Choosing the right templates.
In 1871 anthropologist Edward Burnette Tylor proposed that mythology and literature often follow a specific pattern. Eventually this pattern would be filtered and added upon by several others and eventually solidified by Joseph Campbell. It would come to be known as the monomyth or “the hero’s journey.”
For the next weeks I’ll be doing a little bit of a run down on this theory, including my personal thoughts and criticisms on it. I hope you’ll find these things useful in your writing. I use the term archetype to cover a broad spectrum, from the anthropomorphism of set character traits to the flow of the story.
Let me start by saying that I don’t fully support this theory. From a folklore standpoint, for instance, it shows a severe amount of selective sampling. There are several myths and theologies that only fit if you use a large hammer. What parts do match aren’t part of any grand unification theory for literature so much as they’re simply a part of the human condition and, to us, are the purpose of telling a story.
It’s not that all good stories have contained those things. It’s more that if you remove some of those things, you defeat the purpose of telling the story. They are core things that I can comfortably say you should do in a certain way. I’ll get to that at a later journal, provided I don’t get… squirrel!
Some of the metaphysical crap that’s been attached to it… well, by wording it that way, I think I gave you my opinion. I do believe in some metaphysical things, but the hocus pocus attached to the monomyth is a little over the top for me. Like I said, there’s nothing special about having things a certain way in the story. It’s just the purpose of telling the story—nothing more or less than that.
I’ll start by explaining the concept of character archetypes in a story. A character archetype is a little like a template for designing your characters. Just like a basic template, it gives you an outline, but leaves additional details up to you. You’ll hear some different definitions than mine. Hear them out but remember Chaaya’s first rule of writing: There are no hard rules.
As with a lot of things we’ve talked about; this is something that can be overdone. Like the first Sword of Shannara books, where you can point to each character in turn and say, “This one is Bilbo and this one is Gandalf…” you can rely too much on the template and take away any chance of creating depth to your characters. There’s no depth when you can see the bottom. That’s where my “gives you an outline” comment is coming from. When you use these archetypes be careful to fill in the inside yourself.
I’ll start with the hero. The MC. The personification of yourself in the story (unless you’re me. I’m not Sajani). According to Joseph Campbell, the hero needs to go through some trials and then come out different than when she started. Seriously? It took an anthropologist to come up with that? The difference can be subtle (it is in the first two Sajani Tails) or it can be fairly drastic, like it is A Ship Called Hope. I’ve used the term before: Bildungsroman. That’s what is expected of your hero. To be honest though: if you end in the exact same place you started, with no change to the character or the environment, then why did you bother trying to tell a story?
The reason I’m covering this, even though they are pretty obvious, is to make you more conscious of their presence. It can help the planning or the pantsing if you are actively thinking of the role your characters might be playing in each scene. It can also confuse the crap out of you, in which case, ignore me.
There are more specifics to the plot, but I’ll cover that when I cover… plot.
The next archetype I’ll cover is the mentor. I learned this archetype as the old man, but I guess it’s mentor now. In my books it’s the same every time—it’s Benayle. This is the person that guides the hero through her journey or acts as an advisor. I’ll mention it here because it’s going to come up later, but a particular character can fill more than one role and you can have multiple characters filling a role as well. That’s true of the hero as well.
Also, the archetypes don’t necessarily have to be filled by a person. Benayle isn’t around to help Sajani directly in the Ship series. So while he does fill the mentor role by sending help and fighting the opposition on his end of things, I use a series of books that Gregor and Sajani have read as a way to give advice they need—The Prequel to Alpha series. The hero of those books is very similar to Benayle and the young pair learns from and receives encouragement from the books.
This archetype is almost a no-brainer for showing up
in your book. Let’s say you’re writing a book about someone going on a lunch break (don’t laugh. It’s been done) and the server hands the hero a menu. Guess what? The hero learned something from that menu. That menu could be called a mentor archetype. So could the server.
We’ve covered two archetypes today and hopefully you can see what I’ve meant about not being impressed with the theory. I chose these two in particular because not only are they among the first you’ll encounter in a tale, they’re also two that you will most likely automagically have in your story. (There is a case of a book where there’s a main character that isn’t a hero and makes no change over the course the story. It’s called The Difference Engine. It seriously bucks all of this.)
Next week, I’ll get into other archetypes—some that you’d be hard pressed to leave out and some that are fun to have, like the trickster.
As always, thank you so much to my few followers. I do this for you. Hopefully it gives you some insight into new ways to enhance your writing. You can find additional information on the internet about this topic. I suggest doing a search for “Glove and Boots: hero’s journey.” I don’t recommend the Wikipedia article. It’s pretty awful.
May you keep running forward and never look back.