Sunday, 21 February 2010

Archetypal Characters...

How I Heard About This: Before putting pen to paper I am studying some of the books that were on our recommended reading list for my film degree many years ago. One such book is The Writer's Journey, by Christopher Vogler. I highly recommend it if you want to learn anything more about story-writing.
Main Source: The Writer's Journey, by Christopher Vogler
Backup Source:
Topic: Storytelling/Writing

The role of the Hero is familiar to us all. The word means, "to protect and to serve." Someone willing to sacrifice his own needs on behalf of others. The story, the Hero's Quest is "the search for identity and wholeness." Above and beyond the physical challenges the Hero faces, he must also come to terms with himself, he must change and grow. The audience identifies with the Hero though this process. He's responsible for most of the action in a story, he takes the risks and reaps the rewards (which he probably shares with others).

The Mentor figure is also familiar. Sometimes called, "The Wise Old Man/Woman," or the "Shaman." This is a positive figure who aids or trains the hero. The Mentor gives advice, gifts that will help the Hero on his journey, motivates, and sometimes acts as the Hero's conscience.

There are also Threshold Guardians. Characters whose function is to provide obstacles the Hero must overcome as he struggles to defeat them and strengthen himself for the ultimate battle with the "Shadow" or main villain. Threshold Guardians are stepping stones. As the Hero battles and defeats each of them (or recruits them as allies, as sometimes happens), the Hero becomes stronger, moves toward the end of his Quest.

The Shadow is the threat - the primary obstacle to the Hero's successful completion of his Quest, and should be strong enough to provide a worthy opponent. The Shadow can be the darker side of the Hero that he is trying to suppress. (An obvious example would be the "Evil Duncan" that emerges when MacLeod takes the Dark Quickening in Highlander. The best Heroes, and the best Quests incorporate both internal and external Shadows.)

Something to remember when creating your Shadow is that, to the villain, he is the Hero and it is the Hero who is the enemy/Shadow. We are all the Heroes of our own stories and history is written by the winners. Keeping this in mind will help you create more rounded, more challenging villains.

A necessary archetype is the Herald--the harbinger of change who delivers the "Call to Action" or challenge to the Hero. The Herald can be a minor character, a significant ally of the Hero's, or even an agent of the Shadow. The Call can be an event instead of a message delivered by a person. The way the Call is delivered, and the Hero's reaction to it, can tell the reader a great deal about the story and about the Hero. (Typically, the Hero refuses the Call in some manner characteristic of his internal weakness or doubts before he is persuaded to accept it, thus setting the scene for his struggles with his own nature later.)

The Trickster embodies the energy of mischief and the desire for change. Tricksters cut big egos down to size and, most importantly, provide comic relief that eases tension and brings the Hero (and the audience) down to earth. They also work to make fun of/highlight hypocrisy. Still, the Trickster's loyalty and motives can be in doubt. Is the Trickster an ally? An agent of the Shadow? Or an independent agent working to some private agenda? This character is so dedicated to laughing at the "status quo" and mocking everything around him that his true motives can remain in doubt.

The Shapeshifter can be "fickle, two-faced, or bewilderingly changeable" and functions to bring doubt and suspense to a story. If you find yourself wondering if a character is going to betray the Hero, if the character is an ally or an enemy, that character is probably a Shapeshifter. (The Shapeshifter-Trickster is a common combination.) Think of the femme fatale of famous noir films. Those characters were almost always Shapeshifters. (In mythology, think of Zeus changing into a beam or light or some other animate or inanimate object to pursue a maiden. In those contexts, Zeus is acting as a Shapeshifter.) Shapeshifting can be signaled by a character changing appearance, behavior, or by lying.

None of these are mutually exclusive characteristics. Also, a character can serve more than one function, and his or her primary function can change as the story progresses.

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