Sometimes I come across information that works almost like a Rosetta Stone. It opens things up to understanding the way things work in writing and helps me look at almost every piece of writing with new eyes. The book The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes is one of those things. *(ooh, baby. i just saw it's available on Kindle.)
At the writers retreat last week I was lucky to get asked to present one of the workshops. My friend Colleen had introduced me to this super useful book a couple of years ago, and I decided it was the thing to share with the women in the pines. She stumbled across it mis-shelved in Bookmans, as thought it were meant for her and only her to find. (Cue mysterious music here.)
The three authors of this book have analyzed and boiled down millennia of literary works. They categorized eight types of heroes and eight types of heroines based on classic and modern literature. Their contention is that all truly memorable heroes/heroines are classifiable into one (or two, if they are layered types) of these archetypes.
When I first picked up the book, I found myself resisting the idea. I thought, I'm not going to use this--I want to create *unique* characters, not stereotypes. HOWEVER, reading on, I realized stereotypes and archetypes are not the same thing. Archetypes have more to do with general personalities, backgrounds that shape their views, and what motivates the heroes in a similar category. Their example (one of them) was that both Captain James T. Kirk of Star Trek and Professor Henry Higgins of My Fair Lady were both the CHIEF archetype. They both made quick, decisive choices, were used to being right and being obeyed, etc. However, if Henry Higgins sat at the helm of the U.S.S. Enterprise, what a different show it would have been.
So archetype does not equal stereotype.
Another aspect of this is that a character can be a CORE archetype (same all the way through the story, like Superman is always the WARRIOR; he doesn't change), or he can be a LAYERED archetype (like Rhett Butler is both the CHIEF and the BAD BOY), or he can be EVOLVING, like my character Buck the sumo wrestler who goes from being the walked-on BEST FRIEND to the WARRIOR who fights for the girl and won't let evil go unpunished.
When I shared the sixteen archetypes with the women, at the end of each explanation, they were able to identify and shout out examples from film and literature (and a few from family and church members they knew, haha) with ease. They're all around. And I think these ladies who wrote it are onto something really useful. The book also includes how different archetypes interact, how the clash/mesh/change when thrown together.
Another friend up there, Donna Hatch, said she uses the Enneagram to help her nail down personality types for her writing, and I can see that being useful as well. But she said she liked this because it takes the hero at that particular moment in time, including his background and what got him to this point--not just the set of personality traits he was born with.
Here's one of the motivational posters my friend Melinda Sanchez came up with and placed around the cabin at the retreat. The theme was "Gone With the Pen," and the ANWA board presented a fun skit using Miss Scarlett (SEDUCTRESS)and Ashley Wilkes (LOST SOUL, I think?) and Miss Melanie (NURTURER) and all the good (archetypical) characters from Gone With the Wind.
And now, back to the snack table. My contribution was this thing my sister brought me when we went to D.C. together a year or two ago. Her neighbor made it. At first I couldn't tell what it was that made it so fantastic, but it's SUPER simple. Now my daughter's teachers request it on the day it's my turn to send the snack. I have to make an extra bag just for them.
WHITE CHOCOLATE POPCORN
4 bags microwave popcorn
4 cubes Almond Bark (or the white Candy-Quick)
Pop popcorn. Pour into large bowl. Melt white chocolate. Drizzle over popcorn and stir. Cool.