Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Archetypes (Revisited)

I felt like I didn't accomplish anything yesterday because I was so groggy, but I hit everything on my admittedly light to-do list. I didn't do much in the way of writing, but I did take care of a few nagging businessy things. I have a few other things that must be done today, and then maybe I'll get some writing work done. Meanwhile, I've discovered that there may not be a way to avoid a preschool story time at the library. I adjusted my time today and still got there when the place was full of rugrats. On the up side, the coffee shop lady was in the lobby passing out samples of frozen raspberry lemonade, and I may have a new minor addiction. Looks like I'll be getting back into the habit of doing my brainstorming and plotting in the library coffee shop.

It was around this time last year that I started doing those posts about archetypes, and I think it may be time to revisit the subject for my "official" writing posts.

It seems that everyone who talks about archetypes means something slightly different or has a different system for classifying them. Ultimately, it boils down to something similar, which is that these are recognized character types that can serve as a shortcut of sorts in the communication between author and reader. As an audience, we're consumers of stories, so we generally know how things work, and we recognize the roles that pop up in story after story. That creates something of a shared language between author and audience, and if there's something universal and recognizable in a character through the use of an archetype, then that allows us to take that much of the character as an understood given, so the author can then dedicate more energy and time to the aspects that are unique to the character.

This is not the same thing as a stereotype. I like to think of the difference as internal vs. external. An archetype functions as the core of a character, as the universal pattern of energy that character brings to the story. Then other aspects of the character can be layered on top of that. A stereotype is a hollow shell, with only the recognizable external attributes of a character type and nothing beneath that. For instance, the Mentor is a common archetype, and we often see this type represented in stories as an older man with a white beard -- think Gandalf, Merlin, Dumbledore and Obi-Wan Kenobi (in the original Star Wars movies -- structurally, he's the hero in the prequels). If all you do to create a mentor character is throw in an older man with a white beard who points the hero in the right direction, you've used a stereotype. But if you're really thinking of the role of the mentor archetype, you'll be aware of the mentor as a representation of the hero's higher self, and your mentor may or may not be an older man with a white beard. If he is, he'll be a more interesting older man with a white beard.

For the purposes of this discussion, I'm going to go with the archetypes that come out of Joseph Campbell's work on mythology, as translated for modern storytellers by Christopher Vogler in The Writer's Journey. These archetypes are about story functions as well as a psychological energy. That then ties back to Jungian psychology. It's a very basic way of looking at characters, and then there are other, more specific archetype classifications that other writers have come up with.

Over the rest of the summer, I'll take these functional archetypes one by one and see if I can make sense out of them.

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