Tag Archives: Characters

Archetypal Characters in Storytelling

The hero, the mentor, the sidekick. We’re all familiar with archetypal characters in storytelling. We’ve seen them before. We know the roles they play.

Archetypal characters shouldn’t be confused with stock characters or stereotypical characters. Although we’ve seen all these characters before and will surely see them again, stock and stereotypical characters are based on character traits; archetypes are based on the characters’ function or purpose within a story.

Characters’ Function in Story

Archetypal characters fulfill a specific function a story. The herald signals change or the beginning of an adventure. The mentor imparts gifts, skills, or knowledge to the hero. The threshold guardian tests the hero or blocks the path forward.

Stock characters feel familiar because they embody a personality type — behaviors and attitudes that we’ve seen in similar characters before. The tough guy, the girl next door, and the wise old man or woman are all examples of stock characters. They may serve a purpose in the story (somebody has to serve the main characters at a restaurant), but what stands out is their personality, which sometimes feels cliché.

Stereotypical characters reflect social stereotypes, which are widely held and often inaccurate or misleading beliefs about groups. Stereotypes occur when traits, behaviors, and attitudes are assigned to an entire group. They often based on race, religion, gender, or geographical origin, and they are usually negative. Stereotypes make irrational assumptions about individuals based on the group to which they belong.

How can we tell the difference between an archetype, stock character, or stereotype? Let’s use the Knight in Shining Armor and a Damsel in Distress as examples. The damsel functions as a plot device, providing the hero with a goal (to save her), and the knight functions as a hero whose primary goal is to rescue the damsel. But the function these characters perform within a story (to save or be saved) need not be assigned to a damsel or a knight. A child could save a puppy. A witch could save a wizard. Or a lifeguard could save a swimmer.

If we remove the personality traits, we’re left with the function: give the hero someone or something to save, i.e., an archetypal function.

Archetypal Characters from The Hero’s Journey

Joseph Campbell discovered archetypal characters that exist in stories throughout time and across space. He presented his findings in the Monomyth (or Hero’s Journey), and Christopher Vogler later adapted Campbell’s findings in his book, The Writer’s Journey. Let’s take a look at the eight archetypes of the Hero’s Journey:

  • Hero: Protagonist who undergoes a meaningful transformation over the course of a story and who often changes the conditions of the story world for the better.
  • Herald: Signals that an adventure (or change) is imminent.
  • Mentor: Teacher and guide.
  • Threshold Guardian: Blocks a threshold that the Hero must pass; tests the Hero.
  • Shadow: The villain and other characters that stand in the Hero’s way; often they embody the Hero’s negative or undesirable traits.
  • Shapeshifter: A character or entity whose motives or intentions are unclear.
  • Trickster: Comic relief; Tricksters are often catalysts for change.
  • Allies: The Hero’s friends and helpers.

You’ll often see these archetypes in various combinations in storytelling. Some stories may not use a shapeshifter while others might have more than one trickster. A single character can embody multiple archetypes. For example, the character that performs the function of the Herald might also be a Trickster. The Mentor could act as the Threshold Guardian.

Other Archetypal Characters

The Hero’s Journey isn’t the only source of archetypal characters. There are other types of stories and other archetypes in fiction. Here’s a small sampling:

  • Anti-hero: This is an inverted hero, the protagonist is not likable or engages in despicable or immoral behaviors.
  • Audience surrogate: A stand-in for the audience, to inject questions and thoughts on behalf of the audience.
  • The Chosen One: A type of hero who is destined for greatness or tragedy rather than earning it.
  • The Cynic: This untrusting character often provides skepticism or challenges the status quo.

This is just a small sampling of archetypes you might find in fiction. You can have a lot of fun identifying archetypes, but make sure each one performs a function rather than represents a behavior or personality type. A common archetype I’ve noticed is The Oppressor, a character who uses their power to rob other characters of their rights, freedoms, and justice. The Misfit is a character that doesn’t fit in with mainstream society and either learns to fit in or eventually learns to be true to who they are.

Using Character Archetypes

Character archetypes can come in handy during the story development process. You might write a draft or outline and feel that it’s missing something. Maybe your story needs one of the character archetypes to mark the stages and progress of your protagonist’s journey.

Have you ever intentionally used archetypes in your stories? Are there any character archetypes you’ve noticed in fiction that aren’t mentioned here? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment, and keep writing.

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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3 Types of Conflict and Why You Need to Use Them

Conflict is necessary for all stories. It doesn’t matter what kind of story it is — novel, short story, mystery, romance, thriller, children’s, adult — it will always need conflict. In order to keep the plot interesting and exciting, some type of conflict must be there. It gives your characters obstacles they have to overcome before they can reach their goals.

But how do you create conflict for your characters?

3 Types of Conflict

Conflict can come in innumerable shapes and sizes, but they can ultimately be broken down into one of three categories. Are you using these three types of conflict in your stories?

1. Conflict between your characters

Characters can argue, disagree, disobey the others’ wishes, keep secrets from each other, betray each other, and do many other things that would cause two or more people to butt heads. The most common kind of conflict between characters is when the protagonist and their enemy end up in the same room together.

That’s not to say friends and family can’t fight, though. In fact, conflict between allies can make a difficult situation a thousand times more interesting.

2. Conflict between your characters and the outside world

When events outside of your characters’ control occur — unexpected illness, a sudden loss of money, a death in the family, an injury, global events, etc. — characters are forced to react. Whether they deal with their situation in a poor or healthy way is up to you, the writer, but nevertheless, it reveals a truth about your characters and feeds the fire of your plot.

3. Conflict between your characters and themselves

This is quite possibly my favorite type of conflict, mostly because it can be the most frustrating for your characters. When there are problems your characters have no power over, they can place their anger on an outside person or object. But when the problems your characters face come from themselves, they can only turn their anger inward.

This can be difficult to write, but if it is portrayed well, it is extremely rewarding.

Internal conflict can result from your characters losing faith in their religion, deciding whether or not to break or bend the rules for “the greater good,” wrestling with addiction, doing what’s right versus doing what’s easy, feeling out of control, and more.

Experiment With All Three Types

Stories can have any one of these possible types of conflict, or they can have all of them. What matters most is that there is plenty of it and that it is carried out in the most interesting way possible.

Avoid clichés, play with characters’ relationships with each other, put your characters in the most difficult situations possible, and think about how they will handle these obstacles in a way that is true to their personalities.

What’s your favorite type of conflict? Let us know in the comments.

By The Magic Violinist
Source : thewritepractice.com

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Personalizing Your Character’s Emotional Wound

Emotional wounds are tricky to write about.

Abuse, betrayal, victimization, and the death of a loved one may exist in our characters’ pasts and so must be explored.

But these are also real life events that cause damage to real people.

So as I talk today about personalizing wounds for our characters, please know that I’m aware of the pain they cause in our world, and I applaud the courageous individuals who fight to come to grips with them every day.

Why Wounding Events Matter in Fiction

Wounding events greatly affect a character’s development, so they’re important to identify.

These painful experiences are deeply impactful, giving birth to life-altering fears, new habits and behaviors, even flaws meant to protect her from facing that pain again.

Wounding events are aptly named because they change who the character is; until they’re faced and addressed, she will never be whole.

But pinpointing what that event might be for a character is just the first step.

Traumas affect people differently; something that would destroy one character may have no lasting impact on another.

The wounding experience should be one that stops the protagonist in her tracks, making it impossible for her to achieve that story goal that will result in personal fulfillment.

However, you can maximize the impact of a traumatic event on a character by making it more personal.

You can accomplish this by knowing the following factors that can impact a wound and incorporating them into your story:

Personality

Some people are simply better equipped to deal with difficulty than others. An anxious or embittered person may find it harder to deal with a traumatic event than someone with an optimistic outlook or an adaptable nature.

So build the necessary traits into her personality before tragedy strikes.

Support

A strong support system is hugely helpful in facilitating healing for a victim. Loyal loved ones, a steady faith, or a supportive community can make it easier for someone to spring back, whereas a victim suffering alone may have a harder time.

Physical Proximity

The closer the danger, the more traumatic it can be.

A violent bank robbery may impact the employees, the customers, a security guard, etc. But the teller with the gun stuck in her face may take longer to recover than anyone else.

Emotional Proximity

It’s harrowing to be conned by a stranger, but someone you know causes even more damage, breeding self-doubt and making it difficult to trust others in the future.

Responsibility

It’s commonplace to replay a horrific event, picking it apart to figure out how it could have been avoided. This often results in the victim blaming herself, even when she was in no way at fault.

So if you need to intensify an already difficult circumstance, add an element of self-blame.

Justice

Seeing the perpetrator pay for what he’s done often provides closure that can set the victim on the path to healing.

On the other hand, knowing the criminal is still out there and free to strike again can cause a wound to fester.

Compounding Events

A trauma is horrible enough, but it often sets other events in motion that the wounded character is ill equipped to deal with.

Someone who has lost a child may also face divorce, be unjustly blamed, or lose a job due to depression.

Compounding events are the equivalent of someone kicking the victim when she’s down.

Just as you can use these factors to make a rough circumstance more difficult for your protagonist, you can also tweak them to soften their impact on other characters.

So as you dig into the backstory to unearth your characters’ pain, consider how deeply you want them affected.

Despite having experienced wounding events of our own, applying them to our characters can be daunting.

I’ll be lurking around the comments section to answer any questions.

Thank you, Jerry, for hosting me today!

By: Becca Puglisi
Source: jerryjenkins.com

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Five Things Your Characters Need

Many writers and readers will agree that the most important element of any story is its characters. There are certainly exceptions: some plot-driven stories are quite compelling and successful. However, readers form their deepest connections to stories through the characters by developing relationships with them and caring about what happens to them.

Naturally, we want our characters to be realistic. We want them to resonate, to come alive in readers’ imaginations. We work to give them distinct voices and personalities, extensive backstories, and vivid descriptions. We do all of this so readers will develop an emotional bond with our characters.

All of these aspects of characters make them seem more like real people. But there are five essential things that often get overlooked, and these are the critical ingredients of the characters’ function within a story.

1. Goals

What is the point of any story if the protagonist isn’t working toward a goal? It can be a simple goal, like getting into the best college or falling in love. It can be a meaningful goal, like making a deep and lasting personal transformation toward becoming a better person. It could be a momentous goal, like saving the planet.

Almost every story involves a goal at the heart of the plot. The main characters on the protagonist’s side are working toward this common goal, but things get interesting when they each have their own personal goals too.

Let’s imagine a story about a team of mercenaries on a mission to take down an enemy combatant. That’s the central plot, the common goal shared by the main characters. But what if the enemy once saved the life of one of these mercenaries back when they were serving together in the military? What if that mercenary feels an obligation to return the favor? Things get infinitely more interesting.

When characters have a combination of common goals and personal goals, there are more opportunities for conflict and challenges, and a story becomes more dynamic.

2. External Conflict

It’s only interesting to watch characters work toward a goal if achieving it is a struggle. The external conflict might be the cause of the goal (aliens are invading, so we must save the planet). But external conflict can also interfere with the goal (the protagonist wants a promotion, and her best friend wants the same promotion). External conflict can also change the goal (a high school graduate was about to study engineering at college, but now he must fight in the front lines of a war, and he wants to survive).

An external conflict is often the driving force of a plot. But characters can experience external conflicts independent of the plot. Consider a mystery story in which the plot’s external conflict is a serial killer on the loose in a big city. Meanwhile, the lead detective on the case is dealing with his own external conflict…his teenaged daughter is being stalked by a creepy kid at school, which is distracting the detective from the serial-killer case.

External conflicts make it difficult for the characters to achieve their goals, including the central goal of a story’s plot and the characters’ individual, personal goals.

3. Internal Struggle

An internal struggle pits personal values, goals, conflicts, or challenges against each other. A scientist developing a cure for a devastating disease stumbles upon a formula for a virus that would cause a pandemic. The company she works for is actively working to produce biological weapons. Her goal is to cure this disease, but her moral compass urges her to keep the formula secret, lest it be used as a biological weapon.

Internal struggles force characters to make difficult choices. They often must choose from bad or worse options, and the right choice almost always involves a meaningful sacrifice. Often the right or best option is unclear: there is no correct choice, only a personal choice. What if the scientist’s best friend is suffering from the disease she’s trying to cure? What if she has learned that as soon as the right biological weapon is available, her company will engage in biological warfare? Now the internal struggle intensifies — the character is forced to choose between her best friend’s health and the possible decimation of large swaths of the population.

Most protagonists engage in internal struggles, but other characters can struggle internally as well. Our story gets even more interesting if one of the scientist’s coworkers discovers that she’s hiding a formula from the company. This coworker is close friends with our scientist but is also loyal to the company. He struggles internally with with whether he should protect her secret or rat her out.

4. Strengths, Skills, and Assets

In order to survive the challenges that a story throws at its characters, they must possess strengths, skills, and assets. These can be personal strengths like fortitude or loyalty, or they can be skills and abilities, like hand-to-hand combat or hacking. Material assets, such as personal wealth, are also useful in many situations.

Characters must draw upon their strengths, skills, and assets to work toward their goals and overcome the external conflicts and internal struggles that they face.

Most authors are good at giving their characters strengths, skills, and assets, but sometimes they aren’t spread around enough. The protagonist will be an almost perfect human specimen while their teammates will contribute little to achieving the central goal. Characters’ strengths, skills, and assets shouldn’t make them superhuman, and each character should make a positive contribution to the cast’s efforts.

5. Flaws and Weaknesses

A character can’t truly be human (or human-like) without flaws and weaknesses. As the saying goes, nobody’s perfect. Characters must reflect this truth. But more importantly, characters’ flaws and weaknesses often provide essential story fodder in the form of setbacks. In a political thriller, a senatorial candidate’s weakness might be a secret from his past, which, if exposed, would destroy his career. In a romance, if the protagonist’s flaw is that she’s indecisive, she might let the love of her life get away because she can’t make up her mind.

Flaws and weaknesses interfere with the characters’ progress toward their goals and provide much-needed setbacks for the plot and subplots. We want to see our favorite characters succeed, but success is sweeter if it comes after a few failures, and failures are often caused by the characters’ own flaws and weaknesses.

Some authors struggle to give their characters flaws and weaknesses (especially the protagonists). It’s understandable. We can be protective of our characters, almost as if they were our children. We want them to be strong and successful. But weaknesses and flaws make characters relatable and give readers something to cheer for — we want to see the characters overcome these setbacks.

Connecting Characters with Story

Ideally, all these things (goals, internal struggles, external struggles, strengths, and weakness) will tie in with the central plot and be woven through the story’s subplots and themes.

Do all characters in every story need these five things? No. The protagonist certainly needs them. One of the other main characters might get a goal and a weakness but no internal struggle. Another might get an internal struggle and a goal but no notable external conflict. Every character is different, but wherever possible, providing characters with these elements will intensify and strengthen a story.

By Melissa Donovan
Source: writingforward.com

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Creating Characters by Cheryl St.John

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Friday, February 20, 2015

From the good people at Seekerville:

Writers Digest recently released a book titled Creating Characters. It’s a compilation of chapters from various authors, all on the subject of character, and the editor has grouped them into nine sections by topic. My RWA chapter Romance Authors of the Heartland is going through this book one section per month this year. The book lends itself beautifully to any type of study like this, because each chapter is a nugget of good info on its own.

After opening this book and glancing through, I made up my mind this would be my study book in 2015. I cracked the spine (which I never do) so it lies flat and have written up and down the margins, underlined and circled. If I wear it out, I’ll buy another one.

It’s not that there’s an earth-shattering new concept between the pages. I like this book because it makes me look at developing characters with fresh eyes and a new perspective, as well as reminding me why the basics still work.

– See more at: http://seekerville.blogspot.com/2015/02/creating-characters-by-cheryl-stjohn.html#sthash.Ph8YtOka.dpuf

 

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Confessions of a Serial Killer- How to kill characters when you write

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From the good people at Writers Write

Confessions of a Serial Killer- How to kill characters when you write

I am a serial killer. I have in fact, killed so many people that I have lost count. A special welcome to the FBI who are now reading this post.

I always quote Nora Roberts when I talk about moving plots forward and getting unstuck. She says: “The middles of my books are often the toughest for me to write. If the pacing flags, I deal with the problem by looking around at all my characters and figuring out which one I can kill.”

Even though I know this, I am one of the biggest losers when it comes to killing characters. I hate it when a character dies. I am a sucker for a happy ending. For me to kill someone instead of sending them off into the sunset, hand-in-hand, is hard. But at some point a character must die.

Created by Writers Write at SomeecardsSo many of my favourite characters on TV have been dying lately and the trauma of that made me wonder if I am sometimes too trigger-happy when I offer this advice. Pardon the pun.

In Homeland, Brody died and the series with him. I commend them for that by the way, the series ending. Matthew, from Downton Abbey has died. I was devastated. In The Following they killed Claire; I did forgive them that in the next series. I have not forgiven them for killing Lori in The Walking Dead, but I cheered, loudly, when Joffrey met his foamy end in Game of Thrones.

As a rule I don’t like books where children die or are hurt. This is a personal preference. I don’t read a lot of Jodi Piccoult because of that. Joffrey is the exception to that rule. The same goes for animals. I have never overcome the childhood trauma of Jock of the Bushveld  by James Percy FitzPatrick and just the poster of Marley and Me is enough to reduce me tears. But besides kids and animals anyone is fair game.

How do I pick my next victim? I list of all my possible victims. Then I ask:

  1. Why am I killing this character? If my story works without him, should he be there in the first place?
  2. How long will it take my protagonist to recover from this death and how does it change them?Death is a great way to start a revenge story for example, but a parent losing a child might not be able to move forward for a long time. How does your character mourn? By seeking revenge or by curling up in a dark room?
  3. How does this death affect my plot? Are you creating too many problems by killing off a character?
  4. How do they die? Does it suit the story/genre? Joffrey’s violent public death suited Games of Thrones. Dying in his sleep of pneumonia would not have been such a good match.
  5. Should the death be a surprise? The Fault in Our Stars is a book about kids with cancer. Death isn’t exactly unexpected, but Gus was the healthiest of them all.

These are starter questions and your story will dictate what you ask, but don’t just go killing characters for the sake of it.

Below is a list of the meanings of the deaths in Harry Potter. I don’t know if it’s JK-approved and if she agrees, but it is interesting to see what the death of a character can mean.

Source for ImageWhich fictional character’s death affected you most?

 by Mia Botha

Mia Botha facilitates for Writers Write. She is also a novelist, a ghost writer, and the winner of the Mills&Boon Voice of Africa Competition. When she isn’t writing, she is the mother of two children and the wife of a very lucky man. Follow Mia on Pinterest and Facebook and Tumblr and Twitter

 

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8 Promises You’re Making to Readers—and Then Breaking

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Reblogged from – Wordplay: Helping Writers Become Authors

8 Promises You’re Making to Readers—and Then Breaking

By K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

A book is a contract between reader and writer. The reader is promising to pay attention to the story and emotionally invest in the adventure. In return, the writer is promising to fulfill certain expectations about the fictional experience.

When we fail to fulfill this contract with our readers, we are, in essence, breaking our promises to them. These promises range from the big one at the top of the list (“I promise this will be a good read”) to a number of smaller ones along the way. Let’s take a look at eight common promises you may be making to your readers—and then breaking.



1. I promise every instance of conflict will end with an appropriate climax.

Conflict must always lead to a specific outcome. It can’t fizzle away into nothing. Characters can’t just say, “Whoops, guess we misunderstood each other,” shake hands, and walk away. Whenever you introduce a conflict, you also have to make sure you pay it off with some sort of confrontation, disaster, or triumph.



2. I promise my characters will always behave within the parameters of their established personalities.

We never want our characters acting out of character. This doesn’t mean characters can’t act in surprising or even shocking ways. But not only do their actions have to resonate within the personality we’ve established for them, their actions also have to result from appropriate and understandable motives.



3. I promise I will always pay off significant foreshadowing.

Foreshadowing is present in our stories for two reasons: 1) to prepare readers for big events down the road and 2) to ratchet up the tension. If you use foreshadowing to raise your tension, only to have readers discover there was never really anything for them to be tense about, they’ll either feel you’ve cheated them—or you were too dumb to notice what you did.



4. I promise that characters who are important in the beginning of the story will not be forgotten about by the end.

Only Charles Dickens could get away with opening The Old Curiosity Shop with a first-person narrator who, without explanation, disappears from the story after a few chapters. If a character is introduced as important early on in your story, he either needs to play an important role throughout or, at the very least, his disappearance from the story later on needs to be appropriately explained.



5. I promise every cause will end in an appropriate effect—and vice versa.

Every action needs to be followed by an appropriate reaction. And every reaction needs to make sense in relation to some preceding action that caused it. One character can’t suddenly want to kill another without an appropriate reason, just as another character can’t realistically act with passivity toward the murder of his family.



6. I promise my protagonist(s) will play an appropriately active role in the climax.

At its heart, deus ex machina, the technique of resolving a conflict through some powerful outside means (such as the cavalry rushing in to save the wagon train), is a broken promise to readers. Your audience has followed your protagonist all the way to the end of your story. They want to see him take action to defeat the antagonist via means that have been foreshadowed through the story.



7. I promise not every scene will play out exactly as readers expect.

Readers like the element of surprise. Within the confines of certain expectations, they want you to shock their socks off. They open your book expecting you to take them to surprising places. When you fail to do that, they will grow bored with the stereotypes.



8. I promise to abide by genre conventions—within reason.

Ingenuity with genre is the lifeblood of innovative fiction. But you also have to realize that your genre itself will be promising readers certain things. If you fail to live up to those expectations, readers will be disappointed. In a romance, your leading couple better fall in love. In an action story, there better be explosions. In a historical, there better be history.
Always be aware of what you’re promising readers. If you’re falling short of any of these promises, then double your efforts to not just fulfill them, but to go above and beyond reader expectations.