Knowing when to break and when to push a stereotype can help your story tremendously; setting up conflict, humor, and a constant push and pull between your characters.
I’m going to use my New Adult Thriller STALKING SAPPHIRE as an example.
My main character Sapphire Dubois, is a Beverly Hills heiress who secretly hunt and traps serial killers then anonymously hands them over to the police. She is the ultimate break of the Paris Hilton heiress stereotype. Knowing this, I wanted to push that as much as possible. Besides from her dark hobby, I wanted Sapphire to view the community of Beverly Hills differently than her peers would. I consciously made the rest of the Beverly Hills characters as over-the-top richy as possible. Sapphire’s mother is the alcoholic trophy wife. Sapphire’s best friend, the self centered, promiscuous party girl. Her boyfriend, the narcissistic heir with little, to no, brain activity.
Pushing their stereotype as much as possible, helped me break Sapphire’s. Had I had multiple Beverly Hills characters break out of their stereotypes, Sapphire wouldn’t come off as such a black sheep. Their purpose was to show everything that Sapphire was not.
Now, to my secondary character, Detective Aston Ridder. A downtown L.A cop who is forced to transfer to Beverly Hills after jacking up his leg.
Since I was moving him into Beverly Hills I needed him to be, in short, King of the Asshole. He is foul-mouthed, insensitive, a womanizer, and has a general lack of care for anyone who isn’t himself. I knew I took a major risk creating such an “unlikable” character but I also knew Aston needed to be the epitome of a hard boiled cop so that he would stand out among the fashion, art, and wealth of Beverly Hills.
In this case, instead of pushing one stereotype to help break the other, I simultaneously push Aston's and the Beverly Hills people's for constant conflict. Even the small differences matter and help to create contrast. Example: the Beverly Hills police chief wears an Armani suit while Aston wears washed out jeans and a t-shirt that features an offensive slogan.
That is not to say that Aston and his stereotypical assholeness can't change and evolve. He will. The best part about creating such a broken character, especially in a series, is that you slowly get to put them back together. Because he pushes the stereotype, it will be that much more evident to the reader when he eventually starts breaking out of it.
Let's say you have a YA story and your premise reads: Hannah, a high school cheerleader gets kicked off the team when her nemesis Sarah is appointed head cheerleader. Stripped of social rank and popularity Hannah joins the nerdy dance squad, convinced she can whip the misfits into shape and regain her popularity by beating the triple-champion cheerleaders in the school's annual Dance Off competition.
In response, Hannah can't only be a cheerleader, she has to be the cheerleader. She knows how to dress, talk, walk, be mean, flirt and most of all dance.
They think she's shallow, and she thinks they are an embarrassment.
Through the story, I would being to break the stereotypes within the main characters. Revealing more to them, including Hannah, than what meets the eye. Breaking the stereotypes will help the characters get along and start changing for the better. They help Hannah see there is more to life than popularity. She helps them get out of their comfort zones so that they can evolve. In this case, Hannah's nemesis, Sarah and the cheerleaders should remain stereotypical. Allowing them to stay mean and shallow, would be a great tool to show the reader how much Hannah has changed and bettered herself.