ARCHETYPES: Empowering Source-Driven Characters and Plots


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.


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.


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

The quest

Voyage & return




12 Character Archetypes

The Innocent

The Orphan/Regular Guy or Gal

The Hero

The Caregiver

The Explorer

The Rebel

The Lover

The Creator

The Jester

The Sage

The Magician

The Ruler

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.


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.


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:


Story Cell


7 Story Archetypes

(Choices for story path)




(Facets of FP/Core, Hero/Villain)


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.


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:








Fairy tales

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.


Filed under Write better (tips and techniques)

52 Responses to ARCHETYPES: Empowering Source-Driven Characters and Plots

  1. Sara Davies

    Hi Robert.

    Love what you are saying about the hero and villain being two sides of the same question or mission – in effect, two opposing arguments about the same issue – ? Where the hero overcomes limitations and changes, the villain is overcome by clinging to his/her beliefs and remaining stagnant. It’s also cool what you are saying about the way this pattern gets played out over the four stages of story structure – the development or learning stages the hero experiences, and how this mimics grappling with problems in life. Some say we shape our reality with our beliefs, creating it from inner competing impulses. If I understand you correctly, you are saying when stories mirror how we work on the inside, they become powerful and influential, which makes sense given that people engage with stories to learn how to cope, vicariously, with their own issues – often without being aware that’s what they’re doing. 😉

    Brilliant as ever.

  2. It is nice to know I am getting some of this down. I’ve picked through a few screenplay books as well and they refer to these archetypes (in more modern terms) often. I know I’ve taken a few of them and it really did work.

    Thanks for giving me the reinforcement here and expressing this in a clear and concise way. I really do appreciate it!

  3. Robert Jones

    Hi Sara–I think that’s exactly why people come to stories. All those things they absorb (either consciously, or subconsciously) are the underpinnings of vicarious experience. It’s that give and take between the writer and the reader that helps create a balance. And it’s a balance that is intentional from the POV of the writer–as I will get to momentarily.

    @Mathew–There are a lot of variations, or modernizations, in terms of archetypes for characters. Some are interesting, or can even add clarity. However, I harkened back to Jung’s common 12 here because they give so much in terms of human motivation…and character traits, goals, weaknesses. Here’s a link that may prove both interesting and helpful:

    What I’ve coined as the “Law of Archetypes,” or a First Pattern cell splitting into good and evil, hero and villain, is a pattern that’s repeated throughout writing a novel:

    –Dichotomy between hero and villain.

    –Interior emotion and exterior actions are often opposing one another.

    –Outward actions of a character are met with an equal and opposite reactions by opposing characters. Even by members of the same team.

    –Dialogue between two characters gets batted back and fourth like a tennis match. There are major disagreements and minor ones. But even between friends there is tension mounting here as well.

    –Scenes themselves begin one way and often end having the opposite of what the POV character expects to happen.

    –For that matter, by the time we reach the end of part 1 (set up) of a novel, whatever occurs at the first plot point is usually turned around in the other direction by the end of the novel. Except in a tragedy where the worse ends up happening, but even that is the opposite of what the reader is lead to expect, or is hoping will happen.

    Robert McKee says every scene needs to “turn.”

    Sol Stein says whatever you think is common, or expected, do the “opposite” in fiction.

    Larry Brooks says to “incite,” then “cut and thrust” the reader into the next scene.

    If this all sounds like tips for choreographing a battle, that’s exactly what the writer does–on every level. There are different criteria for each facet of writing: dialogue, prose, characterization, plotting, structure. Yet the common bond between all of it on the page is that battle, the bounce between opposing forces, opinions, intentions.

    It has been said that if you can write one truly effective paragraph, you have a model for the rest of your book. And much of one’s story path, and the steps taken to achieve its fruition, is like a wave of concentric circles, each one getting tighter and tighter as we head toward ground zero at the center. Yet understanding how to effectively apply the smallest of circles lends understanding to the the largest.

    If one follows the bouncing ball of “Archetypal Plotting” from the FP cell splitting into two distinct sides, then playing up that dichotomy in everything else that follows, it can be a sort of through line, or anchor. It’s the commonality all aspects of fiction share, in spite of their differing criteria. And holding to that bounce, even a novel that isn’t especially well written, or a Hollywood blockbuster aimed at the intelligence of the average twelve year old, can hold it’s audience for the duration.

    Not that I’m suggesting writing bad novels, or lousy screenplays. But as an adjunct to story structure, playing up that archetypal struggle for balance between light and darkness is key. Because all things in a novel serve the whole, or core, of one’s story. And everything: interior/exterior, micro/macro, are all extensions of that core. All other characters and subplots grow out of this and exhibit different facets of the same diamond, cut by the writer to sparkle from every angle.

  4. “These two rivals might look like separate entities, but both have uncoiled from a single FP and therefore have one common goal.”

    Best bit of writing knowledge I’ve absorbed in a long while. I miss this so often, forgetting that the best villain is nearly my hero — with just enough difference to matter. “We’re not so different, you and I” is what the greatest villain can always say to the greatest hero.

  5. Robert Jones

    Joel, you’ve framed it perfectly right here: “The best villain is nearly my hero.”

    Thanks for your comments and insights 🙂

    We might say the rest of the cast are related to the hero and villain as well. They are the proud parents of the tale unfolding, after all. Though not everyone who knows, or works with the villain, need to be exactly like him/her, like little copycats, or wannabes. They each have a blend of traits that could be different facets of the hero and villain. And like any children, they too share certain qualities inherited from both of their parents.

    For example, the hero’s best friend is often the Jester, showing many traits in common with the hero. However, he’s often a much more lazy, comedic version of the hero, just wanting to have fun and sometimes may even try to get the hero to give up his dreams/goals and just run away and live on a beach somewhere. Since the Jester can also be a trickster, he may even try to block the hero by attempting luring him off to that beach (all for the hero’s own good) by using some form of trickery–thus taking on some small trait of the villain.

  6. MikeR

    Good post. Certainly one of the “deadly sins” that makes me slam a book down is a crappy, unbelievable villain. Don’t just serve up a “stock nasty,” because that’s exactly what he is: stock. Equals Boring. Don’t do it. Your hero’s opponent needs to be a “worthy” opponent. He should be inventive, clever, determined – and human.

    Please pour just as much care, attention, and creativity into the person(s) who will oppose your hero, as you do in your hero. If the opponent isn’t well-considered, your hero just isn’t going to come off looking good as he fights against him.

  7. @Robert. Thank you. Excellent piece. It reminded me of how we all, know it or not, are all indebted to Jospeh Campbell and his ” Hero with a Thousand Faces” Thanks again.

  8. Leslie Schwartz

    Mr Jones, This is very interesting and another version of these concepts with again other archetypes from the dramatica/storymind series from Melanie Anne Phillips.

    I think the theory has to get fairly deep and detailed to be a multiple-use guide.

    Is this version of the approach something you have developed in a book or series of essays? If so I would like to know about that.

    Thanks sincerely,

    Leslie Howard Schwartz

  9. Robert Jones

    @Leslie Schwartz–I have a great many theories that could fit under this banner, and other aspects of craft. They are not in book form…yet. A book on craft is somewhere in my future. Whether “Archetypal Planning” becomes a part of a larger book, or if everything else expands from this, via a root system that branches outward to grow an entire craft tree (an idea I sincerely like) remains to be seen.

    I am constantly testing theories, asking if they could be improved, or expanded upon, taking a scientific approach to craft. Not unlike Larry’s approach to structure in terms of defining it as “Engineering,” or “Physics.” Coming from a graphic arts background earlier in life, I’ve certainly recognized many parallels between art theory and those involving writing. I’ve also noticed what’s missing in most books and theories on writing. Or maybe I should say what’s missing in the application of writing craft for a great many who are trying to learn it.

    A graphic artist, or painter, has specific tools they can hold in their hands. They are encouraged to practice the theories and techniques they are taught, channeling their creativity to the blank page by trying, testing, experimenting, using a wide variety of tools. Ultimately, they discover the tools that work best for them. It can be like discovering a magic pill when the right brush fits the painter’s hand and begins to bring their vision to life in ways they’ve only dreamed about previously. They also grow as artists from the experimental stages of process.

    In writing, however, the tools are all inside the writer’s head. They may read books on craft, take some classes, but in the end, they go off and do whatever they like. Because that’s what writing is about, right? Or maybe they use a few of the techniques that stood out or spoke to them best.

    Nowhere in any of the other arts is this even dreamed of. A painter (at least most of them) would not throw away their brushes and use their hands and feet when the class is over. They wouldn’t go to an art supply store and choose a brush simply because the color stood out and appealed to them most. You have to actually apply theories to your own writing, work with them, challenge them–let them challenge you. And eventually you’ll find your own magic pill, from which you might one day grow your own craft tree.

    This is my challenge to budding writers, or any writer who seeks to improve their craft. Just because a writer can’t hold those tools in their hands physically, doesn’t mean they aren’t there for a reason. It is not enough to intellectually understand those airy, mental tools of craft. You have to be willing to dig in and get your hands dirty. We hear a lot as writers that we need to find what works best for each of us. This is how. Not by trying to reinvent wheels that have been around for a very long time. But by trying on the many wheels already available to you and taking them for a test drive.

  10. MikeR

    @Leslie – maybe there’s deep insights to be found in story-theories like Dramatica. I’ve studied it a lot (never bought the software), and found it … baffling. Even though they confidently purr that all this is to be expected, that there really ARE all of these layers of complexity lurking in the bowels of every tale … I am still confronted with the notion of “descriptive vs. prescriptive statistics.” Or maybe, “reducto ad absurdum.”

    You can hold any story up against a story-theory and see how it fits. If the story succeeded wildly at the box, you point out how well it fits. If it bombed, you point how it didn’t fit and cluck-cluck. These are all “de”scriptive uses of the theory, and depending on the outcome (riches/bomb) that you know to be true, you can make anything “fit.” But these things won’t tell you how to craft a new story, so as to successfully avoid the land-mines, and especially(!) to know that you have avoided them BEFORE you write your “finished draft.”

    Even a pure discussion of archetypes is an abstraction. A useful abstraction, perhaps. But also “reducto.” And also, maybe, focusing upon the elements of “your particular story” a little too(!) much?

    This might be what originally piqued my interest to pick up a new book with the word “Engineering” in the title. The theory is not new – and @Larry cites his sources – but the focus is hard-core upon The Gentle Reader == The Customer. “Here is what the Reader actually expects – here are the marks, and you must hit them.” I’ve flown through the air from San Francisco to Islip (Long Island) with lavish characters and with wooden ones. What made the experience memorable, or not, was the author’s execution. How well the author did, or didn’t, “Manage” the experience for me. (@Larry, there’s your next title: “Story Management.”) The writer set my expectations, then managed those expectations as he pulled me through his story to a Satisfying conclusion that left me flipping back through the pages to re-read some of the most memorable scenes.

    Yes, you can reducto many stories to a discussion of archetypes, and thus point out what must be there in the characterizations, but this is a high degree of theoretical abstraction. The execution of the story, whatever it is, puts “boots on the ground” and keeps them there. The story must have both, to succeed.

  11. Robert Jones

    @MikeR and Joel–Let’s camp on that villain a little while and attempt to better define what it is that makes him/her the hero’s opposite number.

    A villain is usually considered to be the following:




    We boo the villain when he’s all of the above. But let’s look at those same qualities in the light of the hero–those aspects we usually cheer for:




    It’s really all the same things, just a different slant, or POV.

    Both tackle their goals with all the enthusiasm of life long dreamers. They are working hard towards their goal. Maybe they’ve worked toward this goal their entire lives. Then they encounter their other half, A.K. A. their competition.

    Some good questions to ask about your villain:

    –What are they afraid of?

    –What is his/her weakness?

    –What is it about them that seems heroic, or noble?

    Remember, in the mind of the villain, they are usually the hero of the piece. Everyone has a weakness, or a secret fear. The biggest control freak on the planet has a coward hiding somewhere inside of them. Why the constant vigilance for so much control if they didn’t fear on some level that life might quickly turn and they could lose everything?

    Even if they are a total degenerate who gets their kicks hurting people, the harder they try to be bad the more vulnerable they really appear. Something is going on inside of them that grew into something very tangled and ugly. And it’s strangling them–even if they aren’t aware of it, make excuses for it, cast blame onto others. And it’s in understanding the madness that creates a dichotomy that makes your villain believable. His interior and exterior universes may be slightly at odds sometimes. She may have occasional doubts that she covers up with anger and bluster.

    Just like the hero has a little bit of bad inside that emerges in the form of a habit, or weakness, that might be exploited, so does your villain have some spark of good. It may be buried deep within the tangle of thorns they’ve cultivated, hidden behind the high walls they’ve erected to protect themselves, but that vulnerability is in there somewhere. That sliver the reader may empathize with…even for just a moment in your story.

    And if this battle between good and evil is to be convincing, the writer has to take both sides. And in creating the truly memorable villain, inside the writer’s mind there can be no protagonist and antagonist. There are two protagonists. Radically different methods, maybe. But both are obsessed. Both may even be willing to lay down their life for their cause.

    At that point, you’ll begin to see your villain differently. Hero and villain will both be fun to write. And in your heart, you’ll feel a bit sad when the villain loses because you understand the circumstance that brought him to all of this. Because you’re her mother, father, and creator, all rolled into one. And you’ve worked your butt off in order to make them a well-rounded, believable character–however truly flawed they may have become.

  12. Robert Jones

    @Curtis–Thanks. This piece is a basic overview to help send writers off in a direction where they can explore archetypes and discover their roots. As stated in an above post, it could certainly be expanded upon at great length. I think it’s important to recognize that archetypal patterns are everywhere. They may all originate from a single source if traced back to their roots, but almost anything can become inspiration for a story if we tend to it like careful gardeners. However, in exploring the roots of character and story, there’s a lot of food for thought to be had. Like a tree for craft, it is a very large entity with many branches and connections to everything we do. And everything we do is basically on the backs of all who came before us, forming a very long chain. They say there’s nothing new under the sun, but in science, new inventions based on combining those limited elements found on earth happens all the time. So there’s always room for new interpretations, new combinations taken from the long history of craft, boiled down, shaken, or stirred, until our stories are brought to new life.

  13. MikeR

    @Robert – upon re-reading my latest post, I realize that it could be interpreted in a negative way. Not my intention. Your OP and follow-ups are both good and valuable: “thanks.” Just to make that clear to all . . .

    The villain is probably the second-most important character in any story, and thus is richly deserving of attention. She will spend a lot of screen-time, including the most pivotal scenes, alongside your hero. Your hero’s most heroic moments will occur when he is battling her. Therefore, she must be real.

    You don’t have to present a psychoanalysis or even trigger reader empathy, but she must be human. Perhaps the most pure-evil, most despicable human that ever walked the earth. Or maybe she likes a good chianti and fava beans. (Brrrrr…..)

    If she smells or acts fake, game over. The supporting actors are, well, “supporting.” But the villain is almost the co-star. It’s no wonder that so many actors love playing them.

    Right now, and for a couple of sub-stories in my evolving, still in the planning stages tale, I’m taking a slightly different approach: I’m contemplating what I want those pivotal scenes to be, then I’m considering what sort of characteristics in the players would give those scenes the most power. And I must say that it’s been an interesting exercise – considering the outcome, then salting the players with characteristics that deal into that.

    One other thought: I love good vampire stories, but I was bitterly disappointed by the first one I read by who-else could-I be-talking about. Her “protagonist” wandered into situations that any fool wouldn’t have, and likewise did her “villains.” Bang: FAKE. I could almost see the puppet-strings. They were getting themselves into one situation after another just so the author could pull them out. Nothing could save the story for me once my “suspension of disbelief” was lost. Be sure to look at your scene-outlines from a skeptical eye. If it smacks of “deus ex authorica,” you’ll have to brainstorm something else. Please.

  14. The best villains are those that make us wonder, even for a split second, if he is justified in his cause. So yes, like the one guy said here, he could almost be your hero! I think this article gives the beginning writer a lot of valuable tools to craft both hero and villain; character development is something that many struggle with indeed. A post worth copying, pasting and printing out to keep in one’s own writing files! Many how to book can leave the reader with as many questions as an unfinished television series, it’s nice to see something like this that really slams the point home. Great post!!!!

  15. Robert Jones

    @Paul–That’s another really great question to put on the list when creating a villain: Could their cause be justifiable?

    That one goes hand in glove with: What is it about your villain that seems heroic, or noble? Because there is a point to be made by the villain’s side of the argument. If there isn’t, they wouldn’t really have an argument worthy of their time–or the reader’s attention–would they?

    @Mike–I enjoy reading your posts as well–and didn’t actually find your previous comments offensive. They are your opinions and quite valid. I came at Dramatica from the opposite end that you did, purchasing the software before I even realized a book existed. And my experience was very similar to your own. For generating characters it’s great. However, when it comes to looking for answers concerning other part of craft, I found myself wishing they made the software more inclusive. Not to say that someone else wouldn’t find their approach invaluable. For character development alone, it’s worth the price of admission.

    And looking at the various approached to to craft in terms of “Which comes first, plot, or character?” I will always fall on the side of winning characters. That being said, without an interesting concept/premise, your character really doesn’t have any place to go. And who can say in the ideas mill of the mind, which will present itself first when a compelling notion for a story appears? In the end, it becomes like the question of “Which came first, the chicken, or the egg?” Because if you do not tie your character intimately to your concept/premise, if it doesn’t seem that your hero was born to play that role, you’re creating a Hollywood version of an “explosive concept” where the characters are just cardboard window dressing. Likewise, if somewhere in your concept/premise, there isn’t a worthy mission for your hero, one that is especially challenging to his/her unique skill-sets, then a really great hero might be over qualified to accept that mission. Send Bob from accounting to handle that one and save the hero for the really tough jobs.

    To my way of thinking, character and plot are just as inseparable as the goals of the hero and villain. Wether one prefers to feel that concept/premise is the egg that hatched the hero/villain, or that the hero/villain laid the egg that hatched concept/premise might be perched on the branches of semantics. However, I’ve taken to heart what Larry preaches about identifying your concept straight away, be it chicken, or egg. Because both plot and character will amble along in search of meaning until the writer pronounces/discovers that meaning. And by making that mental declaration early on, it fills your story with its intention and purpose.

    Also @Mike, what you said about designing character traits to fit your pivotal scenes is exactly what I’m saying about each character becoming a different facet of your story. It isn’t enough to take the 12 character archetypes literally, labeling this character as the rebel, that one as the caregiver. The use of archetypes is a pattern that can assist in creating an underlying structure, a framework for characters. It’s up to the writer to do exactly as you are doing and tailor those aspects of character into whatever proportions your story demands of them. The characters will always have to be tweaked for the purpose of any given story. Some archetypal traits might be combined to form a single character. But like story structure, they are there as guideposts and reminders for writers to work with. They are tools than some will follow more rigidly, others more loosely…or imaginatively. In the end, they will serve the story in exactly the same way you’re talking about: all will become symbolic marionettes that adopt different aspects of the core drama as it unfolds.

    At it’s most basic, that’s exactly what archetypes do. They present the writer with programmable templates that come equipped with the rudimentary qualities of human nature. What you do with those qualities, and in what combinations they are used, will ultimately give each story the perfect set of players to populate your stage.

    I also like what you’re saying about purely evil villains. However, I do believe an analysis of their psychology is important for writers. If we don’t understand how they got that way, how will the reader find our writing about them believable?

    I have a truly evil villain in the next two parts of my trilogy. And since I need to up the ante on villainy after the first one, it was not an easy task. But that’s a subject that will need a post all it’s own…and I will address the way in which I’ve approached that kind of evil later this morning. So stay tune…

  16. Robert Jones

    Okay, on to the subject of the truly big EVIL in villainy.

    First of all, I think if your villain isn’t ferociously evil, you may still have some work to do. All sympathies and making his cause potentially viable aside, this is the villain we’re discussing and somewhere along the way, he’s crossed a line where there’s no turning back. And that line has a word stamped across its threshold: IRREMEDIABLE.

    Allow me to put that another way: If your villain is not beyond redemption, then she isn’t really a villain. She’s simply misguided.

    Those sparks of humanity that flicker momentarily when they are on stage are remnants of the past, or emotions stirring they choose to ignore for the greater good of their mission. “But,” I can hear some people asking, “Darth Vader was pretty darned evil and he was redeemed.” Sure, but there was an even bigger evil controlling him in the form of the Emperor. Let us also not forget that Vader began as a hero, who became corrupted and fell from grace…and BTW, how many movies did it take for all this to come across effectively? So unless you’re writing a series where your villain finds redemption by book three, you have one villain and the term “irremediable” must be applied. Their goal may well have been a worthy one at one time, may even look worthy on some level currently, but your villain’s means no longer justifies the end he has in mind.

    So please don’t take any of the above as meaning you should create a sub-par villain, or evil with a small “e.” What you are doing is considering a chain of events that has brought your villain to the point in which your story takes place. Making him human, in other words. But he’s not a fixer-upper-bad-boy type the ladies can swoop in on and save with the power of love. He’s unfixable. Let’s be straight on this point or your story will be found wanting.

    Thus, handling the truly big, crazy-as-you-please EVIL is no different really. The same basic rules apply. There’s still a chain of events, personal desires, dreams, failures, abuse–whatever this person went through to bring them to the point where they’ve come head to head with your hero. I’ll use my outline for one of my villains to take a few examples and attempt to pick out ways that may help in considering how to humanize the most inhuman of villains…and be mindful, this is from a rough outline for future use that’s hardly fleshed out. I’ve written a mini biography and used it as a spring-board since this guy will become the villain in the next two books of a larger trilogy. I’ll take the risk and share some of it, knowing that even if a hundred different writers used this as a basic working model, by the time I’m finished fleshing my story out, the circumstances will still differ from the other hundred writer. So as a working hypothesis, let’s dive in and see what it has to offer:

    He’s one of those people who was cruel and calculating as a child. Born differently, possibly more aware, definitely a much higher IQ than most people. It’s a period piece, so during this time oddity in behavior is presumably evil in the eyes of his parents, who punish him rather than attempting to understand, or correct him with any sort of compassion.

    As his behavior gets worse instead of better, the parents actually come to fear him. They send him to a foster home where a stern older couple proceed to beat the devil out of him by force. This simply cements in his mind that the world is unpredictable and people cannot be trusted.

    Can you empathize with this guy already by know this information…in spite of the fact I told you he was a cruel and calculating child?

    3) Skipping ahead to his adult life, he actually fell in love once. At least what passes for love in his mind. But he’s so cruel to the woman that what he does ends up costing her life as a price for becoming involved with him.

    Under the heading of everyone has loved and lost at some point in their lives, this gives him a very real slice of human existence, something everyone can relate to. Yet, how does the reader feel as he becomes his own worst enemy and does some pretty unspeakable things to this woman? They will be saying to themselves, “Why are you doing this? Stop it!” And when she dies, he’s really killing his own best hope of ever knowing love with someone, something his entire life has been sorely lacking, and with a woman who may have done him some real good. By this point, he can’t acknowledge love from another. He just wants to possess her. And when that doesn’t work…

    Do we feel both aghast…and just a little sorry for this guy who just totally crossed that line?

    And so, without giving my entire story away, you can see a guy who is both a genius and a real SOB. His dreams for his own life, and the world, have become tainted darker and darker over the passage of time. His cause may not be entirely without merit, but it has become as warped and jaded as he is. He holds back nothing because he feels nothing. Yet, whatever he does at this point is also colorized by the image of that little boy who was sent away and abused–therefore even the craziest of notions he might have will be believable because we can see him as a real person, empathize just a little, maybe even hope he sees the light of day. Even if he never does.

    And that’s how the big EVIL is made credible. By acts that humanize the villain as a character 🙂

  17. MikeR

    @Robert – Better be nice to “Bob from accounting,” if you ever want your heroes to get their paychecks. 😉

    “/me nods …” Archetypes, as used in this sense, are attributes, or maybe, a taxonomy for attributes. It’s useful to attach these tags to characters if only to then look around and see if other (opposing, or complementary) attributes are in play … and to see if a character HAS attributes beyond those strictly necessary for him to perform his role. A character who basically has only these things tends to be cardboard. Which CAN be okay (Rambo, The Terminator, “Go Ahead, Make My Day™”) but a little more imagination might yield a much more satisfying result … and it might give you the tools to creatively work your way out of a writing tight-spot.

    As far as “pure evil” is concerned, in the first Star Wars movie (when George Lucas didn’t know if he could afford to write another one), the back-story of these characters didn’t exist. It was “Cowboys and Indians plus Swords and Sorcery in Outer Space a Long Time Ago Far Far Away.” It was just as “stock” a situation as it could be, but it was imaginatively told and it busted the boundaries of special-effects of that time. Since there was no room for back-story in the first movie, there was none. Yet, when it was added, it gave great depth to Vader’s interactions: with Luke, with Obi-Wan, with the Emperor, with Leia. “Darth Vader” WAS “Anakin Skywalker.” No other “Darth” (including the Emperor himself) was ever developed to such a degree … with some of them, alas, being such “stock nasties” (e.g. the real life martial-arts master who used the double lightsabers … and who by the way designed most of that choreography) there was really nothing at all for them to do but to be killed on-cue. Yawn.

    Still, one of the great anti-heroes of recent memory undoubtedly is Tom Riddle = Lord Voldemort. Even in the first book, there were hints of depth to this character, and this is what enabled him to resonate so strongly, such that even his own doomed story was being told, he was alive. Harry Potter could not have been the hero that he was, against any lesser character. Nor would it have been believable that Voldemort could both hold – and then, reclaim – the allegiance of so many powerful wizards for so long … this being a crucial design element of the entire series, which (let the record show) never wavered in its awesome popularity. (It was THAT good.) In some ways, the Harry Potter series rested even more fundamentally on Voldemort (IMHO) than it did on Harry.

    In both cases, they never cease to be Anti-Hero, just as the Hero never wavers from his role. Both of them have to play against one another with all their might so that their respective opponents come to be seen in the strongest possible light. This would be strictly true whether the Anti-Hero is “(Pure) Evil” or not.

  18. Robert Jones

    Maybe Bob from accounting has more power than I gave him credit for. He who controls the money…as they say!

    I had an interesting conversation with a friend who read this post. I was hoping I might lure him into joining us in this discussion. He asked about multiple villains. And what of multiple heroes? The conversation brought up some interesting points. What if someone wants to write a story like Stephen King’s “The Stand?” Or Marvel’s “Avengers?” I don’t have time to go into it at length today, but I’ll bring in the high points of that discussion tomorrow and expand on it here. Can the FP cell be divided into quadruplets, or sextuplets?

    Mike, or anyone else, who wishes to start the ball rolling on this one in the meantime, feel free.

  19. Juan Too

    Greetings, Robert!

    I didn’t mean to cause a stir with my “multiple villains” comment. It is merely a problem I find myself up against in trying to write an historic novel…in that, in order to be true to history, I need to accomodate at least 4 primary villains and the hero simultaneously. Over the course of the story the number whittles down, but each has their role to play in the story as it unfolds. I think the difference, after re-reading some of the post here, is “reality” vs. “archetypal” (Campbell). While it is true that archetypal imagery serves well, evidenced from points already shown like Star Wars and Harry Potter, and in my mind like Star Trek (the original…Kirk, Spock, McCoy) and Ayn Rand, who using archetypal imagery created iconic characters. But real life is messy and not so clear cut.

    I agree fully that a villain has to have fully human drives and desires, or they become “cardboard.” In the case of my story, each is competing for ultimate control of an Empire, and each already has a slice of the pie (or usurps it as the story unfolds), and in that manner each is pitted against the others at given moments and allied with others at other moments. Ultimately though, this back and forth confrontation is the backdrop for the moral I wish to tell. The hero is the hero by attrition, by necessity. And as big as the hero is, and he *is* huge, the story is even bigger. (Why its not been told before I don’t know…or I think I do, but I also think the time is right now for the story to be told)

  20. Robert Jones

    Hi Wes (Jaun Too), glad you could make it to the discussion. As I previously stated, your story sounds quite intriguing. And you’ll find that your difficulties are shared by some other folks here. As you know, my current novel is an historical piece–though a combination of fictional characters set in a real time and place. MikeR is writing another historical novel based on a period in time and place that’s rich with possibilities. The two of you seem to have a very similar approach and could probably find loads to discuss and learn from each other BTW. You also both have a keen business sense in common.

    So let’s cover some ground on the idea of multiple antagonists and protagonists–both fictionally and non-fictionally. And if I end up raising more questions than I answer, let me know and I will be more than glad to clarify as well as gain insights from everyone else’s opinions. We’re all here for the same reasons.

    I’ll start by encapsulating my earlier advice to Wes. And that was that he choose one villain as the primary…even if the other villains play an important role. Why? Because in fiction, or even fictionalized accounts based on reality, there is but one argument with two sides: good and evil.

    Once that FP cell divides, everything else becomes an offshoot of the primary hero and villain. If one has multiple heroes and/or villains it can become a fairly difficult proposition to work into the confines of a novel effectively. I mentioned the example in my previous post of Marvel’s “Avengers,” which is a story that has many heroes involved. This was a nightmare, as proclaimed by the writer, but it would’ve become an impossibility if those characters were not already established in their separate franchises with movies and comic book of their own. To fully characterize them all from scratch in a single movie over a 2 1/2 period (or the average novel’s 300 pages) would end up short-changing both characters and plot somewhere along the lines. As it is, anyone viewing the “Avengers” that wasn’t familiar with the characters would’ve been simply viewing another Hollywood blockbuster with flashy characters and loads of special effects.

    However, I think it is possible–even historically–to choose one of the four villains from Wes’s example. If viewed through the lens of history, one villain will either stand out from the pack, or become the ultimate winner, ultimate looser, ultimate something. They may just be the most flamboyant of the four characters, having traits that would most appeal to readers.

    Then what happens is that he becomes the primary focus from which the side of evil/villainy is told. Does that mean you can’t characterize, or get inside the heads of his three competitors? Not at all. Fiction is filled with examples of gang wars, rival business competitors, etc…just like real life. But if you have one POV that will become the focal point in explaining the war, the competition, the stakes, it becomes much easier to follow and understand for the reader. We know what the other three are competing for better by understanding one slice of the pie most clearly. The others can also operate, do what they need to do for the story, without always having to explain all that separately. Which will fragment the finer points of the argument in the mind of the reader. In other words, it can save you time, sanity, and your book.

    The risk in not giving the audience that single focal point, especially in terms of the hero, is that the reader will always be looking to choose their favorite, or keep on guessing as to whose book it really is. People are used to having arguments defined by clear-cut opponents. Multiple protagonists is a tough sell to editors, and a very tough job for the writer, if not impossible to convey clearly.

    I read a novel once that had seven protagonists. It was a mystery/adventure story…I won’t mention any titles. The author alternated chapters between the characters in much the same way Stephen King did in “The Stand.” Sidebar: Love or hate King, few people can pull of what he’s done with a cast so large! How many have tried? How many have failed? But I digress. Out of the seven protagonists, there was one main one who appeared in a previous novel. The other six were far from as interesting. My attention kept waning. By the time we got to the big finale, they all played some part in coming together to stop some apocalyptic disaster. And I no longer cared. There were just too many diversions and excursions along the way. A lot of other people didn’t care either because the novels were designed to be a series and it ended with the poor sales of the second novel with the seven protagonists.

    So I will reiterate what I’ve said in the original post:

    –Locate the First Pattern/conceptual seed of your story (real life stories all have one as well or they wouldn’t be stories worth telling)

    –The FP divides into two sides of the argument, good/evil. This will become your hero and villain, the two who represent the core conflict within your story.

    –H and V cells divide into the rest of the cast–even if the become offshoots of the hero and villain, either comrades or competitors.

    An alternate way to think of this is to envision the process as a tree.

    –The seed that first took root in the soil of your imagination is your “FP.”

    –Then, just like many trees, the trunk splits and becomes twin trees, your “H and V.” They are rooted to the same goal and neither can leave. Circumstances have bound them together in a crucible that neither one can leave until the journey is concluded.

    –Branches are formed as the twin trunks divide and subdivide. Each branch is an offshoot of one tree or the other. However, they will mingle and intertwine as the trees (your story) flesh themselves out. Each branch, whichever side it might originate from, is a fully formed, well-rounded and functional branch (character) all on it’s own. But it does serve a single purpose. Which is to support one of the various facets of your story so it fits together and serves the purpose you’ve designed it to serve.

    And like Mike stated so well, once you understand what the key purpose (concept) of your story is, you design each role that all the characters will play into proportion around it. Some will have smaller roles, some will have larger roles, but every role is important because it serves the story as a whole in an important way. If it doesn’t, change it, or cut it.

    Choosing a single POV for hero and villain need not limit their competitors from being as nasty as they have to be and as well rounded as characters as the author can make them. In fact, if the competition isn’t interesting, they won’t be very threatening. They’ll just become distractions like the seven protagonists I mentioned above. And distractions like that can cost the author everything.

  21. Robert Jones

    BTW, here’s the list of characters from Stephen Kings uncut version of “The Stand.” Go ahead and look…I double-dog dare ‘ya!

  22. MikeR

    @Robert – I personally find “epic escapades” like The Stand not to be my cup of tea. I -do- find them bewildering and fatiguing, because I just don’t to read about the entire town … or the entirety of what’s left of human civilization. I get lost in such stories. I never plan to write one. (I didn’t make it through Asimov’s “Foundation Trilogy,” either.)

    In my story-design, I do have several things going on. The grand-story (GS … my term) does involve some violence and high crime, and people do die. But there are likely to be at least two sub-stories (SS1, SS2) in which opponents are locked into the same sort of “only one may prevail, and neither can walk away” situation, but I don’t think anybody dies.

    I’m plotting the sub-stories (subject to change without notice since I don’t quite know what I’m doing 😉 ) for three main reasons: to add depth to the principal characters’ lives; to show that there are things of significance going on apart from the GS; and to raise the stakes of the GS, as it were, “by reflection.” As the GS hurtles toward its finish, one way or the other, and really no matter which way it goes, it’s going to take-down one or both of the SS’s, who can’t dodge being swept-up by the disruption in the status-quo (set by the GS) in which they once existed. The hero wins in the GS, but you’ll reach “The End” with a feel of mixed victory. Victories are not always complete.

    I’m keeping the story-lines largely separate, except for intersecting characters. Within each story, their concerns belong to that story, and the stories belong to themselves. Sure, in real life you can have conspiracies where a whole bunch of people are jockeying for position to topple one another even as they do nasty things to other people (“Godfather” comes to mind, sort of), but there’s no way I could hope to tell that kind of story, and frankly I have a hard time following them.

    Really, there are only so many things that you, the Gentle Reader, can keep sorted-out in your head as you churn through a story (allowing also for the fact that the book gently bonks you in the head as you read a book before (sic) going to sleep, as I often do). You have to present the scenes in some sort of sequence, and the reader has to know (remember) going in what’s the starting context, and he’s got to “park” his memory of what happened during the scene until the next time you decide to pick up that thread again. (How many times have you flipped back through the pages of a story, looking for a past scene so that you can understand what the heck is going on in what you’re reading now?) Too many of those threads and, well, you know what happens to threads and wires when you stuff them into a sack even for a short time. Weave a bunch of dependencies between the story-lines, and you just risk robbing all of them at once of their impact, both within and between themselves.

  23. MikeR

    Postscript – and not to give too much away 😉 – I’ve focused on the grand-story line first, but along the way the sub-stories presented themselves as a way to expand upon your perception of the principal characters, and to give them something to do as the grand story proceeds. They reflect upon the grand story because you see some characters from two different angles by their role in each of the stories in which they have become involved. And, the grand story reflects on them as it to some degree overwhelms and trumps them all.

    Which does create an interesting conundrum for at least one of the sub-stories – “what if the whole damm ship sinks?” (No lifeboats.) The grand story’s inexorable path turns the entire sub-story upside down and backwards with the once-fighting characters still locked in it. Suddenly the number of losers in the grand story, or at least the number of stakeholders that are unwillingly bound to it, has risen to three.

    To pull that of – -if- I can pull it off(!) – I am designing the sub-stories against the same basic story patterns and principles, slightly simplified, and trying to make each one complete unto itself. They share characters, but the characters do not share concerns between the stories except to the extent that all of them are bound to the grand. The stories stand alone – or would have, had the ship not sunk.

  24. Robert Jones

    Mike–I’m not a big fan of the “cast of thousands” school either. I can follow such stories if done well, but I don’t like having to flip back through pages myself. If it happens once or twice, maybe my mind just drifted. If my mind drifts habitually, then it becomes the fault of the book…and the writer. Readers do become confused if a story fragments into too many facets. Not to say that people shouldn’t write complex stories. Because I don’t approve of dumbing things down a lot either. Clarity is very important. Having a strong concept/premise, and hero/villain is also primary. But I think writers need to be realistic with themselves. How many characters does it really take to get your story across? And if you do opt for a large cast, are you certain you can make all those characters come alive on the page for the reader? Are you sure they are all really contributing to the story in a way that lends significance to their being there? If not, they don’t belong in your story. In fact, they will become a minus quality that drags everything else down with them. If you’re writing about an entire town, can the general aspects of that town be summed up by a handful of key players to symbolize the separate aspects of feelings and arguments of the many?

    Again, all of this is what looking at those 12 character archetypes can help with. Each role should do as much as possible for the story.

    I like a meaty story, or the occasional big book, but they involve a lot of my time. If it’s time well-spent, that all for the good. If I’m disappointed, then I start thinking about the two or three other novels I could’ve read in that time span.

    What you’ve described with the two sub-stories sounds very doable because they are both impacted to some degree by the grand story and the characters intermingle. There are many fictional stories–and life stories–where larger events sweep up smaller ones. People are impacted all the time by the actions of others. Or one’s actions against another. Because those actions never just effect one person. They effect every person connected to the injured party by degrees. Events, especially large happenings, have a ripple effect.

  25. MikeR

    @Robert – Yeah, it looks pretty good in outline at this point, and it seems to work as a good place to present some of the historical feel of the (real) city at this (real) period of time. “Put a story there.”

  26. Pingback: Weekend Edition – Getting Happier Plus Writing Tips and Good Reads | Live to Write - Write to Live

  27. Robert Jones

    I want to expand a little the archetypal principles I’ve outlined. And try to give SF reader’s their money’s worth.

    As much as I admire Joseph Campbell’s work on the subject of archetypes in fiction, my attempts above aren’t designed to follow precisely in his footsteps. That is ground has been fully harvested in Campbell’s work. What I would like to present writers with are basic blue prints for human nature–expanding on those 12 common archetypes (as can be checked out with the link provided above).


    In terms of fitting your cast of characters together (as MikeR has so eloquently stated) in a way that best suits the demands of your story, the 12 can be a way of gaining insight–either as a starting point for characters, or for sparking ideas for existing characters. However, the 12 not only provides a set of characteristics, but also the type of groups each of the 12 characters gravitate toward, plus psychological orientation…as depicted on the wheel below:


    Psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung, in his works on the human psyche, divided the 12 common archetypes into three basic psychological orientations:


    He then invented the wheel, expanding that into the “Four Cardinal Orientations”:


    The wheel allows various psychological combinations to be made of these traits that exist in every human being in much the same way we’ve discussed building any other traits for characters.


    Understanding your character’s psychological orientation can provide a thesis for each of your characters. Just as every story has its core concept, every scene its mission, so too does every character have their thesis. It stems from the archetypal core of their being. It’s what drives them and defines their arc within your story. And just as declaring the concept of your story can fuel it with intention and purpose, so can a mental declaration for each of your characters do the same for them.

    How many times do writers have to sit back and wonder how a character might react to a specific set of circumstances? Which usually says we haven’t spent quite enough time with that character yet to understand their psychological make-up. Writing them with such behavior patterns firmly in mind makes those decisions (and those of your character) much clearer. You won’t have to be in search of reasons. So I will submit that just as there is a search for story until your driving concept is defined, so there is a search for character until their thesis is defined. It’s more than just a mission statement that declares their goal/purpose for your story. It is the inner programming that states their psychological bent in life. Like a Geiger counter, it directs them. And like a form of brainwashing (which is precisely how all human belief systems operate), it can at times render a character helpless to perform tasks that are not with their archetypal programming.

    That’s life. And it’s fiction emulating truth. It can be painful for some of your characters. It might even be painful to hear for some authors.


    This goes straight back to–and hopefully clarifies–what we’ve been discussing in terms of heroes and villains. Your villain, who may have a case of tunnel vision so acute that his programming has blocked out common decency, or the ability for compassion and love. Example: The psychological bent here is going to be strongly in favor of EGO fulfillment. But it also is derived from desiring a kind of ORDER, perhaps SOCIAL behavior from fellow workers, family, society at large. And yes, to your villain, this is a kind of FREEDOM.

    You hero has these same traits albeit in different proportions. Maybe FREEDOM is at the top of their list, followed by a strong sense of ORDER through law and legal process. He may desire SOCIAL reform as a way of freeing others. And there’s definitely an EGO behind this because the task they’ve set out to complete will not be easy. They need to believe in themselves and the value of their goal in order to achieve it.

    These traits come in various proportions for everyone of us and each of our characters. Understanding in what combination they go together, what the drive is that fuels their desire, the programming that holds them to the path you’ve devised for them–this can be worth more than gold to writers.


    All of this adds up to one things at the end of the day: your own programming. Everything you’ve ever done or experienced, every book you’ve read, movie you watched, person you met, has left an impression. All of it becomes the ingredients for who and what you are–and everything you will become in this life. For the writer, that becomes the passion that we pour into every character, scene, and page.

    Wherever you are in your craft, a type of search is going on within yourself. You may want to be the next so-and-so, the author you most admire, who inspired you to come to the blank page. You might be hitting road blocks, struggling, or wondering if the idea you just had is too corny, too outlandish, to offensive. Maybe you know someone already whose delicate sensibilities will be shocked by the very notion and you hesitate, possibly disregarded the idea entirely.

    A writer is an explorer. And we are not just in search of a story. We’re in search of a way to tell that story, portray our characters, let what’s inside us bubble out onto the page. It takes bravery. Maybe even a bit of secrecy and self control not to show your work to others who may not be writers and therefore not understand the process. What it comes down to is our own archetypal core, our own programming. We have to trust where it’s taking us. There may be a lot of unwanted programming to get through in order to get out of your own way. But no writer ever succeeded without putting their heart and soul, blood and sweat, grievances and passions into their work. For the page is your FP, your programable cell waiting to be impregnated–not just with your story, but with every emotion behind every moment.

    Does life imitate art, or art imitate life? It’s an age old question. The answer is this: Life is a work of art. Your life and the life you are creating. Your work is your brainchild and you are the parent, creator, God–the creative force who spawned it. And it lives or dies with your willingness to give it breath, unconditionally, wholeheartedly, and without reserve. Your children are gifts to the universe, dreams and desires fulfilled, because they hold nothing back.

    That’s the magic.

  28. Robert Jones

    Looks like the image of the wheel I inserted into the post didn’t work. Here’s the link again so you don’t have to go searching for it. The wheel is near the bottom of the page. If you haven’t looked at it, or seen it before, it’s an interesting way to remember that all archetypal traits can be combined to fit into the four cardinal psychological orientations…which are found in all of us in one combination or other. A useful tool to copy, bookmark, and keep on your desk while creating characters.

  29. MikeR

    @Robert – Your most-excellent recent post also points out to me another way to approach the same angle. Not only can you “consider how a character would react to a certain set of circumstances,” but you can also -design- your character to (tend to) react in a certain, dramatic way. In other words, first plot out the major action beats that you want in order to tell your story, then look for personal characteristics that would resonate in interesting ways in those situations. The situations are contrived (by you), as is the character. If you have made the whole thing consistent and believable by salting the story with other behaviors that seem to be consistent with the character’s views as they will be expressed in the major scenes, it should work. I’ll believe almost any character as long as I perceive him to be consistent with himself. Even if I don’t like him. Even if I’d scurry straight to the next -town- if I saw him walking towards me on the street. 🙂

    Also – everyone has a darker side. We arrange a lot of our lives in nice, acceptable ways that reflect how we want ourselves to be. Maybe when we’re drunk, or when we’re really angry … or when our worlds start to fall apart, thanks to the fact that we are a Fictional Character in the world created by that (Not-So) Gentle Author. 😉 An altogether different side to our personality comes out. Once again, as long as it’s not so radical and/or so unanticipated that it smacks of “deus ex authorica” (“I couldn’t figure out how to weasel out of this box I’ve written myself into, so I reprogrammed the character …”), it should work.

    As the story builds toward its climax, the characters who are, after all, living on that sinking ship will act differently than they did in the first-class lounge as the ship set sail. You can decide what that difference should be, just as you decide everything. Then, go sell it to the reader, bit by bit, so that when your moment of truth “hits the fan,” they’ll believe you.

  30. Robert Jones

    @Mike–Makes good sense to me! I know you can totally pull off your story. You say you haven’t been at this very long, but you’ve picked up a lot as far as I can see. Also, what you mentioned earlier as “experiments” to fit your characters personalities into what best suits the facets of your story shows your common sense and logic are leading you in the right direction. So trust your instincts. Your story idea has always been an appealing one. All of which leads me to believe you have many odds stacked in your favor and I’ll be able to read that novel one fine day.

    Historical research takes time. Learning craft and plotting a novel also takes time. Fortunately I had an interest in the period I’m writing about before I began planning this novel. Yet I still ended up doing more research. You always hit unexpected avenues you aren’t completely prepared for in such cases. Just keep moving through the work and it’ll come together. I have faith in all you’ve said and believe that you WILL do it 🙂

  31. Juan Too

    Greetings again Robert!

    Thank you as always for the wonderful advice!

    I am revisiting the format I have in mind for my story with what you say here in mind. I am still struggling, but the attempt is there.

    I can see possibly focusing more on one of the villains in particular, the one that traditionally gets the most focus, while perhaps modifying to include a couple of subplots that incorporate the others (basically the ones that fall out of the story first), although ironically the villain that gets the highest billing probably has the least to do with the story as a whole. The villain that interacts the most with the hero, historically, is a rather colorful figure in his own right, conspiring with either “side” and not above killing family (married *and* blood) to get what he wants. He does die before the end of the story though, and truth be told it is he that probably is most instrumental in bringing about the final conflict (even though he is dead for some time by then).

    The *really* bad guy succumbs to a horrible disease, but otherwise is fairly peripheral to the story other than being responsible for the prevailing political climate that brings about all the conflict to begin with.

    To be sure…I do understand that “simple is best,” and that readers are programmed to understand “good vs. evil” in a very black and white way. This story is so gray it’s hard to imagine and very challenging to present, hopefully in an engaging way, but the punchline is somewhat anti-climactic other than the repercussions culturally…which is the intended moral of the story.

    I suppose I could take artistic liberty and gloss over some things and put a high polish on others to create a formulaic format…it wouldn’t be historically accurate and would probably lend itself better to a screenplay (should that ever be an option), but it wouldn’t be “true.” And since the story I intend really focuses on truth, that does seem a crucial matter to me.

    Alternately, I could take the Dan Brown/DaVinci Code route and write about the era from within the context of some imagined thriller…but I think that again would counter the intended conclusion. My goal is to immerse the reader in the period so they can understand why things happened the way they did, ultimately giving the reader an “Ah-Ha” moment.

    This is not to take anything at all away from your advice, I can see immense practicality in it, and I would not advise otherwise if writing commercially.

  32. Robert Jones

    Hi Wes–It would seem a question of whether your story would benefit more as fiction, or non-fiction…though both can share certain aspects in the writing itself, there are differences. What you’re describing sounds like it could lean more towards non-fiction if you are more interested in just presenting facts in a biographical sort of way. However, some of the best biographies are written using fictional techniques, creating scenes and dialogue so it reads like a movie.

    That being said, fiction and story structure are flexible canvases. And the best writers find ways to tweak it to fit their story in interesting and creative ways. Just so long as it speaks to the letter of the law, as it were, and told in a way that meets the criteria of the major story milestones and structural criteria. And it sounds like this one be made to do all of those things and not fall into formulaic notions.

    What came to my mind when you were talking about your villains and how some of the really bad one’s die first is that you might try a sort of “passing the torch” technique. It might look like one villain is the main villain because he seems to be quite ruthless. Then–surprise, he ends up dying, thus passing the torch (and the primary POV to the next villain and the next). The key here would be to make whatever villain is stepping up to the plate and inheriting the primary POV for the role of “evil,” really believes they will be the winner. So long as by the end it comes down to one villain, one hero and that punchline you mentioned has enough of an impact, I think it all sounds quite probable. More than that, it’s factual, if I understand what you’re saying in that this was based on real events.

    Is there one side (hero or villain) that has more of a victory by the end, or benefits more from those social repercussions? Or is it more of a bitter-sweet victory where the end didn’t justify the means? What you’re saying sounds quite intriguing and presents a number of possibilities. Because whoever wins the battle, it sounds like they didn’t quite see those repercussions coming. And that makes for a certain kind of ending that fits in with what I previously said concerning Mike’s story. Whenever there is a event of great impact, it creates a ripple effect that never effects just one person. It’s the type of victory that smacks of irony–and an ironic ending is often the very best of endings.

    So it sounds to me like you’ve got a very meaty subject and an intriguing story to tell. One that’s very doable and salable to an audience.

  33. MikeR

    Indeed, some of the best “biography” writers employ the techniques of fiction to make their stories come alive on the page – because life itself is the ultimate story. Although the biographer can’t “concentrate” the story beyond the realm of what actually happened, a good biographer does present the tale in such a way to show that the outcome of the character’s life, from that character’s real-time point of view, was never a foregone conclusion. By bringing out the aspects that traditional history usually overlooks (if only to avoid putting too many seveth-graders to sleep), they can sometimes turn history into a page-turner.

  34. Robert Jones

    @Wes, Mike, and anyone else still following the commentary:

    This has been a very exciting week. I want to thank Larry for allowing me to take the reins and share some of my theories. I would also like to thank every who read, shared twittered and commented as well. Larry will be gearing up for a new post soon. Meantime, I would like to address recent comments and make a recommendation that I think will help those looking to add depth to their villains.

    First off, I agree with Mike, history needs to be made contemporaneous or it can easily become a lesson instead of an exciting story unfolding before us. It needs to have all the elements of suspense, danger and intrigue that any good tale has–or why bother? If it doesn’t penetrate our curiosity, it won’t appeal to an audience. And if it’s a part of history that been neglected, then that’s because it hasn’t been presented correctly previously. This leads to two basic avenues for the writer of books. They are the same basic choices a screenwriter faces when adapting a novel to screen:

    1) If the material you are adapting contains a wealth of information (uncovered by you careful and laborious research), you can structure the facts like any other story, using the major events as milestones and shifts that progress your story and write it as entertainingly as possible under the banner of non-fiction. This would allow the writer to be as true as possible to events as they occurred and take advantage of the precedents set by history. This depends on how greatly the period has been documented, how interesting the characters are, and the writer’s understanding of both the people and time which they are writing about.

    2) The second choice is that the writer reads the accounts, closes the history books, and does their own interpretation of the story. This allows the writer to draw some of their own conclusions about facts and character motivations if not provided by history–even if they believe their conclusions to be the only logical one based on the facts presented. Because if it’s not presented by actual documentation, it’s still conjecture. So a fictionalized version of history may be preferable, possibly even essential, in some cases.

    Either way, it’s the writer’s call. History has been interpreted and reinterpreted by writers from the time it was first set into type. Often accounts will not agree. Other times events will be skewed over time in favor of, or against, people and events that were depicted very differently in past accounts. Opinions, both persona and political, are always influential, often conflicting. And since the writer of any modern account wasn’t there to witness these things first hand, we are always going to be giving a fresh perspective, or interpretation of our own, on some level. Because if nothing new and interesting can be added, what we are left with is a rehashing, and a re-presenting of facts.

    Fictionalized non-fiction is a very long argument that could be interpreted in numerous ways itself. In the end, no matter which way the writer goes, they are cutting back to the root–to the archetypal seed of human nature that spawned such events–defining, categorizing, connecting facts using an investigative nature. And finally, making the best possible presentation of those facts. Whether they falls into a biographical account, or a theoretical one, depends on availability of facts and what appeals most to the writer who has to maintain their interest for months, or even years.

    @Wes–I believe I’ve already recommended Larry’s books on story structure. Which will help greatly in terms of defining what those major story milestones are. There’s also a search window on this site that can lead to numerous posts to help with specific problems. Larry has also done several deconstructions of books and films that show how structure works, pointing out how it is used to fit any type of story. All books and movies follow it, and once you’ve recognized it in some movies you’ve seen, you’ll start noticing it in every other novel and film. Witnessing the creative ways in which some writers handle it is the best way to learn how to make it work for you. If you run into questions, you know where to find me. And if I’m not in our usual haunts, I’m probably here at SF, adding my two cents and learning. It’s an ongoing and fascinating process. One that can be as addictive as any other interest, or hobby…so taking that first steps can be a doozy, maybe even a life changer 😉

    My recommendation for lovers of villainy, or any who want to see the world through a villains eyes, is something a little different. It’ll take less than an hour of your life. No longer than an episode of your favorite TV show. Yet, every principle we’ve discussed is presented. No small task in 45 minutes or so. But that’s exactly what “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” does.

    Dr. who, you may be asking? No, no, that’s another doctor entirely. If you haven’t seen it before, “Dr. Horrible” is a one shot story that was originally presented in three 15 minute acts on the internet. It’s a comedy, and also…a musical. Yet from within this obscure format is the story of a villain on his way to becoming truly evil. It might be considered entirely back-story, a journey into villainy we are privileged to share. It may come across cheesy and humorous, but by the end you’ll see the turning point, that line being crossed that we talked about that turns the villain cold and ruthless by giving him exactly what he’s been wishing for all along.

    You’ll also see vulnerability, immediately inserted by the portrayal of Neil Patrick Harris. You’ll like his villain, even root for him along the way. You’ll see the hero through a villains eyes–a corporate tool who falsely and arrogantly upholds the laws of a corrupt system that the villain wants desperately to change. Because he sees the status quo as not being very quo. The world is a mess and he just has to fix it–by taking the power away from the powers-that-be and acquiring it for himself. It’s a portrait of a misguided individual who has a goal that’s worthy, but is also a little power crazed himself because his solution to solving the world’s problems is by ruling it.

    It comes from writer/director Joss Whedon–who wrote and directed Marvel’s “Avenger.” Which we’ve mentioned in this discussion. Whedon is a comic book guy who understands the archetypes of good and evil extremely well. That’s one of the great lessons comic book stories have to share when they are done well. So that fact alone may appeal to some of you, may displease others. Watch it and let me know if you don’t have an “Aha Moment.” The worst that can happen is you’ll laugh and maybe even enjoy the catchy tunes.

  35. MikeR

    Ahh, @Robert, but you neglect to say where those “other usual haunts” are!

    The things that you have briefly discussed in this latest (final?) comment, pregnant as they are, definitely do deserve future re-treatments here in coming weeks.

    A story becomes =hugely= deeper when you find yourself able to “like” the villain, as being someone who confronts a rightable wrong, but seeks to right it in all the wrong (to society, and to victims) ways, for all the right (to him, anyway) reasons. Even though this might tend toward the motives of “comic-book characters” versus other ones, the world of fiction is broad enough to include all types. We writers need to remain imaginative.

  36. Juan Too

    Oh yeah…hard not to like Robin Hood or Bonnie and Clyde.

  37. Robert Jones

    @Mike and Wes–I think what can be said of Dr. Horrible can be said for villains and heroes alike. His comic book traits and the fact that it’s a musical comedy aside. Let’s examine the character as an archetype (I’ll try not to give anything away about the story and spoil it for those who have not seen it):

    –He’s shy, picked on by his fellows, looked down upon by many. In fact, he’s been a victim, a geek, his entire life.

    –He admires the woman he loves from afar. Too shy to ask her out, he loses her to his worst enemy…who parades the fact that he won her in Horrible’s face.

    –He’s smart, an inventor. However, his inventions just seem to fall short of being great and getting him any sort of real credit.

    –He isn’t physically strong.

    What you have are the same qualities you would find in most any hero. He’s an underdog, an under-achiever in almost everything. You can’t help but emphasize. You really want the guy to catch a break.

    And what do we see in life from his perspective. It’s just wrong on so many levels. Unfairness rules. He wants justice. He could very well be the hero.

    His view of the hero is that of a bully. The hero is strong, arrogant–the guy who takes his girl and mocks him. But lets take that a step further. In any story, the villain’s POV is going to be seeing things this way. And even if we could judge the hero as standing for everything we feel is right, if he stole the villain’s girl, beat the villain with his superior strength, intellect, skills at anything, the villain is going to see the hero as everything he stands against. A total uncaring bully who flaunts his victories.

    The hero will probably feel exactly the same about the villain and any victories made on the opposing side.

    This is a good example of taking both sides of the equation. The villain “might’ve” been a hero under slightly different circumstances. As Joel said, they might almost be one another, flip sides of the same coin. These two may have been brothers in the same fight, but something happened that made these guys rivals. Something in each of their lives flipped a switch. It was that imaginary line that one crossed and the other respected–for very different reasons. This has had a moral and psychological impact on their lives. It created that psychological bent for the villain, or possibly a moral high-ground for the hero. And the line in the sand has now become a bone of contention.

    The hero believes crossing it to be akin to moral suicide, or a sickness. It’s the thing that might separate the very nature of good and evil in his mind. It’s an act against all he stands for, perhaps against the best part of human decency as he sees it.

    The villain has come to see the line in the sand as an invisible wall designed by a corrupt system, or moral fools who sit around hoping to make a difference, yet do nothing. Crossing it has become a necessity (or like Dr. Horrible, it was crossed out of circumstances from which he cannot turn back, or change).

    A separation has occurred. The FP cell divides on this line. And the competition begins. A contest to get to the goal, and to prevent the other from reaching that objective first. How far the conflict escalates depends on what’s at stake. But it’s also as simple as proving which side is right. Can the villain ever be right and the hero wrong? Can the lines blur? I think they do all the time. And if your argument for both is truly convincing, I think some blurring has to occur.

    The winner really depends on what type of story you want to tell. Mostly, the hero is the POV that stands for the right–and wins. The villain in crossing that line has almost always gone too far. Then there are the type of endings Wes hinted about where unseen repercussions occur. The lines continue to blur as we wonder what happens next. Cut and thrust…to “The End?” A potential sequel? There’s always the promise of something more to come. Even if it never does.

    They say there’s a balance between the light and dark in everything. Possibly even endings. Which may be why so many have difficulty with endings. They attempt to lose the balance, to make victory too clear cut. I prefer to keep the “Law of Opposites,” or “Opposition,” happening at every level. If everything stems from the core battle generated by the FP cell splitting, this is as universal as it gets. Good and bad are in all things in life. And where that balance is lost in fiction–whether it be on the macro level of plot, or the micro level of a scene–a break occurs. Have that break in your ending, you’ve just jeopardized your entire novel right at the moment when the reader closes the book. Break it in a scene, and you don’t actually have a scene yet.

    I fear I may be opening another can of worms here that could take a while if I got into. In brief: just remember that no matter what you are writing, the essence of the struggle for balance between good and evil must exist. For every victory of evil, there is a spark of hope for good. And for every stroke of good, there is a shadow casting the threat of evil. Divide night and day completely, there’s no tomorrow. Divide good and evil completely, and you have no story. Or a clean break between writer and reader that might be costly. You might think of it as the eternal struggle within your fictional universe that permeates all things.

  38. Jason Waskiewicz

    I found the discussion of multiple antagonists interesting. I have dealt with this in my own book. One of the villains is a REALLY bad man in the larger universe of the book, but I realized he is not the primary villain in this book. There are also other minor villains and antagonists.

    My solution was to focus on one main antagonist. The hero actually only meets him twice: once at the novel’s first plot point when we find out just how evil the man actually is. The other time is near the end. But, this man is the main opposing force to everything the hero wants to do and he is the one who really turned what could have been a nothing into a full novel.

    The others fill their roles under this bad villain doing little tasks that serve him. He is the prime mover on the villain side just like my hero has friends and helpers, but my hero is the prime mover on the good side. My REALLY bad man manipulated the villain, but, again, the focus is on the villain, not the puppetmaster. He’ll get his own book later.

    My suggest for those with multiple heroes and villains is to pick out a top dog on each side. Make the others serve this character’s goals, even if they are working independently. Focus the majority of the time and attention on the main characters. Even in a historical novel, I think one villain can be the primary. For example, if I wrote a novel about the Second World War, Hitler would be a good primary villain, but I might make Admiral Tojo a secondary for his role in Pearl Harbor (which was not something the Germans wanted to happen).

  39. Jason Waskiewicz

    I can’t believe I’m responding to myself, but I thought up a new wrinkle to the multiple hero/villain problem that I want to share. Extra heroes and villains should somehow fill a role that the primary cannot, but which are necessary to the story.

    My hero has mobility issues thanks to a crippling childhood injury. The action takes place on a very primitive planet, so there is a lot that he simply cannot do. His subsidiary heroes fill in the roles he cannot. The main one is actually his eventual love interest. She is the one who does a lot of the traveling he can’t do. Her role is to collect the allies that the hero needs. He isn’t physically capable of meeting them where they are. By the time she climbs a mountain (in one case), meets a vital character, and brings him back, my hero would still be struggling to drag himself up. Another character has the military experience my hero lacks.

    Similarly, my villain is powerful on the planet, but has no influence off planet. Thus, I needed someone evil and powerful to bring in the larger Empire. Also, my villain is top dog, so his mobility is limited. He needs other people to do things like attack the city, kill the hero’s first girlfriend, torture the hero, burn the monastery and library, and perform necessary personal violence.

    So, extra heroes and villains must do what the main one cannot, and they should get far less attention than the main character. I created my outline with 3 columns. The hero got 1/2 the page. The other two columns were each 1/4 of the page. My hero gets most of the attention except for one vital period when he disappears and the cause seems to be lost without him.

  40. @Robert – my pleasure, and honor, to have you here. You are a force to be reckoned with, and respected. L.

  41. Robert Jones

    @Larry–The pleasure and honor are both mutual.

    @Jason–Those are some really good points we did not cover.

    The villain often can’t be–or doesn’t want to be–in certain places. He/she may prefer to elsewhere in terms of supplying themselves with an alibi. Or maybe they have multiple things going on within their plans and schemes. So delegation of authority is often required, or just makes more sense under certain conditions. And so they hire underlings, assassins, a good assistant, people to head up different departments, or branches. They might even be the general leading a group, or an entire army for their cause.

    The hero might have friends and colleagues as well. A sidekick. Or maybe they are in charge of the opposing army.

    Plus I have to say, your hero having a serious disability is very interesting. You’ve taken good advantage of giving him empathy and a weakness–one being derived from the other. Have you given your main villain a weakness, or vulnerability, or a secret fear? What humanizes him, makes him feel human in the reader’s eyes? As previously stated, even the need to control, or win at any cost, can be made to look like a vulnerability. Strength and weakness can come full circle, or be separated by a very thin line as well. Under the law of opposites, I can see your hero gaining great strength and resolve from his weakness. And the villain having a weakness revealed through his great strength and resolve. A mirror view? A turning of the tables where the villain gets to feel what it’s like to be helpless on some level?

  42. MikeR

    Actually, the Grand Evil does not have to “appear,” at least not in a stage/screenplay. As much as I admire the performance of Sir Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter, the most memorable-to-me movie in which Hannibal appears … is one in which he does not appear at all: “Manhunter.” (And I do mean: “does not appear.” No one plays Hannibal.)

    I do heartily recommend this movie. Around noon. Even so, turn on all the lights. Lock all the doors. There is, among other things, a fifteen-minute(!) soliloquy. You will be Terrified, in the most delicious and theatrical sense of the word, “Terror.” You will also be treated to some astounding Storytelling (and therefore, Screenwriting).

    Indeed, as much as I admire the acting of Sir Anthony, this embodiment of Hannibal Lecter – which is in this movie “portrayed by” no one at all – is to me the absolute zenith of this now-famous character. You’ll know the “blue scene” when you reach it, and as far as I can recall, there are no camera-cuts.

  43. Robert Jones

    @Mike–I’ll agree with that. “Manhunter” has a lot of 80s film atmosphere and some very interesting directing by Micheal Mann. But for people who like villains, I would also say that they should rent, or buy, this on DVD. The extras menu on the DVD version adds a whole different level to the film and they also discuss things not in the film. I can’t imagine seeing the film and not having those extras once I viewed them.

    In fact, thanks for reminding me about this one. I think I’ll put it on my short list of movies to watch again soon. Then maybe we can discuss the finer points afterward.

  44. MikeR

    DVD? “Extras?” Never thought of that (yet). I, too, must make it a point to get this movie “on plastic.”

    And, to those “Gentle Bloggers” who do not yet know what we are talking about – “yes, you do need to Own this one.”

    “Manhunter” is an exceptional demonstration, IMHO, of pure-theater and of pure-storytelling (hence, of “pure story”) in what is classically an über-visual medium. Because Hannibal does not appear, his entire presence in the movie is Story. It is, therefore, an altogether different treatment and an altogether different interpretation of this enigmatic character, which should be compared and contrasted – entirely without judgment – against Sir Anthony’s subsequent portrayals of him.

    Indeed, I think, this point bears emphasis: “a character can exist in a story, even when he is not there.” Especially (perhaps …) when “he is not there.” The Hannibal Lecter of “Manhunter” is (IMHO) somehow liberated, and thus made all that much more Evil, by virtue(?) of being an Evil that exists only in your mind, -and- only in the mind of the other characters in the play. No one in “Manhunter” ever sees Hannibal Lecter, and neither do you.

    What you =do= see … is brilliant Theater. I don’t want to rob “the blue scene” of its theatrical power by describing it any further. Just notice – yes, do – yes, do notice oh-so-carefully – how “the personal pronouns” change. Yes, they do. They do. 😀

  45. Robert Jones

    Tonight: “Manhunter,” watch it if you can.

    It’s been a while and I can’t recall all those things Mike is talking about. When I mentioned watching it later to my wife, her reaction was that the movie seemed a bit dated to her. This can be a problem when recommending films to people who view style as whatever they are used to currently. Yet capturing a slice of their time is one of the great things about movies–and, as I recall, “Manhunter” does feel very 80s in terms of its cinematic style.

    What I would challenge writers to do is look at the characters in spite of their trapping, or period, because times change in terms of style and technology, but human nature is a constant.

    What loomed as the big evil during the 80s was the constant threat of nuclear annihilation. Today it’s terrorism and biological warfare. The common denominator is fear. One might say that the great subtext of life, the eternal struggle that’s permeated everything, comes down to the battle of Fear Vs. Hope…which is just another way of saying Good Vs. Evil. And that battle is alive and kicking in spite of the times.

    Let’s harken back to my original post and expand on this a little. because i think looking at life now and 18 years ago, when this movie was made, might serve us here.


    It’s worth saying a hundred times: The core story, the division of the FP cell into two sides, good and evil, is the universal fabric that binds all. And it looms as a subtextual cloud over both life and fiction.

    Side 1) Comes at us daily in the form of mass media bombardment. Whether is takes the form of nuclear missiles, germ warfare, terrorism, it is the antithesis of hope. In fact, you will hear few things that make life worth living from this front. They are selling a nightmares of distrust and fear. And taking it to heart it becomes a type of germ warfare, or internal terrorism that perpetuates itself like any other disease.

    Side 2) Resides within the hearts of those who stand against such notions, that realize there must be a better way and it’s a battle worth fighting. They don’t take everything at face value because their better judgment–the truth that’s in front of us all–is that humanity still harbors a lot of good…a lot of reasons to hope and dream.

    These two notions loom over us every day. And depending on where you place your perspective, one or the other is waiting to engulf you fully. But alas, perspectives are tricky things. They shift and sway as the waves rock the boat one minute, steady it the next, then its rocked again by something else. I would call that a constant struggle for many…or the “Eternal Struggle” in it’s current form. The more altruistic among us maintain their hope in things like a friendly greeting of a neighbor. The pessimist might find fear by looking out of a window at that same neighbor and eyeing him with suspicion.

    The fiction writer is charged with telling the truth through fictional lies.

    The media is given the task telling lies that masquerade as the truth.

    Both sides are designed by writers, their pens decidedly mightier than any weapon forged. If you’re a writer reading this, you’ve probably already chosen a side and have become a soldier in this eternal struggle. Other folks who are non-writers have also taken sides that make up the many branches of a tree as old as time itself.

    Is it any wonder that books have been burned and writers lined up and shot during high points in the never ending battle throughout history?


    The hero, taking on the symbolic mantle as emissary for Good, might see things things this way:

    They seek strength by uniting humanity, educating people, uniting them with an equal chance to pursue their dreams in life. Traditionally, on the side of the good we will find hope, love, courage, freedom. Without such things, our dreams, like so many, become superfluous.

    The villain, taking on the mantle of evil, sees uniting humanity as chaos. On there side we traditionally see things like wealth, power, greed, segregation. If everyone did whatever they pleased, the system that supports their wealth and power base would crumble. Their own schemes and dreams become meaningless.

    This is arena in which the battle is fought. It’s about what each side has to lose as well as what they might gain. It’s about the future. And it’s about protection of the standards to which they both believe.

    Every hero and villain will find themselves here. Their reasons and goals may all seem quite different, but this is the archetypal ground upon which the battle will commence.


    Each side has it’s reasons. And either side is right from their POV.

    The Hero might find a better way by establishing a foundation for life that is not based in monetary gain, or class systems steeped in petty prejudices–design by who? And in the end, maybe everyone would be better off, happier. No more white noise spouting the constant threat of doom and gloom hanging over everything we do.

    The Villain, on the other hand, may believe that his vigil of fear and separation are totally necessary. That if humanity is not bound by a common enemy they fear and fight against, that we would soon be at each other’s throats and we would find ourselves thrown back into the Stone Age from chaos unbound, the nature of the beast becoming unleashed. For without the common focus brought about by the white noise, humanity would crumble into extinction.

    It gets harder to see which side is correct when you come up with a convincing argument for each, isn’t it? In a sense, both sides are fighting the same battle, fought for different reasons. And this takes us to the underpinnings of why the hero and villain could almost be one another. This is the soil the FP cell was grown from. Yet when it divided, the balance was thrown into constant flux. The eternal struggle began.

    Some say the balance created by the struggle is a necessity, that the hopes and dreams of both are interdependent. Because without opposition, there is nothing worth fighting for, no motivation, nothing to prove. If one side should clearly win, there would be complacency, then death.

    Therefore, no hero could exist without villainy, and no villain could exist without heroism.

    Too philosophical?

    I don’t think so. Understanding the battle, the subtext derived from that First Pattern that became the archetype for your conceptual vision, is the key to making both sides of your argument–and the hero and villain that sprang from it–something truly interesting and memorable.

    And that’s the point of archetypes. We could go all the way back to Adam being (man’s symbolic FP) formed from the primordial clay by the hand of his creator. The better we understand that clay, it’s texture and components, the better we can can shape it into our vision.

    Like twin trees that sprang from a single seed, no matter how straight and narrow the trunk of your hero grew, no matter how twisted the trunk comprising your villain became throughout the courses of their individual circumstances (devised by you, the writer/creator)–this is the primordial stuff that life, and the very notion of fiction, first took shape.

    Whether a story takes place in 1986, or 2014, the cloud that’s looming is the same–though it’s face may have changed to fit a new day. If you’re like me and still have a few old VHS movies you’ve taped from TV during that period, and the recording spills over to catch the “then” current headlines of the 11:00 news, you’ll see those different faces spouting the same threat under a slightly different guise. Hence, the battle of good Vs, evil is not called “The Eternal Struggle” for nothing.

    And capturing a bit of that subtext in whatever period your story takes place is a very good way the writer of fiction can make their readers relate. Because the struggle is the same regardless of time, it pulls the reader into the battle of an unfamiliar time and makes them feel comfortable because of the familiarity. And it’s something everyone can relate to, yet many writers neglect.

  46. Robert Jones

    Hmmmm…did I say “Manhunter” was made 18 years ago? Try 28. I seemed to have mentally skipped over an entire decade with that one…LOL!

  47. MikeR

    @Robert – I barely remember the movie at all. What’s indelibly stuck in my mind is … “the blue scene.” That soliloquy. That crime-scene analysis in blue light. The music. The subtle change from “then he” to “then I.” And so on. Storytelling. The ultimate-evil man who was never there on screen. Storytelling.

    There is -so- much that you can do with the written word, and also with performance. Your characters encounter a scene, set the scene, react to the scene, and give a performance within the scene. You, the writer, are: the writer, the choreographer, the director and the cameraman. So, it’s not only about your story and the way that you construct the story, but also how you define and then direct every one of your players, and how you choose to present the whole thing to the third-eye of the reader.

    I don’t remember the story of “Manhunter,” but I do remember and never will forget certain parts of the storytelling.

  48. Jason Waskiewicz

    @Robert – I’ve thought a lot about the villain. Like the hero, he is an illegitimate child. (That’s really bad in the culture of that planet.) The hero had a horrific childhood that included abuse, neglect, and, after his injury, abandonment by the only family he knew. He got off the planet as soon as he was able and didn’t look back until his job took him there 20 years later. Various events related to the story kept him there and, eventually, trapped him there, forcing him into the story.

    The villain found the best way forward for an illegitimate child. He ended up in the priesthood of the dominant religion on the planet and because of how things work there, was able to gain status and power. What really terrifies him is that off this planet and outside the religion, he’s nothing. Unlike the hero, he has never been off planet, has only the vaguest notion of life beyond the planet, and depends on the dominant religion for his position. In fact, this is his big problem with the hero. After his injury, the hero was adopted by a Christian pastor, and the villain sees Christianity as a huge threat to his position.

    The villain doesn’t have much in the way of physical limitations. I thought about that, but it seemed too obvious. He’s a eunuch (that’s how he found success in his religion’s priesthood). He also has the benefit that, as a child, he didn’t stand out as obviously as the hero for being illegitimate. The hero’s father was from off planet and had physical characteristics which just aren’t found on that planet.

    The hero found his way in an Empire that was unfriendly to one with his physical limitations and lack of formal education. In fact, it was an Empire full of technology he had never known as a child, even things as basic as indoor plumbing. He made it because of his work ethic, voracious appetite for knowledge, and desperation to never go home. The villain is much more provincial, but lives in a higher stratum of society than the hero, so he comes across as much more cultured and refined. But, he can’t talk to people from the Empire because he doesn’t know the language, while the hero can manage both languages equally well.

    In all, they share a similar origin, but the villain got all the breaks (except the one that helped him succeed as a priest). The hero has made his own way through hard work, pain, and sacrifice. He knows how to build a life. The villain worked his way up through the system and is incapable of operating outside that system. In many ways, absent that system, the villain is worse than nothing: he’s a joke or a tragic figure. A lot of his reaction and overreaction to the hero is his terror that the hero will destroy the system that makes the villain into someone important. When the hero actually does this by the end of the book, this leads to the blind hatred and brutality of their second meeting.


    I’ve gone on at length and hope I haven’t bored everyone. I’m excited by this novel because there are 9 failed novels in my basement. I am currently on the third draft of this novel. I have never in my life wanted to edit a novel after I wrote it. Something about this one feels different, and I’m really enjoying seeing the story evolve as I clean up plot points and, now, begin to tighten up my wording. I really hope to turn this into something! I find it incredibly easy to slip into the mind of this shy, crippled, quiet hero and have already planned out two more novels to tell the rest of his story. His backstory turned out to be a goldmine. After I finish this novel, the story of who his real father is will definitely make 2 more books. And originally, I only planned this one novel!

  49. Robert Jones

    @Jason–Wow, not bored at all. Thanks for sharing the basis of your story–and hero/villain. Frankly, I would’ve been curious to read it based on the hero’s disability alone. But I think your story and characters have a lot going for them. I feel your excitement and enthusiasm. Which means your story is infected by it. The best stories come from writers who put their guts into it. And their enthusiasm becomes the sun that makes life shine within their fictional universe. That, combined with a cunning sense of craft, could spell something quite special indeed.

    First of all, what hit me is the fact that you have two people from a similar background. Both are essentially outcasts, which means they have to struggle, fight harder just to make some sort of life for themselves. So you indeed have a scenario that splits from a single cell. The division then takes on some really interesting qualities, which are still similarities when viewed through the law of opposites.

    One is living in a technologically advanced planet. But he has to claw his way by the power of his own will and wits to learn to survive because society won’t have him. He has advantages, but is very low on the social totem.

    The other is living in a very provincial world and has had use his own will and wits to gain a place for himself. He has had few advantages but managed to climb very high on his own social totem.

    I would think this could generate a very interesting social clash. Which readers love.

    The fact that your villain is nothing without his religious power base is definitely a vulnerability…of which he is probably all too aware. He’s fought hard to attain his power/control and will fight harder to keep it. It’s very symbolic of bureaucracy, the illusion of power through a belief system, a power that stems from something outside of himself. He may wield that power quite deftly. His ego may have elevated his status to that of gods emissary in human flesh–like so many kings of bygone decades believed they were god’s will on earth. Yet pluck them out of all that, throw them into a foreign land, and what you have is a just a man. Probably throwing off a lot of bluster. But that’s just an attempt to hide the frightened child beneath that ego. Your villain probably feels similar about the planets outside of his control. And the knowledge the hero brings from outside his domain.

    All of which is very fertile soil for fiction.

  50. Robert Jones

    Now on to “Manhunter,” which I did view last night.

    @Mike–I think the fact that it’s been a while since we’ve both seen this movie we both mixed it up with different films in our minds on some points…and we both have forgotten some things.

    The 80s glitz I thought I recalled was not really present in the way I thought it would be. This was a fairly straight forward thriller that held up better than I thought it would. It was filmed with a subtle, relaxed attitude that built as the story went along. The fact that the story moved along in a very linear way, keeping the pace at this level was intended to make it seem relentless and realistic.

    Hannibal Lecter was in the film. Played by Brian Cox, who was the very first to portray Lecter on screen. He only had a few scenes and most were pretty brief. He was in communication with the “Tooth Fairy” killer through a personal column. He had one meeting with the hero, Will Graham, in prison, and talked to Graham once over the phone near the end.

    But since his role was fairly small, I couldn’t honestly remember him being in the film either until I started watching it again. So it’s still a very good example of a villain who is “barely” there, yet delegates authority to a second villain while remaining clearly in control. When he is on screen, he comes on fairly strong and we see the hero/villain connection between Lector and Graham from the scene when they meet in prison early on.

    Graham was instrumental in catching Lecter. Graham has developed some psychological problems since their encounter when he had to get into Lector’s head, think like him, become him, in order to capture him. So even though there is a surrogate killer running loose that Graham is called in to help track down, the real battle is between G. and Lecter.

    Here’s the scenario from Brian Cox’s POV, as taken from those DVD extras I mentioned previously (this is not copied verbatim in my notes, but you’ll get the gist):

    The film is a big dance between Will and Lecter. Will has become “infected” by Lecter. Are they the same, or are they different (those lines do blur)? Will deals with evil. He has mental barriers he needs to take down and put back up to understand how the criminal mind works…how Lecter works.

    L. knows this and realizes it is dangerous for Will. Their mental rapport, where they have touched on similar ground, is something L. can exploit. Just as Will can see into Lecter, so Lecter can see into Will.

    The mirror image has been established. Both men are staring into one another’s reflection from opposite sides of that mirror. In the movie, it’s the opposite side of prison bars. And director, Michael Mann is very aware those bars represent that mirror view. When switching camera POV from inside the cell to outside the cell, Mann lines the bars of the cell up to the exact same places to frame each of their faces in that similar, yet opposing way.

    When will leaves Lecter, he’s emotionally upset. He runs from the prison as if trying to escape the presence of evil. It’s filmed in long shots as Will runs down a series of curved inclines. The long shots clearly gives the feeling that in spite of Will’s running, what he’s running from is surrounding him and making him feel quite small and useless. That shadow (as we’ve previously discussed) is looming large in Will’s universe. Outside at last, Will stares over a railing at the lawn below. The grass is blurred, just like the lines between Lecter and himself. This scene sets up everything that follows in the film for the “Big Dance” between the hero and villain.

    The Tooth Fairy/Red Dragon killer is cold and psychotic. He believes that the more he kills, the more he becomes like God. He speaks frequently of his great “Becoming.” He wants to witness it in the way he positions mirrors in the rooms of his victims…and in the silver mirrors of his victims eyes. Which he extracts. How on earth can the audience sympathize with this guy?

    He meets a blind woman that he asks on a date. Maybe because she’s blind, the mirrors of her eyes being useless. Maybe because her disability gives her a kind of innocence from his POV. He’s very reserved, shy around her. She says she likes to hear him talk because what he says is very direct. She appreciates this about him, feels he is probably a very kind man. And he is kind towards her. She makes the first move and they make love, spending the night together. While she’s sleeping, he lifts her hand to his face and begins to cry.

    Actor Tom Noonan, who played the killer, said that “She is able to touch the WOUND in him unlike anyone else before.” I love the fact that he sees the character’s sickness as a wound.

    But when he sees her with another man and misreads what’s happening between them, we see that wound is still very raw.

    BTW, everyone involved agrees that “Manhunter” is a lousy title. The movie was originally intended to be called “Red Dragon,” after the novel by Thomas Harris. However, some bright lad thought folks might think it was a martial arts film and stamped it with a really inferior title.

    What the movie shows in it’s characters is exactly what we’ve talked about here:

    –Hero/villain similarities, shown as a mirror view of opposites/opposition.

    –Multiple antagonists…one taking the lead role, yet is barely visible in the film.

    –Vulnerability/Empathy for the villain…something that humanizes even the most psychotic of characters in order to make them appear credible.

    There were a couple of other things said in the DVD extras that were interesting and say pretty much the same things we’ve been discussing, but frames it a bit differently. Since people generally need to hear things in a number of ways before they get it, I’ll endeavor to place the actor’s POV before you in the making of this movie:

    Horror is implied rather than explained. Take something flat out horrible and make it seem real. Don’t try to play it up as something overblown. Make it real because that’s life.

  51. MikeR

    @Robert – Yeah, I forgot that the actor who briefly appears is playing the character of Lecter. You can see between the various films just how different the interpretation of this one near-mythic character can be. The (abstract) character of Lecter is =that= powerful, and this is still my by-far favorite interpretation of him … even though I have supreme admiration both for Sir Anthony and Jodie Foster.

    It is … storytelling. I’ve never read the book, although now I probably will. In any case, this movie remains for me a giant demonstration of what storytelling can do. It’s also a demonstration to me of hero/anti-hero. The fight is between Will and Lecter … not the more flamboyant(?) Tooth Fairy. And the nature of the fight is that it in many ways threatens who the hero -is-. The ultimate-evil also works through “good” guys.

    It’s an extremely -imaginative- story, and sometimes I do think that’s a little bit of what’s missing in commercial fiction: “imagination!” Please, folks, never let your story be pastiche. You’ve got a hundred fifty pages of blank paper in your hands. “Imagine” what you can do with it.

  52. Robert Jones

    @Mike–I agree. There’s some solid film making there. And it’s probably more effective, or more realistic, for not having the presence of an Anthony Hopkins. I love the man’s acting, but sometimes big stars bring certain expectations along with them. And you end up looking for a performance, or a performer, rather than just enjoying the story as it unfolds with all of its subtleties.