actually be a member of the stereotyped group and they're just faking it. For example, historical ninjas didn't actually dress in black bodysuits for stealth; they adopted the role of peasants or servants, fitting in with people's expectations of lower-class individuals to become socially invisible until they could get an opportunity to get close to their targets.
  • The character is completely unaware that they fit a stereotype. There's a girl in my martial arts class who was complaining a while back that we were training a lot of punches and strikes when she greatly prefers using kicks. I jokingly said "wow, you're such a stereotype!" and she looked all confused until I explained about Kick Chicks in action movies. Then she laughed and said she had no idea that was even a thing.
  • The character has a good reason for being the way they are. I don't remember which book it was or exactly what the plot reason was, but there was a point in one of Tom Clancy's novels where Person A needed Person B, who was in prison, to get killed there. The author could have simply said that he contacted some random thug in prison and arranged for the murder. Instead, he went into a lot of detail of establishing who the random thug was, explaining his background and how he never really had much choice and almost inevitably ended up in a life of crime, that he had been failed by both his family and society, etc. He went into detail about the guy's criminal career, how he had gotten away with what he had done so far, and how they managed to catch him this time. This transformed him from "random thug in prison" into an actual interesting character who the reader becomes invested in, even though his only narrative role is to be the random thug in prison who kills the guy that the other guy needs dead.

One example I've seen that plays with stereotypes every which way comes from one of the Paul Twister stories. Paul gets wind of a situation where the locals are upset because a commoner girl is carrying the child of the young baronet, who refuses to acknowledge her. Paul's like, "I've heard that story plenty of times before. It never turns out very well for the girl, or the kid." But as a rogue-for-hire, discontent is Paul's bread and butter, so he heads off to check it out and finds "that story" falling apart from the very beginning: instead of nobody caring, there's a paladin there to investigate. Paul reassures the townsfolk that he knows this paladin, that she's trustworthy and she can get to the bottom of anything and find out the truth. He later catches the pregnant girl trying to break into the paladin's inn room, wanting to drive her off. Turns out she's afraid that the investigation will discover the truth: the kid isn't the baronet's at all, but after an injury left her boyfriend unable to provide for them, she chose to claim it was because everyone knew he was like that, and if she could convince the right people that it was true, she'd get a stipend from the Crown for the care of her child.

Instead of "avoiding the appearance of stereotypes," embrace it! It's a useful tool to help the reader establish a familiar baseline for the character. Just remember that appearance is only skin deep. A character who is nothing but a stereotype is either boring, offensive, or both.

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How do you keep this gem of a character without looking like a mean author?

Distill the traits that you like, obfuscate the rest.

What is his defining trait? Is it a general lack of self-awareness? Is he covering his insecurity? Is he like the rooster that crows and believes he calls the sun? Or is he making up for lost time by embracing an "instant" identity with gusto?

Make it like a small side-mystery that isn't explained, but shows a consistent trait as the "key" to all the annoying behavior. Like an Easter egg.

Give him an arc.

It doesn't need to be big, and he doesn't need to be redeemed, but give him his own arc so he has something he wants and has to struggle or compromise to get (or he fails to get because of his behavior). The difference in giving him his own arc, verses making him the butt of a joke, is allowing him the room to process what happens and react to it. It changes him, or he pretends it doesn't change him. Give him that human moment where the reader will sympathize, then have him cover it up so the reader can hate him again.

Give him some foibles he doesn't think anyone else knows.

This one goes along with the arc, but these are shortcomings he is aware of. He is not handsome, so he is flamboyant. He is afraid of people so he creates a persona. He is not very smart or influential, so he is loud and spouts quotes from campy movies. He feels like a failure so he tries too hard.

The trick is to show the cracks in the facade. Unfortunately there is not a "deeper compassionate person" inside, there is only an immature and bullied child who resents not being wittier, prettier, and worshiped by all.

It's not that he is the most annoying gay man in the world.
It's that he's the most annoying Kylie fan in the world.

Take the touchy aspects, the ones that will get you into trouble, and turn them into esoteric extremes. Be weirdly specific about his fetishes and sexual preferences – especially if they are odd or extremely unlikely. He can only ever love Ecuadorian footballers, truly. And Canadian Mounties. But no one else.

Have him argue that such-and-such obscure actor from the 1950s is THE ONLY. And of course, the crazy-wall shrine to Kylie Minogue where he meticulously proves how alike they are.

a "good" character treats him kindly anyway

Whichever character is your virtue signaler, they are friends. This works even better if it's an unlikely friendship, or someone who would seemingly be put off because of his flamboyance. A religious grandmother, or a sour curmudgeon who doesn't have time for nonsense. Or if you need to go to extremes, an innocent child or a dog can adore him for no reason.

The MC doesn't get it, but the character who represents goodness or folksy wisdom just has a natural rapport with the annoying one. The reader sees there must be something more there. If you need to explain it, the virtue signaler can be aware how sour he is but choosing to see past it, or completely oblivious as if he's perfectly normal.

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