Saturday, May 29, 2010

Welcome Vickie McDonough

Developing Characters Using Archetypes
By Vickie McDonough

I’ve often been asked how I create the characters in my books and generally respond, “That’s a tough question.”

It is tough, because like a baby in a womb, a character will start as a tiny idea, then grow and develop as I spend more time thinking about him or her. They sometimes develop because of the plot. Say my character is a marshal—this is probably a good time to mention I write mostly historicals. A marshal is brave, tough, not afraid to put his life on the line, so it’s safe to assume he’s probably an Alpha male. Tall, strong, self-reliant, and a protector of the innocent. Can you imagine a Beta male as a marshal? Think computer geek with a gun. It reminds me of that old Don Knotts’ movie called The Shakiest Gun in the West. :)

I’m not saying you couldn’t have a Beta male as a marshal, but that would be a whole different type of story, probably about a man learning to conquer his fears to protect the people he cares for.

Some writers use character sheets with long list of questions to develop their characters, while others use tests like the Myers-Briggs or The Four Temperaments. What I’ve found that works best for me is a book called The Complete Writers Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders.

The word "archetype" was coined by Carl Jung, who theorized that humans have a collective unconscious, "deposits of the constantly repeated experiences of humanity.... a kind of readiness to reproduce over and over again the same or similar mythical ideas...." This shared memory of experiences has resulted in a resonance of the concepts of hero and heroine that transcends time, place and culture. Jung called these recurring personalities archetypes, from the Greek word archetypos, meaning “first of its kind.”

Author Tami Cowden states, “These archetypes are not the inventions of my coauthors and me – they have existed for millennia. All we did was name and describe them, and then gather examples from an assortment of cultural media."

 Heroes and Heroines promotes that there are 8 male and 8 female archetypes.

  • The Chief
  • The Bad Boy
  • The Best Friend
  • The Charmer
  • The Lost Soul
  • The Professor
  • The Swashbuckler
  • The Warrior

The book gives a complete description of each archetype, including their strengths and weaknesses, which I’ve found extremely helpful in developing 3-D characters. The Warrior is an archetype I’ve used in several books, such as Luke Davis in The Anonymous Bride. Here’s a brief description of...

The WARRIOR: a noble champion, he acts with honor. This man is the reluctant rescuer or the knight in shining armor. He's noble, tenacious, relentless, and he always sticks up for the underdog. If you need a protector, he’s your guy. He doesn’t buckle under the rules and he doesn’t go along just to get along. Think Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, Russell Crowe in Gladiator, Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

You can see how this type of archetype would work well for a marshal, a determined rancher, or detective.

  • The Boss
  • The Seductress
  • The Spunky Kid
  • The Waif
  • The Free Spirit
  • The Librarian
  • The Crusader
  • The Nurturer

An archetype I often use for a heroine—think of Jack (Jacqueline) in The Anonymous Bride—is The Spunky Kid. (For those of you who’ve read my book and are saying, Jack’s not the heroine—just wait until the third book comes out)

The SPUNKY KID: gutsy and true, she is loyal to the end. She is a favorite of many writers, and for good reason. You can’t help but root for her. She’s the girl with moxie. She’s not looking to be at the top of the heap; she just wants to be in her own little niche. She’s the team player, the one who is always ready to lend a hand. Think Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle, Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, Mary Tyler Moore in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act, Fiona in Shrek.

So, after I’ve thought about my character some and what they will be going through during the storyline, their character begins to take shape. By then, I know which archetype they are and can use the book to help me develop them further.

Another aspect of Heroes and Heroines is that it shows you toward the end of the book how the different male and female archetypes will clash and mesh. This is fabulous info! Let me show you how I used this to plot in a book I haven’t yet sold. It’s called Gabriel’s Atonement.

Gabriel is a gambler, and he’s a Chief archetype. He’s knows what he wants and goes after it. He’s decisive and can read people well. On the negative side, he’s stubborn, usually unsympathetic, and has learned to get what he wants by using the System rather than being a rule-breaker. He is well-liked among his peers, but doesn’t have a close friend. If challenged, he tends to be amused rather than angered.

Enter Leah, my heroine, who is—no surprise here—a Spunky Kid. She’s a single mother with a young child, a rebellious teen sister, and a grandfather who is ailing to care for. She is reliable and supportive of others and never looks for a handout. Her gutsy perseverance makes up for her lack of experience.

So…Gabriel has accidently killed Leah’s husband, and when he discovers the dead man has a wife and young son, he seeks to return the money he fairly won from the man. Leah doesn’t believe her no-account husband had any money and refuses Gabe’s help. He’s determined to help her whether she wants him to or not. Enter conflict.

He believes his work (gambling) is important, where she believes in God and family. But, when the chips are down, The Chief and Spunky Kid are there for each other. He realizes she is someone he can depend on, while she discovers he’s a man who follows through when others don’t. A grudging respect develops. He learns she can’t be bullied into doing anything she doesn’t feel is right, while her positive outlook on life and her humor bring laughter into his world for the first time in a long while.

I could go on, but I hope I’ve shown you how Heroes and Heroines can help you develop your characters. This isn’t the only book out there that writers find helpful, but it is the one I’ve used the most.

The key is knowing why your characters do what they do. What motivates them? Tami Cowden states, “Any archetype can do anything – the question will always be why.”

For a little fun, which archetype do you think these commonly known movie characters are?

Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic
Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Ark
Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz
Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone

Vickie would will be picking one name out of those comments leaving an email address (U.S. and Canada only). The winner will have the choice of one book on Vickie’s website.

Second Chance Brides, Book 2 in the Texas Boardinghouse Brides series, releases Sept. 1st.
Vickie McDonough is an award-winning inspirational romance author with 18 novels and novellas published. The Anonymous Bride, Book One in her debut trade fiction series the Texas Boardinghouse Brides, released in April. Vickie was recently voted 3rd Favorite Author in Heartsong Present’s annual readers’ contest, and her book, Outlaw Heart, placed 2nd in the Favorite Historical Romance category. Vickie is currently the ACFW treasurer, and a founding member of WIN, an ACFW chapter in Tulsa , OK . She is a member of RWA, CAN, Women Writing the West, and OWFI. She is a wife of thirty-four years, mother of four grown sons, and grandma to a feisty four-year-old girl.

To learn more about Vickie’s books, visit her website: Vickie is a regular contributor at She’s also a Facebook and Twitter member, although she’s not too active on either.


Vince said...

Hi Vickie:

I enjoyed your post on archetypes. I see the different types as a little like the color mixing chart on Microsoft Word where you can make your own color by mixing any set of colors you want. This way you can 'mix' any hero or heroine to exactly fit your story.

What I love is the part where it shows how the different archetypes will react to each other. This is material I would never think of.

I can't see the words “Spunky Kid” without thinking of the daughter in “True Grit”. I just loved her. In fact, “Spunky Kid” may be my favorite type of heroine.

BTW: When is your next book signing in Tulsa?


vmres (at) swbell (dot) net

Vickie McDonough said...

Hi Vince,

I love your analogy of the archetypes and the color chart. That's great! Most of the times, I know what archetype my character is before I open the Heroes & Heroines book. I use it to flesh them out and see how the h & h mesh and clash.

I did several book signings in April, but I don't have another one scheduled in Tulsa in the near future. I'm doing one at the Mardel store in Edmond on July 17th. Email me if you want some autographed copies, and I'll work out something with you. There's an email link on my website:

Anita Mae Draper said...

I've added a book review of The Anonymous Bride to my blog in case anyone wants to see what it's about.

Although I don't mention The Spunky Kid's role in my book review, I have to admit if this book was a movie, Jack'd be up for an Oscar.

Excellent resource, Vickie.

Joanne Brothwell said...

Hi Vickie,
I used that same Archetype book when I was developing the characters for my novel, Indigo Blaze. I do believe my heroine starts out as the waif, but evolves into the crusader, and my hero starts out as the bad boy and transforms into the warrior.

Thanks for the review!

Karyn Good said...

Great post, Vickie! I think I've got a Warrior and a Nurturer on my hands for one wip. And a Charmer and a Boss for another wip.

I will definitely check out my writing group's library for the book you mention.

Vickie McDonough said...

Anita, Thanks so much for posting your review of The Anonymous Bride and for inviting me here today!

JoAnne, You bring up an excellent point I didn't mention in my article. Archetypes can change. A person can start out one archetype and change to another because of some event they endure or because they grow as a person.

Karyn, I can see where your heroes and heroines have some excellent potential for clashing and meshing. :)

Unknown said...

Hi Vickie,
I enjoyed reading your post & the comments. I've also been wanting to tell you that I love all your book covers!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Vickie,
Thanks for telling us about Heroes and Heroines. I love archetypes and this book sounds like an an interesting way to use them.

Not having read the book, I'm doing some guessing, but here are my answers to your movie character questions:

Leo Dicaprio in Titanic - The Charmer

Harrison Ford in Raiders of the Lost Arc - The Swashbuckler

Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz - The Spunky Kid

Kathleen Turner in Romancing the Stone - The Librarian

Thanks for joining us on the Prairies today.


Josanne said...

I love this Archetype material. I saved it in my documents for writing. I will definitely look for the book. And if I were to guess the archetype for Vickie McDonough, it would be Nurturer turned to Spunky Kid! I have read Anonymous Bride and it is wonderful. A joy to read and hard to close for the last time. I am excited to get into the sequel as well. But in the meantime, I'd like to check out Outlaw Heart.

Liz Fichera said...

I guessed the celebrities exactly as Jana did, although I wonder if Leo DiCaprio in Titanic couldn't fall under Lost Soul too.

Helena said...

Fascinating post, Vickie. Heroes and heroines always baffle me for a while, but as you say, I do get to know them better as time goes on. I will be sure to check out the book to help me flesh out my characters as I write.

hekhmk at sasktel dot net

Vickie McDonough said...

Jana and Liz,

You're very close. In fact you got three out of four correct. Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz is actually a Waif. A Waif is the original damsel in distress. Her child-like innocence evokes a protective urge in the beastliest of heroes. But don’t be fooled, because the WAIF has tremendous strength of will. She won’t fight back; she’ll endure.

I drew names, and Liz is the book winner. Congratulations!! Liz, please visit my website: and see which of my books you'd like to receive then use the Contact page to email your choice and your address to me.

Thanks so much to everyone who left comments. And thanks, Anita, for having me as a guest!

Liz Fichera said...

Whoo hooo! I'll be popping over to your web site shortly! Thank you!