Characters: Archetypes

I missed blogging last week due to…well, a lot of things, but mostly because I had too much to do and too little time to do it in. One of the things I struggle with in regard to goals is this weird thing that happens where I will kill myself to reach a goal, particularly one that I’m supposed to do every week, but then if I fall off the wagon, it’s really hard to make myself do it the next time. It’s like I give up – I missed a week so my whole year is shot. That’s why I try so hard to reach ALL my goals. Sometimes it just doesn’t happen and I’m working on making it not so fatalistic if I don’t meet my goals. So that was a long way of saying – here’s this week’s post, about archetypes. J

I struggle with character. A lot. I’ve always loved character driven books and movies but I think in plot. This happens and then this happens and OOOOH wouldn’t that be cool if then this happens? I never think of a character I want to write about first when coming up with new ideas. It’s always a situation or a premise. Or the worst, when I see someone else’s plot and go – I could have done that SO much better (like when I saw the trailer for the Jennifer Aniston movie The Switch, for example…though it was an interesting twist on the secret baby plot).

Hmm. Maybe I should be talking about plotting. I will, in another post, because I struggle with that too. Just because I can think of stuff to happen doesn’t make it the right stuff.

So. I knew I was having trouble with characters and I actively searched for a way to get better at it. I found 45 Master Characters and wow, do I wish I could remember how so I can thank the person who directed me to it. It’s an in-depth look at characters using mythic archetypes. I think my favorite part is how the author gives examples of characters from TV, movies, and books for each archetype. Then you can watch each one, or read the book, to study how the story utilizes the character type. I also have a lot of fun trying to identify the types in new movies I watch, because I find movies easier to analyze than books.

45 Master Characters is specifically geared toward writers and talks about crucial elements like what motivates a particular type. I find it invaluable to develop my characters and surprisingly enough, it also helps me plot. The best way to create a believable, gripping story is to have stuff happen which tests your characters and ultimately helps them complete their character arc. What better way to do so than to understand what motivates them? Nobody walks around looking for tests and growth, especially when it’s bound to be painful, but if properly motivated, you can believe this character is going to walk into the lion’s den gladly.

Another great aspect of the book is how it gives examples of what archetypes can be matched together, especially to help the characters grow. How great is that? It’s like connect the dots for the character-development impaired. And again, ready-made plot, anyone?

Some people don’t like to create characters using archetypes because it’s easy to veer into stereotypes. Here’s a tip for you – don’t do that. Give your characters quirks, a particular way of phrasing things, or a memorable hobby so they’re unique. For example, in the manuscript I recently wrote, the hero wears rock t-shirts, and in each scene from the heroine’s point of view, she notes what band it is to gauge his mood. He’s The King archetype 100% – he’s an alpha male, of course – but I wanted to make him stand out from the other King types out there.

Of course you can create characters from your imagination that are not based on archetypes. But. These types have been with us for a long time because they resonate with people. Resonance = believability and I don’t know about you, but I want my characters to be like real people to readers. They’re certainly real to me after having spent so much time with them and if no one else enjoys reading about them, why bother?

How do you create characters? Any tips you’d like to share? I’m always on the look-out for new things to learn.

4 thoughts on “Characters: Archetypes

  1. I think I’m the opposite of you–I usually come up with character first, and then need to think up a plot to go with it. Like for my YA, I totally came up with the idea of Tate first and then I needed to think of a plot that would make her grow (still working on nailing that one down!)

    I’ve heard about the 45 Master Characters book and although I don’t own it, I’ve read a few excerpts about certain characters and it’s a fabulous resource. If you’ve ever taken one of Laurie Schnebly Campbell’s workshops, she does a fabulous one on characters and their fatal flaws, which has helped me immensly when I’ve been stuck on character.

    I’m not even sure how I create characters, but I think I start with their ‘issue’. Like for Grace in Her Own Best Enemy, it’s her enmity towards Keith that I started with, and then I built on that. Cam’s in Intrusion is his need to win mentality. And then I think about what a person who had those issues would act/think like.

    By the way, I absolutely LOVED how Jesse wears different rock t-shirts and how Alexia uses that to gauge his mood. That’s an absolutely brilliant detail!

    • 🙂 I wish I knew how I came up with that rock t-shirt thing. I need a bunch more stuff like that…

      Isn’t it interesting how our processes are different? I can totally see how you started with Grace and her history with Keith in HOBE, and it works beautifully as a major arc of the story. For me, I was going through 45 Master Characters to help someone else out who didn’t own the book, and as I read the description of the Artist, the character of Kris in The Things She Said crystallized. But I already knew the essential elements of the plot. It just turns out it’s not the plot that the book is actually going to have, mostly thanks to you. LOL

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