Y is for … Yakugara

Yakugara is a term from the Japanese Kabuki theatre tradition. Over the centuries since Kabuki first emerged, it has focused on being “more than mere realism,” quoting from the website “Invitation to Kabuki.” It is a stylized form of theatre, performed with men playing both male and female roles.

Yakugara refers to the strictly defined “types” in the allowable characterizations of traditional Kabuki. Western theatre, of course, also employs stock characters at times, roles that adhere to a stereotype. Kabuki develops the idea of stock characters to the utmost degree.

But what does this have to do with writing?

There are certainly stock characters to be found in abundance in literature, including children’s literature. The villain, the bully, the snobby rich kid. It is easy to see such stereotypes in most books.

When writing, one needs to ask oneself, “Do I want to follow the yakugara way, and have this character be the typical sort of bully or snob?” Perhaps, at least once in a while, it would be good to stand the stereotype on its head a bit. Perhaps the snob is that way because of some difficulty in her life that makes her put up a wall around her. Perhaps the bully began as a timid child who was told “fight for yourself,” “don’t let anybody stand in your way,” and took it too far.

Instead of being content with the stock characters, give them some depth, a bit of a twist. Your readers will thank you.

What are your thoughts about stock characters in books or plays?


A to Z Challenge

12 thoughts on “Y is for … Yakugara”

  1. I like this link between theatre and writing. Stock characters can come across quite differently on the stage. The actor needs to provide the layers of character. In a book the actors are all created by us, the writer, and so we have to provide those layers for each and every one of our characters. No one is a true stereotype. We’re all very complex beings.
    A to Z of Nostalgia

  2. Oh my! I have learnt some amazing new words and meanings during this A to Z month if nothing else it is certainly and eye opener, a huge learning tool and as with your posts be able to take away and see if and how it applies to our own writing. I agree with Rosalind we are all very complex characters in our own way. Sometimes one needs to break down and look deep into that character; what is it they fear? their past, their future? What makes them that way? and so on…. very interesting. Have loved your comparisons and similaries with art/acting and writing. Thanks Beth.

  3. I don’t know what Kabuki or Yakugara is! I am going to read more about kabuki. I just read a blog post about “standard” villains in kids books – the wolf – the witch – the evil stepmother…. I think that a good villain is always great in kids books. I can’t think of other types of “stock characters” (another term I just learned) 😉

    1. I think you’re right — a good villain is great in kids’ books. They spice up the action. I’m glad my posts this month have helped you learn so much, Erik. Terms like “Yakugara” probably aren’t very useful things to know, but it’s all good for stretching the mind. (I’ve learned new things, too, while researching these posts!)

  4. I’d say, be very careful of using types. If you do, turn them on their ear, like you said. Have them do something out of character. It makes them more interesting and believable.

  5. Beth,

    This is a very interesting learning. I like your invitation to add a bit of psycho-social background to those stock characters.

    Thank you for following my A-Z and for your encouraging comments. I appreciate it.


    1. Thank you, Doris. Yes, adding psycho-social background makes such a difference to whether a character is three-dimensional or simply a paper cutout on the page.

      Your A to Z was so wonderful. I looked forward to reading it every day.

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