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.
Week four of our series is here! This will be the last one, and next week we will be tying up archetypes in general.
The Mentor is probably the single most common archetype in my opinion. No matter where your protagonist falls on the moral scale, they almost always need a little help learning the ropes before they achieve their goals.
You’ve heard the saying “When the student is ready the master appears” or something to that effect. While you can trace the wisdom/proverb to an origin point, proverbs are by nature true long before anyone utters them. So that is where our mentor archetype comes in.
In my first novel “The Crystal Seal” you can also find this displayed in Mistar appearing very early in Cyan’s journey. This is very common in Fantasy, and several other genres as well. But why is it so common? And why (in the Crystal seal) was Mistar at that inn at the precise moment Cyan was there?
The commonality of the mentor is a bit paradoxical if I’m being honest. A story needs flow, and characters need growth. A teacher, or mentor, is the easiest explanation we can accept. Why do they grow in knowledge, strength, status, etc? Because, they had instructions from someone else who knew how.
This is something we all have experienced ourselves. None of us have lived by ourselves, on an island with no contact to anyone, for our entire lives (I know because the wifi there is terrible). We had people teach us a fair bit of what we know and can do. And not all mentors are kind and well meaning. Even bullies, and villains can be mentors too. Oh sure we picked up some things on our own along the way, but a story without any mentor at all tends to enter the dangerous waters of bad story telling.
I’m not saying you HAVE to have a mentor figure take up valuable time that could be spent on awesome X or exciting Y, but you do need to have some sort of consistent and understandable method of gaining new knowledge or character growth. A mentor has already gained said knowledge and growth, and is able to lead the student towards the goal. This is why mentors make poor protagonists (normally, but of course there are exceptions) because there is little room for them to grow.
Now back to Mistar. Why was he in that inn anyway? How long was he staying there? Well the story gives us clues, such as how familiar people seem to be with him, and his tab on the inn is also somewhat covered, so you can guess longer than a night, less than a month? Foreign currency is hard to judge the value of, especially when it’s fictional. Anyway, the story also asserts he wanders, and Mistar himself states he does teach, albeit not often.
In most cases the reason a teacher is standing at the ready doesn’t matter too much. Even so, there should be a reason right? In “The Candescent Vessel” (book two of the trilogy), we get more clues and reason for Mistar being there. Why not tell the reader up front though? Well, if I’m honest, my favorite teacher’s are the ones you don’t fully understand. They don’t need extensive backstory to be effective, just enough to hint at previous growth to show they aren’t completely crazy. But being a little crazy allows the reader some wiggle room in imagining said backstory, which is always fun.
This time I used some examples out of my own books, hopefully that helps explain what a mentor’s role in the story is. They aren’t the protagonist (normally), they are a powerful tool to facilitate growth both in knowledge and understanding for the student and the reader.
So why is it that a teacher appears when the student is ready? Quite simply, it’s because the student is finally open and ready to be taught. There is almost always someone ready to teach, if only the student is open to the lesson. And in my in the case of Mistar with my trilogy? Well, you’ll just have to read and see for yourself.
So week three of the archetype series is here! We’ve covered heroes and villains now. What about the people in between those two? That is where the antihero emerges from the shadows…
So what are these dark characters? Is there any limits they will place on achieving their goals? Why are they some of the most popular characters in modern fiction? Where do we find examples in the real world? And why would you use one of these in your story?
So the anti-hero is a kind of interesting term. If you took the name literally you would think “That’s just another name for a villain”. The anti-hero is not a straight up villain though. In fact most hold many of the same traits as heroes. An anti-hero is normally motivated by a desire to help others (often a single person, or small group of people). It is common that they fight against villains or corrupted individuals. They even normally feel as though they are doing the right thing.
What makes them more like villains, and makes them contrast heroes are their methods. For instance, a hero normally allows a justice system have the criminal. An anti-hero “removes” them, or carries out the full judgement themselves. They tend to see the world as all shades of gray, and are incapable of seeing black or white. Their morals are normally lacking, or have been eroded away. As such they will often go farther than any hero would to achieve their goals. They do tend to have some morals and lines they don’t cross, but these are far fewer than nearly any hero.
You will find that Anti-heroes tend to be dark and gritty. They are written this way to make themselves contrast to your “typical hero”. If they aren’t written as a jagged person, they tend to come off as a crazy or psychotic character (even if unintentionally). These characters tend to mirror our more violent tendency and desires as humans. You know you have wanted to smack that smug smile off that hippocrates face, or break the nose of that bully, or even get payback on that missdeed against you. This is why we find anti-heroes so interesting. They explore the “what ifs” of our darker fantasies.
Will you find these people in the “wild”. Yes, but I hope you don’t especially not as something in their way. They do tend to be criminals, but are ussally the kind that don’t get caught. Occupationaly they are often bounty hunters, mercenaries, and real life vigilantes. The part of society that is on the darker side, that we rather pretend doesn’t exist. I mean we know “bad people” are out there; but the anti-hero is normally a “good person” doing “bad things”, and we don’t like to admit that happens so often.
Back to the world of writing. These characters are good to draw contrast for your heroes. They can be “fallen” heroes, who have had their morals eroded away over the years. They can also be “reformed” villains who have found a new purpose in serving others, but tend to still not have a good moral compass. You could also use them to tell darker stories that might be harder for you to put a typical hero into. Or to tackle the more grim topics of society like corruption. While they do believe they are justified in their actions, the action itself doesn’t have to be a “good” one. They aren’t role models, but they do show that: imperfections don’t a villain make you.
Thanks for reading. You might have noticed I didn’t rant about lazy writers, or modern fiction in this one. That’s because even though these are some of the most popular types of characters out there; they haven’t gotten the abuse that heroes and villains have gotten lately. While it is very possible to write these characters in a lazy fashion; those don’t tend to fly well in the traditional published scene. Even though poorly written heroes and villains have both been squeezing through.
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.
Bare with me everyone, and settle in. This is going to be a long one haha.
What is a hero, why do we write them, do they even really exist? That would be a good thesis statement huh? Well modern writers seem to have trouble writing heroes. They think heroes are boring, and “cookie cutter”, but honestly those are excuses. Excuses being made by lazy writers.
Harsh? Yeah, maybe. But I’m not going to lie, we need heroes.
A hero is a pillar to aspire to. Heroes are a moral role model. So do they come in one shape? No, not really, but not because of what they stand for, but how they reach it. I’m sure nearly everyone has heard of “The Heroes Journey”. Truly a hero is not the end result but the path in which they traveled to become one.
Have you struggled with making the right decisions? Have you had trouble taking the high road when you have been wronged? Do you struggle with being a positive influence with everyone you meet? Is the endurance to keep going on when things become incredibly hard sound like yesterday for you? What makes someone a hero isn’t the “can’t do wrong” or “make’s the right choices”, it’s the struggle and overcoming of hard situations. The kind of situations, that we the readers, would have great difficulty taking action in the same way.
Their morals are not how we don’t relate to them, it’s how we should aspire to be like them. We identify with the struggle, we should seek to become able to also make the heroic decision in those struggles. It is incredibly difficult, and in our world we tend to only see darkness everywhere we look. That is why we need heroes in our stories, morals are instinctual, but do not happen automatically.
We all know when things feel unfair when they happen to us. Why then is it so much harder to see unjust things that happen to others? How can we be so cutting with our words when if those words were turned on us we would cry foul? Is it because we don’t want heroes anymore? Do we empathize with villains and antiheroes instead? Are we content to remain children forever whining about how unfair the world is? Is that not why we write heroes? Are we not trying to show that there is a better way? A responsible way?
We don’t write heroes that don’t have struggles, for if they struggled not they would they not be heroes? Honestly, look anywhere, look everywhere, we have examples of heroes in our world every day. Does the firefighter whine that the building is too hot to enter, or do they duck their head and charge in to search for the trapped people? Do the hospital workers turn you away because you could get them sick? or do they let you in and treat your aliment as best as they are able? Does the police say “nah, there is gun fire over there, I could get hurt” or do they try and stop the violence?
What makes those heroes different then the ones we write is they go through stressful things that a lot of us cannot always relate to. The heroes we write can be shown to struggle with more everyday things and over come them as well. Not to say any of those people in my examples don’t also struggle with everything we do, but when you see them you don’t see those struggles you see their heroic actions. We cannot get inside each others head and read their thoughts (Thank the good Lord for that haha), but in stories we can see that the heroes are not so different from you or me.
So when I hear fellow creatives say things like “heroes are boring” or “heroes are all the same”, I know what they are really saying is “I don’t want to grow up, and writing someone who does grow up and becomes something more is hard”
That’s all I have today, let me know what you think in the comments.
Sorry for the late announcement, but my summer of reading sale is just just around the corner! If you haven’t had a chance to read The Sage of Hytrae trilogy, the next few days are going to be exciting! To both encourage and celebrate summer reading my ebooks are going to be heavily discounted as follows.
The Crystal Seal, The intro into the trilogy will be free for 4 days. Those free days are: July 29th – Aug 1st
The Candescent Vessel, and The Sorcerer’s Gamble (Books 2 and 3 in the trilogy respectively) will be on sale for just $0.99 on: July 29th – Aug 3rd
Thank you all for your support throughout the years, and especially lately. I hope everyone stays safe and healthy, and may God bless you and keep you.