Friday, February 26, 2010
This year I signed up for a novel-writing course with Forward Motion for Writers, a link through the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. Each week we are given an assignment to complete and post on a closed blog where the assignment is read and critiqued by our classmates. At the end of two years we will have completed a novel.
This course is going to be both exciting and boring. I have no doubt I will learn a lot, but the thought of dragging the process out for two years will definitely be an exercise in patience. I expect there will be lags of time where we are doing very little, and other times when we are in a frenzy of writing to get assignments completed.
This week our assignment was on character archetypes. Archetypes are typical or classic examples of characters, a model or pattern for all characters of the same kind. They are recognizable in the sense that they represent an aspect of human nature that we can all identify with.
The following archetypes were part of our assignment:
Mentors are the characters who give the protagonist some kind of education or insight that is needed to be successful by the end of the novel. The mentor generally has had an important role in forming the philosophy of the main character. The mentor archetype that comes to mind for me is Dumbledore for a young Harry Potter.
These are the bad guys who hold the hero back, be it physically or in the form of information, from getting what he needs. These characters can be actual guards or gatekeepers the hero has to get past by either fighting or negotiating. Overcoming the threshold guardian is usually a point of change, and after they have successfully triumphed over the threshold guardian the hero is typically stronger than before. Draco Malfoy was likely a threshold guardian who gave Harry the opportunity to fortify his will and evolve.
This person announces the hero’s quest; the required accomplishment the main character needs to achieve in order to be successful. The herald provides the protagonist with a challenge of some sort, which moves the character toward the work they need to accomplish. A notable herald would have been Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars.
This does not have to a literal shapeshifting beast, but rather a character that changes roles in the book, such as the backstabbing friend who ends up saving the main character’s life. The shapeshifter may demonstrate both sides of the tale by showing the lure of good or evil. They represent betrayal and change. The Senator Palpatine in Star Wars is a great example of this archetype because he appeared good but was really evil.
The shadow is the dark archetype, the evil villain who has real motives for their evil beliefs and behaviours. Sometimes there is a shadow character who is the villain’s devoted helper who may be acting out of power alone, making them personify evil even more than the villain they are devoted to. Voldemort and Darth Sidious were shadow characters, where Darth Vader was the devoted helper.
This archetype is the amusing sidekick, like the sassy little sister or the traditional mythological trickster figure. The trickster creates ambiguity in absolutes because they are less about right and wrong. Sometimes they lead the main character astray, but not to be intentionally harmful. They may lighten the story with comic relief. The Weasley brothers fit the trickster archetype nicely.
When we assign an archetype to a character it helps clarify that person’s role in the story as well as provide an overall theme of the story itself.