Showing posts with label archetypes. Show all posts
Showing posts with label archetypes. Show all posts

Thursday, November 20

Six Ways To Begin A Story: Archetypal Openings

Six Ways To Begin A Story: Archetypal Openings

A well-written opening reflects the kind of story you’ve written. If it’s a horror then the opening should communicate this; similarly for romances, mysteries, westerns and so on. While many stories employ archetypes—in fact, I think that the very best stories always do—the level of involvement varies.

Before I discuss that, though, lets talk about the difference between archetypes and stereotypes.

Archetypes vs Stereotypes

I think of a stereotype as a solid unchanging but shallow impression, with the added sense that it doesn’t truly reflect the person portrayed. That is, it doesn’t accurately represent the humanity, the deeper truth, of the situation.

An archetype, on the other hand, is something we’re connected to on the basis of shared experience. For example, I think we’ve all had the experience of hearing something that shouldn’t go bump-in-the-dark go bump-in-the-dark. 

We have all been alone in the cold dark and felt things glide silently through the darkness, coming for us. When we write a story about such things, such shared experiences, even though we might not have the writing skill of, say, Gillian Flynn, our readers are there with us. They are inside our character’s skin and it is the reader’s awareness of being in similar situations, that archetypal awareness, that connects them to that character.

Now, I can hear you asking ...

Given that definition aren’t all openings archetypal?

 I believe that all effective openings are archetypal to some degree, but that some are more so than others. For example:

“This is the saddest story I have ever heard.” (The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford)

Anyone who has ever been very sad (and who hasn’t?) can connect with this. In that sense, this is an archetypal opening. It would have also worked if instead of “saddest” the author had used “most horrific” or “bloodiest” or “most profane,” and so on. Choose your superlative ... though “most boring,” although archetypal, wouldn’t have the same punch.

Mythology, Urban Mythology and Archetypes

Carl Jung was one of the first to notice the archetypal nature of myth, folktales and what, today, we call urban legends. Take, for instance, one of my favorite folktales: Baba-Yaga and Vasilisa the Fair. Here’s how one version of that tale begins:

“A long time ago there lived a merchant and his wife; they had one child, a girl called Vasilisa. One day the mother placed a little doll in the child's hands, she said, ‘My child, I am dying. Take this doll as my blessing. Always keep it with you and never show it to anybody. If anything bad happens to you, give the doll food and ask her for guidance.’ Shortly afterwards the mother died.”

This opening got my attention. Yes, a question has been raised here (If the child feeds the doll will it give her guidance?) but I feel that the archetypal nature of the story is announced by the mother’s death. 

The death of those who raised us, who nurtured us when we were children, is (unfortunately) something that connects us all. It is something that, even though Vasilisa’s character is never really fleshed out, connects us to her and makes us care what happens to her.

Death As An Archetype

What I’m about to say doesn’t have anything to do with openings but since we’re discussing archetypes I think it’s relevant. Often at the middle or two-thirds point of a story a major character dies, or comes very near death (occasionally a character seems to die but is resuscitated).

One of the archetypes that runs through the fabric of human existence is our shared realization of life’s inevitable end. When a character dies we cannot help but be gripped by it. When a character almost dies and somehow finds a way back, we cannot help but be moved by the experience. 


By weaving these archetypal experiences and events into our stories we increase the reader’s involvement in that story. (And, yes, of course, this involvement would be helped along by creating rounded characters.) (See: Crafting Interesting Characters; Creating Vivid Characters for NaNoWriMo; Preparing to write a story: characters.)

And that’s it for archetypal openings! Granted, much more can be said about this, but not much more can be said in under 1,000 words! If you’d like to read more about archetypes in the human experience (and you haven’t already) pick up a copy of Carl Jung’s “Man And His Symbols.” Although you may not agree with everything Jung says it is an interesting read.

This is the last, the final, post in my Six Ways To Begin A Story series (click on the link to go to the first one which contains a handy-dandy index), I hope you enjoyed it.

If you have any questions, or any suggestions for future posts, please leave a comment or contact me.

Photo credit: "Love is in the Air..." by Thomas Leuthard under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Saturday, December 28

12 Archetypes

Sometimes it's difficult to settle on what to write about but (thankfully!) today was not such a day.

Lately, I've been consumed (obsessed?) with exploring various character types so I was thrilled when I discovered "The 12 Common Archetypes" by Carl Golden.

Golden, from his reading of Jungian Psychology, believes there are 12 archetypes, each divided into three categories. (From my writerly perspective, whether this is the case is immaterial. I only need the archetypes to be interesting, not true.)

Types of Archetypes: Ego, Soul, Self

One thing I love about Carl Golden's presentation of these archetypes is that he gives for each a motto, core desire, goal, greatest fear, strategy, weakness and talent.

For instance:
Archetype: The Innocent
Motto: Free to be you and me
Core desire: to get to paradise
Goal: to be happy
Greatest fear: to be punished for doing something bad or wrong
Strategy: to do things right
Weakness: boring for all their naive innocence
Talent: faith and optimism
"The Innocent" is also known as: Utopian, traditionalist, naive, mystic, saint, romantic, dreamer.
I'll let you read Golden's article for the details on the rest of the archetypes, but they are worth looking at.


1. The Innocent
2. The Orphan/Regular Guy/Gal
3. The Hero
4. The Caregiver


1. The Explorer
2. The Rebel
3. The Lover
4. The Creator


1. The Jester
2. The Sage
3. The Magician
4. The Ruler

One of the cool things about these archetypes is that you can mix and match. For instance, one of my characters, a secondary character, is both a Regular Guy and The Lover.

The Four Orientations: Social, Order, Ego, Freedom

Here's where things get interesting. We've seen that the archetypes can be broken into three types (Ego, Soul or Self). But they can also be given an orientation: Social, Order, Ego or Freedom. ("Social" and "Ego" are opposites, as are "Freedom" and "Order.")

For instance, the archetype "Ruler" has the orientation of Order. "Hero" of Ego, and so on.


a. Lover
b. Caregiver
c. Everyman


a. Innocent
b. Ruler
c. Sage


a. Magician
b. Hero
c. Creator


a. Explorer
b. Outlaw
c. Jester

Fun Exercise

Find out where you think each archetype fits. Here's how I arranged them:

I think the most valuable thing is finding out which orientation you think each fits since that'll help expose how you think about characterization.

Interesting Articles:

- Major Archetypes and the Process of Individuation
- And now for something different! Elizabeth Spann Craig shared this link and it's so good I wanted to include it. The Murder Mystery Arc

Photo credit: "Season's greetings!" by Marina del Castell under Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.

Thursday, March 29

Character Archetypes

The Matrix

Here (see below) are two links to pages that have an amazing amount of information on character archetypes.

I'm working on the fourth segment on my Starburst Writing Method (I must have a sweet tooth!) and went looking for examples of archetypes. These pages were too good to keep to myself so I'm sharing them with you.

1) TV Tropes: Archetypal Character
This site not only gives a definition for each archetype but it gives examples from Anime and Manga, Comic Books, Film, Literature, Theater, and so on.

2) Christopher Vogler's Character Archetypes
Here we find a list of Vogler's seven archetypes as well as the 12 stages of the hero's journey. If you haven't read Vogler's book, The Writer's Journey, I highly recommend it, but this page serves as a very nice summary.


Photo Credit: Story Fanatic; The Matrix