My favorites are slashers. Nothing beats watching one of the various masked-men stalking teenagers and taking them out one-by-one. The only problem with slasher films is that sometimes they are so similar–so generic–that you can have trouble differentiating one from one another.
Part of the reason is they seem to all have the same supporting cast: An outgoing promiscuous girl, a quiet not-so-promiscuous girl, a goofball nerd who is usually a virgin, a handsome jock, an overweight white guy with a bad sense of humor, and a non-white guy with a good sense of humor.
When writing fiction, we can all fall into this trap of creating boring, generic characters that read like a list of soon-to-be-dead teens from the latest horror movie remake. (On a sort of cool note, one of my only attempts at a slash-style short story was published in the February 2014 issue of Night to Dawn magazine. And, yes, I did include a few of those horror movie stereotypes.)
So whether I’ve done this or not, the overuse of cookie cutter characters is really something we should be avoiding as writers. But what can one do to avoid this? That’s where you run into trouble if you’re not careful. A novice (I’m not knocking novices, especially since I’m on myself) might make the mistake of assigning some kind of superficial trait to each character. “This one is a genius, that one is a weight-lifter, and that is a beauty queen.” Of course, all that does is replace the Friday the 13th knock-off feeling with the casting call of The Smurfs.
Another poor solution to generic characters is to assign a tragic event from the past to a character. In itself, that might not be a bad thing, but if it doesn’t directly impact the plot, it’s amateurish and useless. Bob may very well be mourning the death of his wife, but how does that help resolve the conflict in the story? Janie might have been molested by her neighbor when she was a kid, but if it doesn’t help build toward the story’s outcome, it’s meaningless.
In other words, there is no quick fix to generic characters. The best piece of advice is to develop your characters through their actions and words.
Get to know your characters as you write them.
They absolutely must be real people. Once you know your characters better you can go back and add the details of their lives that are relevant to the story at hand.
Just whatever you, don’t rush your character development, and don’t feel that you need to come up with a checklist of character traits before you start.
Bring your characters to life and they’ll do that for you.