So now that I have covered four of the most common archetypes, we should talk about why I have covered them.
Archetypes exist for a reason, they are things that exist throughout littature, reguardless of region, language, or religion. These are not things that any one author created, but something the collective of all creative minds have shared throughout time. While it isn’t necessary for all or even any to be used, they are effective literary tools that are easily understood.
What is the reason I felt like I should toss my voice in the wind? There are a lot of modern stories which are attempting to challenge the archetype system and writers who claim it is boring and predictable. This is a problem with story telling at it’s core.
When we tell stories, we want people to understand them. We want the reader to: learn whatever wisdom we wish to impart, entertain for a measure of time, and be able to tell others about the story. This is true for almost every story ever written, reguardless of origin.
So why are archetypes used, it doesn’t seem like they are nessarry? Well, it all comes down to the first and last goals of a story.
The first goal of a story is to be understood. There are lots of things we do to accommodate this. We use a common language, the proper use of grammer, use words that can be understood, provide context for words or ideas being introduced, and the use of recognizable story elements. This is effective communication at its most basic. So if you remember; archetypes exist everywhere in the world, and are practically universal. As such, when you use them the readers can easily understand the basic motivations and premise of the tale without having to strain themselves.
This ties into the last goal of a story as well. If a story is easily understood it is easier to remember. We want our stories to be memorable, the reason is two fold. First if it’s memorable then it’s both easier to convey your message or wisdom into the mind of the reader. Secondly it’s more likely they will share your story with others.
A story lives and dies in the mind of the reader. The text on a page or screen only help guide the mind to create that story. No one would have a best seller novel if the story wasn’t memorable. This is why we should use archetypes correctly. They are tools to help people understand the story.
If they understand it, they can remember it. If they remember it, they can share it. If they share it, the story never dies.
I didn’t introduce the series last week, but I will be exploring some of the major archetypes in littature over the next week or two. Last week I dived into the Hero, so in case you missed it you can find it here: https://christopherjhillger.com/2020/10/08/the-hero/
This week we are exploring the villain. What makes someone a villain? Why do we write them? What are examples we can find in the real world? Are they easier to write like many modern writers claim?
Villains are simply antagonists right? Just someone who opposes the main character, and is only a literary device… Well no. In grade school I was taught that yes, but after diving into creative writing it is clearly false. Villains are in simple terms individuals who’s motivations are solely derived from self serving desires. They will then do whatever they deem necessary to fullfil those desires.
That is a much broader way to see villains huh? Is it true though? Villains are the opposite of heroes, we can probably agree there. Heroes serve others first, so it should stand to reason villains serve themselves first. Heroes go through struggles and over come them keeping higher morals intact. Villains also go through struggles, but sacrifice morals if they deem it necessary to over come those struggles.
So why do we write them? Again, in simple terms, it is to build contrast in the world building. Without villains we don’t see how keeping morals intact is a difficult process when the hero achieves it. It is also easier to understand strife when you can put a face to it. In this way, villains are commonly the antagonist of the story. But that role isn’t what defines them, as we already covered eariler.
That is all well and good in your fantasy land Chris, but what about here in the grayscale that is life? Where are the villains here?
Good question prospective reader. We find villains in our world everyday. From orginized crime, to politicians (not really a range between those huh?), from corporations, to lawyers; villains are all around us.
Now before you come out to hang me, yes there are morally upstanding people in all of those examples (well, maybe not the politicians), but that is more the exception than the rule. In general, most of all those things are completely self-serving. They exist to accumulate power, profit, privilege, and influence, and rarely will avoid tarnishing any morals in the process, especially if the easiest path sacrifices them. In this way I fundamentally disagree with the old saying “you either die a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become the villain”. Villains are not born out of worn out heroes, they are born of their own choices along the path of their life.
So, as many modern writers say: villains are more interesting, and easier for readers to connect to right? Wrong!
Villains are easier to write. You don’t have to come up with personal struggles, sacrifice, and meaningful growth to create villains. Heroes are more difficult to write, because why would you keep your morals when you could just break them and get what you wanted now? That is how villains think, they feel heroes are naive or simply uneducated. How then are they more compelling? They are infinitely easier to write though. I don’t need to justify actions with villains, I don’t need to show moral or personal growth with a villain, I don’t need to inspire the reader with a villain. Sure you Can write a villain with some or even all those things, but with heroes you Have to, so it is harder to write those.
In closing, our villain worshipping modern littature disgusts me. I see it as nothing more than lazy writing from children unwilling to grow up. But, in strife, in the muck of the world is where heroes are born. Not out of self-serving desire, but out of self-sacrifice and serving others. We all can rise up and become better people and writers if we simply refuse to compromise our own morals.
Last week we started this series of the Basics of Writing with world building here is a link in case you missed it: https://christopherjhillger.com/2019/07/09/basics-of-writing-world-building/
This week we are diving into some of the basics of Character building. I feel like this topic doesn’t need me to explain why it is important, I mean what kind of story is it if you have poorly built characters? That isn’t to say that books haven’t been written with bad characters, but such stories tend to be forgotten. After all, your characters are (typically) who tells your story to begin with.
So, how do we build a character anyway? Well, it helps if we start with an archetype. You have many to choose from, the “everyman” to “paragon” to “mary sue” just kidding don’t use that last one. Now, please understand me here, Do Not stick to an archetype solely, or force a character to only fit in one category. Sticking too strictly to an archetype tends to make your characters boring, and stagnant. You do need to utilize them however, because if you say have a character that switches what category they fall in rapidly without good reason you will only confuse your reader. I mean, we didn’t see Frodo (everyman) turn into Gandalf (paragon/sage) in the end of the Fellowship of the ring.
So lets build a character from scratch right now.
Ok, so we are going with “everyman” in this example. It is can be a common archetype for the main character of a book. They are easy for the reader to relate to, and tend to struggle with similar things that most people struggle with. They don’t normally possess any extra ordinary skills either.
What kind of physical traits should he/she have? Well, we should probably make sure they are close to “average” maybe a little taller/shorter, a little more/less strong than their peers, and have a certain yearning to become something more than what they are now.
So lets make this a female character, who is a little taller than average, and while lacking extra strength physically she knows how to use her height to win a fight if she needs to. She has brown hair that sits just above her shoulders in length, and has a natural wave to it. She has fierce green eyes, and a thin face with a few freckles on her cheeks.
There we go. We have the appearance of a character, but that is only the beginning. Now you need to have a couple story decisions before you can do much more. For instance, is this your main protagonist? Lets say she is, what kind of character traits should she have? Well kind and loyal are both normal protagonist traits, but we don’t want to fit the mold too closely so how about we go the route of loner and suspicious of others?
We have a couple of character traits now, that’s a good start. But it doesn’t mean much without context now does it? Which is what the first part character building truly is at its core: Giving the reader background information about characters in a story over the course of many chapters. You can start your first chapter and revel your character’s appearance, and even dominant traits within the first few pages. Explaining as the story goes on what struggles they face going forward, and have already faced help the reader to understand what this character is all about.
So say about five chapters in you find out that due to the betrayal by a close family friend, she lost her younger brother to a group of bandits and doesn’t know if he is even alive. That would explain why she tends to be suspicious of others and why she tends to be a bit of a loner.
The next part of Character Building is growing your characters over the course of the story. Our green eyed protagonist is forced to work with another girl and that girl’s brother in order to proceed the plot. This makes the character uncomfortable, and forces them to adapt to new situations they have previously avoided. Being placed in uncontrollable circumstances is another trait of the “everyman” and one that is fairly universally kept.
Now you have a growing opportunity for the protagonist. They could work with others better as a result of this situation, voice their distrust which could lead to emotional growth, or even out right fail and see it as justification of their previous feelings causing them to grow more callous towards others. Growth is necessary regardless of what traits your character ends up growing into. It makes the reader gain more emotional connection to the characters, look at Harry Potter. He started something of an “everyman” and towards the end took on the mantle of “the hero”. That growth took place over several books, and countless situations. In the end he even changed archetypes (which is also okay, when there is enough supporting information for it).
You as a writer weave the story, and build the world, and the characters within it. By using effective world building, and character building you can write memorable stories for people to enjoy for generations. These are your two greatest tools as a writer. You must learn how to use them effectively if you wish to create great stories, and further yourself in the art. Of course you can also just use the information to make better creative narratives for a school assignment as well, so to each their own haha.
That is all for this week, I hope this explanation made sense to all of you.
Until next time, may God bless you and keep you.