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I have a character that falls into a particular character archetype. Specifically the genki girl. I remember seeing characters with that sort of personality in other works and wanted to try writing a character with that sort of personality.

The character was explicitly not supposed to be a shallow stereotype of the trope and nothing else. Their personality and character design was drawn from several sources of real life and fictional inspiration and I have tried to flesh out what the details of their personality are actually like and why they think and act the way they do. However, I was reading some reviews of other fiction and I noticed that the reviewers listed several character traits I thought were unique (specifically, the character being athletic and a bit spacey) as stereotypical of the genki girl archetype. My concern is that even if I am deliberately trying to avoid writing a shallow stereotype, I might be subconsciously biased towards putting in cliche character traits because that is what sounds familiar. I have also been struggling with giving the character a decent character arc, and I am wondering if that is related to this.

A lot of authors often draw upon well-worn personality archetypes, either totally or in part, when designing their characters. Some might argue that it's impossible to completely avoid personality tropes because they are so widespread (e.g., Luke Skywalker being the naive, hopeful chosen one, Han Solo being the lovable rogue). However, given that these archetypes are so well worn and risk falling into cliche when done poorly, how does one make their characters distinct and not cliche when they are influenced by a particular archetype?

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Characters are interesting because of their personalities and how the specifics of those personalities interact with the constraints imposed upon them.

So she is a genki girl in a family (or culture) that values serenity. She wants to please her family but she is who she is; the different elements of the story rub together and fires start here, there and everywhere. If she succeeds, there are stories to be told about how she succeeds and the pluses and minuses of that success. The same is true of her failure. Add some backstory about why the family or culture is as it is, and you have a rich stew of drives, fears, and innovation.

So she is a genki girl who becomes more than just a Genki girl. What makes the story interesting is what she becomes by the end and how the story changes her.

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I'd add detail to the character/story/their change arc that is scary (for the writer and reader) and that hurt the character.

A touch of sadism is never a bad thing when it comes to your characters... :D

In essence, go deeper!

Some suggestions:

Emotional wounds and ADHD

Give her an emotional wound. Maybe she's suffering from ADHD (which would translate to a learning disability and social difficulties).

This energy bundle you describe may have a dark side.

A quote from your TV-Trope link:

a good way of telling whether a female character is genki or not is to see if her family and peers are exhausted, astonished, or even creeped out by her chronic outbursts of vitality.

I.e. social difficulties. Maybe family members will put up with her but will strangers? Friends? Possible boyfriends?

This type of person will also go bonkers when supposed to sit down in school and understand stuff that doesn't come naturally (learning disabilities).

Anger management issues could also result from all that energy. It could turn dark and hateful (especially if/when the hyperactivity is not received in the best way by the surrounding and it's still pumping in her head... because, no, with ADHD it's not impossible to turn it off, it just takes years of training and a magical mixture of discipline, age, and acceptance to do it... before then, you're it's bitch and the rollercoaster keeps spinning...)

With ADHD it's also usually the case that while a person is hyperactive, they don't have hyper batteries so there will be this energy bipolarity where they swing from high energy to exhaustion (and as day turns into night even flat out falling asleep standing). Unless something happens and the activation explodes again and there's another hour of wide awakeness... three o'clock in the morning. (And then, of course, sans hyper batteries... count on a very bad morning... until there's another kick of ADHD and things start spinning... Saturday's favorite past time: catching up on lost sleep).

Other effects of deflating could be even harder to concentrate (did I mention people with ADHD concentrates... on 1001 things at the same time?), get irritable especially from sleep deprivation, or even self-medication (using alcohol to fall asleep or any kind of energy pills to get out of bed... at first) and in the long run, depression.

If you do choose to give her ADHD, it's a disability which means she needs to be disabled somehow. Some parts of her life don't work, or only work with more than average effort from her and the people around her.

Double-whammy: ADHD+Autism

The TV-trope definition of the genki-girl mentions a person that isn't that good at picking up cues that her behavior is making people "exhausted, astonished, or even creeped out".

Maybe she's not just suffering from ADHD but also autism?

This would make her a bit less energetic (the talkativeness and impulsivity is still there though), but it would also make her clueless to the fact that people will dislike her impulsivity at times.

She could become a very confident, but lonely person that everyone else is having a hard time understanding.

It's also possible that autism makes her less inclined to really feel alone, so the combination of autism and ADHD makes her a very strange creature. A kind of shallow cocktail-party-person that talks about the deepest subjects but never returns any phone calls or form any lasting friendship bonds. (After all, she has her one or two best friends... do you really need more?)

Deepen the change arc

Or, if you don't want to add a disability or emotional wound, you can deepen the character in other ways.

You're right about the change arc. I don't know which one it is (but here's a good resource for different change arcs).

Here too, you go deeper. Maybe the truth and lies portrayed in the arc are too trivial? Can they be about life and death? There are several types of death to choose from. James Scott Bell mentions physical, psychological, and professional death (see here and also here).

If the character follows a flat/testing arc (she will believe in a truth in the beginning and in the end). She will get tested and go through trials for her truth. Everyone, it will seem, will want her to stop believing in it, and it may be necessary for her to sacrifice everything (even her life?) for that truth. Regardless, she will pay dearly for having the audacity to believe in such an outrageous truth.

You can increase the cost of abandoning the truth or lie in all the other arcs to eleven in just the same way. Make. It. Hurt. ;)

Wants and needs

Also, look into what the character wants (her goals) and what she needs. Make it hurt to give up what she wants. Make her scream and struggle to get it... maybe she can have both what she wants and what she needs (which of course should never be the case—they should be mutually exclusive!)

"I'd rather die than give up what I want!"

"You will die if you don't give up what you want!"

"Arrgh!"

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  • The character was intended to be an undiagnosed high-functioning autistic. I had previously considered ADHD, but considered that too stereotypical and low-hanging fruit. Indeed, my concern partially came from the fact that the character was coming across as "kind of shallow cocktail-party-person", when that's not what I intended and I wanted them to have more depth and character growth. – user2352714 Feb 2 at 18:17
  • I think people, especially those with diagnoses, or in need of them, can be very different on the outside from the inside. (Especially for ADHD where sometimes the problem "behavior" can come as a surprise to everyone, even the person with ADHD. And the remorse that follows may not be enough to solve the problem). If your character has POV you can use internal emotion. On the other hand, if you feel you're falling into a cliché, can it be due to a lack of research? More research could give you unique insights that could counter the clichéed feeling. – Erk Feb 2 at 20:44
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You're dead right: Two dimensional stereotypes, in derivative plot situations, are awful.

What I picked up on was your phrase 'designing characters'. I know what you mean but I'd say they start as sketches which only fill-in as things happen. You get to know them quite quickly (so you think) and then, for no reason, confident Doris is crying. You may have been drunk when you wanted Doris to be more interesting... but perhaps there's something else. Did she dream of her dead sister... If so why does it make her cry?

Everything that's real and personal about your characters is a hook to keep your readers engaged. Hates shopping. Loves bitching about boys. Short-tempered but easily fooled by sob stories. Perhaps the reader knows people like that. Superheroine Toenail Paint Woman might fly through the sky to deal with mega-disasters but be afraid of spiders and very sensitive about her sticky-out ears.

I would take a skeleton character and walk them through some 'everyday' situations to start with. What is it about them that makes them likable (hero) or dislikable (anti-hero)? Readers also like their heroes and villains to be flawed. It may be many chapters before you recognize it, but when you do it can be sneaked back into previous parts.

Genki-girl is a new thing for me, but I have written a charming medieval male version. 'Charming' is the key in my case. We all love this boy who is innocently doing errands, taking every day as it comes, living the moment, having close shaves, being a mascot, being sick with fear of heights then a while later very very brave in a naive way. When his patron wants him clothed in the finest fashion the reader is proud too. When he is witty we wish we'd said that. My point is that his Genki-girl-ish character is a spring to animate him, but the character we see is dressed on top of that mechanism.

In short, take a bit of off-the-shelf root-stock and graft something interesting to it. My way is to write and see what happens, then prune or dig-up depending on how things turn out.

To be honest I'd think of Genki Girl as something that is charming and an opportunity for humor. They're not going to deal well with conflict but may well take the responsibility of showing off certain values. This can be a contrast to 'grown-up' conflict, violence, stupidity, lethargy, uncertainty, stupidity, planning, strategy, investment, and so on amongst the rest of your characters. It will be a very sad day when GG slows down. How does that happen? Make the reader feel regret for the lost energy of youth.

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When is an archetype not an archetype?

When the character KNOWS they are an archetype. They recognize it in themselves. They may even CALL themselves a genki Girl. They act in EXACTLY the way the archetype does, and there doesn't seem to be anything they can do to stop themselves. For a genki girl, there may really BE no way to stop themselves.

The fact that you drew all the elements of the genki girl from real world material and good characterization supports this approach well. They really ARE this kind of person, and didn't just hatch from a character egg one day and start drinking too much coffee and overdosing on antidepressants. I know people just like this, and it isn't unfair to characterize people that way.

So have your character struggle with this identity. Maybe they didn't know what a genki girl was, and when they discover it, their whole reality is shaken. After all, YOU were shocked to your literary core when you realized the character perfectly fit a stereotype. They can either rebel (deliberately act out of character to try and escape it) or embrace (consciously following the stereotype) as a way of dealing with it. They may even alternately do BOTH as they struggle with the identity. In either case, they may feel traumatized as they defy who they naturally are or traumatized at being trapped in an identity and unable to escape. Or traumatized by both.

Eventually, they work out some kind of inner compromise where they accept who they are, while realizing the traps associated with it. They come out the other side a more complex, nuanced character. This doesn't have to be THE central theme of the story, but it does add a layer of complexity, and it also addresses the issue of your character being a stereotype.

I hope this helps.

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