A guest post by Robert Jones.
You are invited to comment and engage, you’ll find Robert to be responsive, supportive and a wealth of clarifying mental modeling across the vast universe of fiction writing.
Archetypes have a universal power that, when tapped effectively, is proven to generate best-selling novels and films. The right combination of source-driven elements can shape characters that become larger than their creators: iconic symbols of hope, love, and courage for our time–even time immemorial.
SO WHAT’S AN ARCHETYPE ANYWAY?
The word Archetype, taken from the Greek, means First Pattern, a prototype from which subsequent thoughts, or forms, might be birthed. And if you like juicy thoughts, the kind that mingles with the fabric of creation itself, consider the term Archetypal Mind, suggesting a oneness with everything, universal ideas existing with greater reality than our current reality, a single creative force from which all else is made manifest.
Many proclaim authors to be the gods of our fictional universes, the Creative Force, from which we manifest our stories. Every story is spawned from a single seed forged within the mind of the author. Call it a conceptual notion, a thesis, a mission statement, or a First Pattern, it becomes the archetypal embryo, a single cell that divides and sub-divides into everything else. And since all things within a novel are really separate components (facets) that serve a single source, Archetypal Planning can give writers a variety of choices up front that leads to developing real story possibilities in an easy spill-down process from source to story path to characters.
7 MAJOR STORY ARCHETYPES
Imagine your story as its First Pattern (FP), a template of pure energy and imagination, ready to be impregnated with your conceptual vision. The first step is that a decision needs to be made concerning the type of story path you’ll be taking. This is where the 7 story archetypes are beneficial to writers.
The 7 story archetypes are templates, each charged with a specific agenda that help map story paths. Each layer in planning the archetypal story comes equipped with a new generation of developmental archetypes armed with their own guiding principles that serve writers with options. When considering the type of story that best suits your concept, looking at those 7 story archetypes helps you decide how best to shape your story in preparation for the major story milestones and ultimately the four-part structural grid. The seven major story archetypes are as follows:
Overcoming the monster
Rags to riches
Voyage & return
12 Character Archetypes
The Orphan/Regular Guy or Gal
There’s really only one Grand Poobah of an archetype for any story: Good Vs. Evil. All other alternatives are just sub-variations on this one universal archetype for fiction. Even if it’s a literary novel based on the inner struggles of a character, there is still a positive aspect doing battle with a negative aspect within the character. There’s always one goal to be achieved at the end of the tale, regardless of which side wins out.
HEROES AND VILLAINS AS ARCHETYPES
You’ve decided on your conceptual notion and story path. You’ve impregnated your FP cell with the seed of your vision. The next step is creating the dichotomy that man has struggled to overcome since we emerged from our own First Pattern. The cell divides. Enter your Hero and Villain.
These two rivals might look like separate entities, but both have uncoiled from a single FP and therefore have one common goal. They may share other characteristics as well. It’s just as important to ask what these two have in common as it is to question how they differ. There’s often a fine line between good/evil, right/wrong, yin/yang. And just like the yin yang symbol, both halves have inherited a part of one another: an eye that’s perpetually focused on the mission/goal/prize each is aiming for–though their methods may be as different as night and day.
It’s always about the battle between light and darkness. Once you’ve developed both sides of the argument, this becomes the archetypal core of your story.
12 MAJOR CHARACTER ARCHETYPES
Your FP cell has divided into the roles of hero (H) and villain (V). Your core conflict has been established. Now the H and V cells sub-divide into the rest of your dramatis personae. Will their mannerisms embody mystics or misfits, teachers or tricksters? This is where the 12 major character archetypes come into play, utilizing the next set of archetypal templates. Some of these character traits will be imprinted upon your hero and villain. The rest will be dispersed between other characters until your supporting cast has materialized. They will take the form of family members, friends, co-workers, employees, henchmen. Some will fall on the side of the hero, others will gather round the villain. Here are the twelve character archetypes:
Like the seven story archetypes, these templates offer much for your consideration while fleshing out your cast. Do you need twelve cast members? That’s your choice, depending on the demands and scope of your story. Joseph Campbell in describing the “The Hero’s Journey,” narrowed it down to seven. However, they are all combinations of the twelve.
If this is the first you’ve heard of the 12 (or the 7 story archetypes), or need to refresh your memory, the search engine on your computer can provide this information–some of it at great length. Much is offered in terms of characteristics and plot progressions your story may be imbued with.What we end up with at this point is a drop down menu for planning story paths and characters that looks like this:
7 Story Archetypes
(Choices for story path)
(Facets of FP/Core, Hero/Villain)
STORY STRUCTURE: AN ARCHETYPAL VIEW
All fiction is an archetype that displays life on a symbolic level. Story structure is the next template on the list for story planning, a blank canvas pre-cut to specific dimensions, waiting to become an entire universe divined by the writer’s creative power. As an archetype, story structure is patterned after the process all life takes when faced with a problem to overcome. What do we do when bad news comes knocking? We react by looking for quick fixes to make the problem go away. If the problem refuses to yield, we move forward to a point where we harness our energy and become the warrior. Armed with weapons and knowledge, we face our foe one last time, ready to live free, or die.
As a precursor to approaching the four-part structural grid, this method of archetypal planning will narrow your search for story and characters significantly. Especially for those who are just starting out and have not covered a lot of ground in terms of craft. But even the seasoned writer can gain insight by review. When a painter approaches their easel, they do so with photo reference, characters studies, and drawing pencil in hand. The canvas then becomes a less intimidating space to sketch their vision. Working with archetypes offers similar tools in the form of benchmarks, enabling writers to hit the four-part grid with concrete character markers (from the 12 character archetypes) and answers concerning your story path (7 story archetypes). All of which can be brought to story structure as pre-op tools.
PLAYING “WHAT IF?” WITH ARCHETYPES
When Mel Brooks and Buck Henry created Maxwell Smart, the lead character for the 1965 TV show and 2008 film, “Get Smart,” they asked themselves, “What if James Bond and Inspector Clouseau had a child?”
What if your hero and/or villain were the child of two famous archetypes? Who would they be? What habits of their parents might be worked into your characters that you have not previously considered? Novels, films, TV shows, even history, are filled with characters and people that have certain traits in common with yours. Consider the “Famous Parents Game” as a way to explore untapped potential. You may even stumble onto aspects from celebrated archetypes that can lend some of their iconic status to your own.
Another way to gain insight is to view movies with strong archetypes derived from a concept similar to yours. Try substituting your characters in place of various cast members based on the same archetypes. What possibilities might be discerned by placing your characters on someone else’s stage where they were born under a different set of circumstances?
Archetypes can be found everywhere:
All can, or have been, sources for some of the most famous stories ever told. I’m not talking about a retelling, but a whole new genesis based on an archetypal template.
J. R. R. Tolkien’s novels, “The Hobbit,” and “Lord of the Rings,” are examples of archetypes that have perpetuated themselves, outlived their author, and continue to spawn more children than bunnies in heat. And where those bunnies in Richard Adams’ “Watership Down” mirror certain qualities of the Hobbits, we begin to see how archetypes have inspired modern classics. “Star Wars” might have sprouted from “Lord of the Rings,” but do they look at all alike? No more than bunnies and Hobbits, yet they share a common name: Icon. They’ve taken on a life of their own fueled by archetypal energy. Every author hopes to create a character larger than life. And some writers bear children from parental archetypes that have already stood the test of time.
Some of the best known archetypes were created during the worst of eras throughout history. Which gives us another clue for generating icons.
Superman was the father of all superheroes, the archetype for an entire genre. Superman, the First Pattern of his nation, was created by two high-school students, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster. And as humanity gathered in fear of the approaching WWII, Superman became a symbol of hope that still thrives today.
One needn’t have super-powers, or even a super intellect to create an iconic archetype. We simply have ask ourselves–since we are currently living in a time of war against unseen terrorists and fear running rampant–what does the world most need today? Hope, love, freedom, courage? All of which are steeped in archetypal symbolism. How might you invest your hero with qualities lacking in the world? For what humanity lacks, does it not thirst for?
You may end up with a character that lives to see the dawn of the next century. Or a First Pattern who bears the children of eternity.