Sunday, October 16, 2011

In Which Archetypes Save My Life

(Note: there is a new poll in the sidebar. It would help me a lot if you entered it ;) 

{As well, even if you don't read this post, if you're doing NaNo this year and have questions about it, can you comment on this post and tell me what things you would like to know specifically? That would be great!}

I've been very pleased with myself. I have been writing like crazy.

Well, prep work for my characters, that is.

Why has that been so epic?


I received a completely unexpected gift from a friend this September that seriously, I think is the best gift any human being has ever given me.

It's a book called 45 Master Characters by Victoria Schimdt. 

It explores the 45 basic archetypes for characters- the basis upon which every character known to man, villain or hero or sidekick, can be traced from. 

Even if you don't need it, it's still incredibly interesting.

Using Greek mythology as the foundation to name the archetypes (Ares is the Protector and Gladiator, Artemis is the Amazon and Gorger, etc.), the book first helps you to answer questions about your character that will help you figure out which archetype he/she is. 

Under each archetype there is the hero side of that type, as well as the villain, along with motivations, passions, and fears of that particular archetype (You can give or take as many of those traits as fit the need- that's what I've done.).

The first basic questions cover everything from the face shape and skin type/texture to how they feel about marriage and kids, and even what they would do with free time on a Sunday afternoon. As you answer these questions about your characters, you end up seeing the archetype (or at least, the dominant archetype) emerge. 

(The author of the book realizes that everyone has a parts of many archetypes in them, but when under pressure or stress we see the dominant one emerge, and that dominant one is the one she's helping you find. Dantere, for example, has a little bit of Ares, the Protector but is dominantly Apollo, the Businessman.)

What I love is that the book doesn't tell you how to write your character or what they should or should not be doing. It simply tells you things about your character that you didn't know but were already there.

The one thing is, you have to remember that the archetype is the bare outline of your character. It's YOUR job to color them in, texturize them and give them a voice. Archetypes should not be used as stereotypes.  Which I love. 

The main place an archetype helps, beyond discovering a character, is the plot. Once you know what makes your MC tick, how they prioritize and what motivates them, it becomes easy to push the plot forward, (assuming you already have a starting point), because at each turn you know which path they would take. Which I dig. Muchly. 

Note, though, it also doesn't tell you how the plot should be. For instance, the author notes that even if, for a certain archetype marriage is important, you are NOT trapped into writing a story about marriage. But those values that the character holds, color how they act and why they do what they do. 

To show you just how much it helped me, I'm going to kill my eyes and transcribe some of my papers on Dantere from when I was discovering his archetype. I'll try and paraphrase but still be clear ;) 

The Dantere Files:

(for the sake of brevity I skipped some questions and shortened the answers on all of them.)

(punctuation may or may not be present)

  • Face: slightly angular; pointed chin ~ young and untried but an arrogant (or world-weary-esque) tilt to his eyebrows. 
  • Hair: thick, dark brown (bleached lighter by the sun, though). A little shaggy in front but cropped short at the back. Thick curls (not frizzy-curly)
  • Age: Eleven and a half years old that the beginning of the tale.
  • Style: Simple attire mostly, but enjoys a minor, showy/fancy accessory sometimes. Will wear whatever is expected of him/his class. Later develops the habit of taking a cloak everywhere. 
  • My impressions: I like this character. He's generally quiet, and strong, and has (or at least gives the impression of) a hidden burden. He does what needs to be done and does it well. He's got a weird blend of distance and transparency that makes you want to figure him out. 

  • Introverted or Extroverted? Generally introverted but not extremely.
  • How does he solve problems? Logic, instinct or emotion? Instinct,tempered by the occasional logic. 
  • Does he want to change the world? Not necessarily. 
  • How does he feel about family and children? He loves his 'family' and enjoys playing with children younger than him. He's intimidated by thought of being a father though, or will be when he's even of the age to consider it.
  • Hobbies? Painting and playing with rope. 
  • What type of friends does he have? The people he would naturally befriend would be the slightly loud, gregarious, strong-willed people (the friendly ones, though).  
  • What do other characters say about him when he leaves the room? (Hypothetically) He's strange, stuck-up, but cute :P
Motivators: Love & belonging and self-actualization (these actually changed as I realized his archetype).

You are then encouraged to give your character a full page to talk to you about how he feels concerning the goals you've chosen for him, etc. He told me quite a bit, and ended with this unexpected note: 

   "I can do a lot of things, and I see respect as the same as belonging.
   You know it, Dir [that's what my characters know me as, remember]. I am Apollo and Ares, blended together. Just face it. 
  Trust your pen. 
                                   Eldar's blessings,

What a note :P I really like Dantere, by the way. He's nice. 

I noticed (or admitted, however you want to see it), looking through the archetypes, that he was closest to Apollo, and yes, Ares was also part of his character.

Oh, and the book also includes literary and film examples of each archetype like so: 

So starting with Dantere's dominant one, Apollo (The Businessman), I made a chart of his Passions, Motivations, Fears, How Others See Him, Assets, and Flaws. I didn't choose all of the ones supplied for the archetype, but I did use a large portion of them. The things I pulled from Ares were significantly less, but filled in a few gaps in his character. 

(I'm going to only take two from each category because I need to finish this post and clean the bathroom. Go figure *headdesk* First is always Apollo, second is Ares.)

Cares About: 1) strategic planning and being part of the team. 2) winning the fight.

Fears: 1) chaos, spontaneity. 2) not being able to protect those he cares about.

Motivators: 1) self-respect 2) risk; the next big challenge (Dantere just likes to see the challenge coming XD)

How Others View Him (sometimes): 1) Dress code: projects right image, maybe a "colorful tie" but nothing to stand out. 2) intense/passionate or thick headed/bullish (<-- this is rarely, but it does happen.)

Assets: 1) Thrives on order. 2) Will fight to save those he loves, never giving up. 

Flaws: 1) arrogant 2) reacts to an attack without thinking. may not consider the consequences. 


Since I'm throwing my secret writings out in the open anyway, I'll ask: even though this is a super abbreviated and fractured view of him, are there any traits that seem inconsistent?

Anyway, this is just to show that archetypes are useful tools, and if you need a plot boost or character boost, this is the book to hunt down. Because I have him all outlined, I realize the reasons he's doing what he's doing, and what he will do in the previously fuzzy spots in my plot outline ;)

I'm excited, because I'm going to dissect Chance next :) 

Let me know if this was helpful at all, and don't forget what I asked at the beginning of the post ;)


Eldra said...

I've read 45 Master Characters before too, and I absolutely LOVE it! Yet another book on my mile-long list of books to buy...

Great post, by the way. Very interesting.

Marian said...

Never heard of this book, but it sounds interesting! I've got to check the library. :)

And I voted 'Yes' on the poll!

'Slippers said...

Umm, is it sad that when I looked at the cover of the character book thing the first thing I noticed/said is: "Hey, is that Spock?!" ??

Loved reading this by the way :D

The Director said...

:) Glad you love that book! Yeah, I'm so blessed that a friend just up and gave it to me. (OO) Buying books when broke is a difficult thing for me to achieve XD

Aw, well thank you! And yes, check it out! :D :D :D

Spock XD
When you come over I'll have to show you everything!

Spook said...

Haha, I need to find this book! Though I do worry what some of my characters might come out like ... is "Psycopathic Nutcase" one of the archetypes? xD

Totally agree about the stereotype/archetype difference too, and an awesome post! Dantere sounds intriguing as a character.

NaNoWriMo, here we come! :D

Hannah Joy said...

Cool post. :-) Cool book. :-)

And yes, Spook, NaNoWriMo here we come!

Arda said...

That's really interesting! I may have to try and find that book sometime!

Also, I have a couple LotR awards for you!