Archetypes Bring Power to Stories

Story structure is embedded in the subconscious of every reader or movie viewer. So is character archetypes.

Archetypes inhabit stories of every genre. If you're new to writing, you may not have understood what experienced authors meant when they talked about archetypes because most beginning writers think they're just going to make up characters in their made up stories.

What those beginners don't realize is that all stories from the beginning of time to present day, are peopled by the same character types with relationships that recur again and again.

Just What Are Archetypes

Carl Jung used the term archetypes to describe common character types, relationships, and symbols. If you'd like a better understanding of this fascinating subject, study The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler or any of the other books about mythic story structure. Gaining an understanding of the archetypes that occur in all cultures and eras will be a major asset for you as a writer.

Think about any good book you've read or any popular movie you've seen. I guarantee you the characters in either represent the Character Archetypes as related by Vogler and many others who have written books about these. Get this, these archetypes can be male or female although later works break down the archetypes differently and identify female archetypes differently. I like Volgler's delineation of the archetypes.

Meet the Archetypes

1. Hero is the character who is on a quest to achieve something and who will change during the progress of the story. (Hero refers to male or female.) In the Bourne movies, Jason Bourne is the hero on a quest for his memory.

2. Mentor (also called Wise Old Man or Wise Old Woman) is the positive character who aids, teaches, trains, or nurtures the hero to aid him in his quest. In the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, Gandolf is the Mentor.

3. Threshold Guardians aren't necessarily the villain or antagonist in your story. They're usually the minions whose job is to keep interlopers, like the hero, out. They're a challenge to overcome. In action movies, they're the hired thugs who keep the crooked boss secure.

4. Herald is a character who is the harbinger of change either by issuing a challenge or announce a significant change. In Star Wars, the first appearance of Darth Vader is a herald of change.

5. Shapeshifter is a character who changes appearance or mood. They're difficult to pin down and cast into strict roles because they may mislead or behave in ways contrary to expectation. The female love interest is often the shapeshifter character in books and movies. In some stories, the hero may be a shapeshifter if he's never what he seems on the surface. In The Blacklist, Raymond Reddington is a shapeshifter.

6. Shadow is a representation of the dark side. Like the old radio serial that was made into a movie starring Alec Baldwin (look for it on late night television) says: "Who knows what darkness lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows." The Shadow Archetype is the villain or monster who opposes the hero. Or sometimes they may just be opposed to the way the hero goes about achieving his goal. In Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal Lechter is a Shadow.

7. Trickster is the character who's usually the comic sidekick, but there are trickster heroes too. The energy and desire for change is embodied in this archetype. Most of Eddie Murphy's early huge hit movies cast him as a trickster hero, i.e. Beverly Hills Cop or 48 Hours.

Remember, every character you can create has a lineage dating back to prehistory. Knowing the archetypes and how they relate to each other will bring power and authenticity to your writing.

Takeaway Truth

What's your favorite movie or book? Can you recognize the archetypes cast as hero and villain? Leave a comment with your email address and be entered to win an audiobook edition of one of my romantic comedies.

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