Using Mythic Archetypes to Evaluate Characters
I’m still reading Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey, and I continue to be super impressed. Practically every page is chock-full of useful information that I am putting to immediate use. I just finished reading the section on mythological archetypes. I already find myself mapping characters to their appropriate archetypes. As Vogler points out, many characters can serve as multiple archetypes, either at the same time or at varying points in a story. Here are the archetypes:
Hero/Heroine – the protagonist of a story
Mentor – a teacher and/or protector of the hero, think Obi-Wan Kenobi
Threshold Guardian – an obstacle preventing the heroine from achieving her goals
Herald – a character that announces or forces change in the hero’s life
Shapeshifter – a character that is continually changing from the perspective of the hero
Shadow – a character that embodies the darker side of human nature
Ally – a character who helps the heroine achieve her goals
Trickster – a character who keeps the hero from losing his heads in the clouds, usually by taking him down a notch or two; a classic example is Loki from Norse mythology.
By mapping a character to one or more of these archetypes has helped me see how that character should interact with the characters around him. This helps create believable tension and conflict between characters who are friends or allies.
I must admit, when I first picked up this book I was a little bit skeptical. It is bigger and heavier than I like in a writing craft book. But, my perspective has certainly changed. If you haven’t read The Writer’s Journey, I highly recommend you do. You won’t regret it.