Tag: character (Page 1 of 2)

The Future of Content: Social

This post is part of The Future of Digital Content series, which discusses six traits I believe will be at the heart what content will look like in the coming years. These traits form a roadmap that lies at the heart of my research and experiments. The traits also work together, mixing and meshing, to paint a picture of how our future selves may read, watch, learn, and listen.

Read the rest of the series.

This may seem obvious to most people, after all Facebook and Twitter and all the rest have basically taken over the world. Of course our content will be promoted on social media. Of course authors will use twitter. Of course readers will review books online.

Obviously content will be social.

But is that all? What could social really mean?

Beyond content that is shared, tweeted, digged, forked, thrown, liked, hated and reviewed, content will be integrated into life. The content we love will be a hub of our social lives, almost like the centers of tiny universes. You see, social is about a lot more than sharing, posting, and sending. It’s about trust, exploration, and human nature.

Narrative Identity

On the research part of my site, I talk a lot about the concept of “Narrative Identity“. In a quick review, here’s how the idea plays out. We each tell stories about ourselves, to ourselves. I may tell the story of a dashing man with an awesome wife who is an avid reader, innovator, storyteller, and researcher. He likes Star Trek, vintage video games, and cats. I have an entire history, and entire story built up of me. My wife’s story is different: football, thrillers, technology, running, and creative art. These elements, these attributes, form our personal identity narrative.

Without realize it, we try to tell this story to others through our speech, actions, clothing, and all manner of “performances.” My performative identity looks like Star Trek quotes, video game t-shirts, and jokes about cats. My wife wears running gear, colorful things she makes, and talks like a geek. We let people know who we are by the things we do, say, and wear. Others can figure out what we are trying to say because of shared cultural resources. T-shirts with Atari symbols are hints to others who know the symbol that “hey, that guy must be into classic games.”

I have written a lot on the topic, but a good place to start is by exploring Anime Fans.

In any case, it is the “shared cultural resources” that we are interested in. These resources are often content that people interact with. They build friendships around, and define themselves through, this content.

Virtual and Real Life

So, content is already social, even if we didn’t think of it that way. But, technology is allowing us to make content really social in cool ways. Virtual sociality allows people to tweet about their stories, ask questions about that new article, find others who are into Advanced Basket Weaving, or whatever floats our boat. We can connect with people around content, using this cultural resource to share ideas, laughs, and tears.

Non-Virtual Sociality brings these things into the real world. Every time you talk with a co-worker about the new Star Wars movie (I originally wrote this as Star Wars VII premiered), you are being social around content.

Social doesn’t just mean social media, it means “integrated into life and others.”

How Will Content Be Social?

Onto the fun stuff! What could social content look like?

Shared

Successful content in the future won’t just hope people tweet, but will be actively sharable. A campaign strategy, quotes and quips, images, and evocative topics will drive people to share with their virtual world. Even more important is a two-way discussion. People like to engage with each other and the content creators.

Curated

Reviews, bumps, boosts, dislikes, and favorites — all will be vital as the internet continues to change the way we consume content. Readers want to know what their friends, trusted experts, and even total stranger have to say about content.

Reader to Reader

Readers (or audiences) want to connect with other readers around content. Many times, an interest in a particular piece of content means shared interests in other areas. Any content that provides people with a way to be social beyond just the content itself will have a serious leg up.

Author and Reader

More than just “behind the scenes,” this means that the content creator(s) are part of the community targeted by the content. They live where the readers live (even if not geographically). When readers can be social with the author, magic happens.

Reader and Characters

This is my favorite. The idea that readers can interact with fictional characters is exciting. And, this doesn’t have to stay in the realm of fiction. Interacting with historical figures, experts in whatever field, and “guides” through a certain topic can bring content to an entirely new level.

And More Than We Can Imagine

This is just the start. The future is going to be awesome.

That wraps up five out of the six traits of “The Future of Content.”

  1. Mulit-access – We want our content delivered in many different ways.
  2. Multi-modal – We want content that includes several forms of communication (video, text, sound, etc)
  3. Interactive – We want to take control of our destiny (or content). It should respond to us. Personalized.
  4. Collaborative – Working together with readers and other creators to build something more than we could ourselves.
  5. Social – In real live and in cyberspace, social between authors, characters, and readers.

Next is the last up on the list, Immersive and Expansive.

(Five-ish) Steps to a Creative, Mixed Media, Interactive Story

I talk a lot about different ideas for mixed-media, interactive stories, but how do we actually create something. What are the steps? What does the  process look like? Is this really something I can do?

Yes. Let me show you.

From step one.

1. Inspiration

The most common question at any book signing is “where do you get your ideas?” That is a subject for about a thousand books on its own, and to begin this walk through of telling mixed-media, interactive stories, it may be a bit beyond our scope. We will start with one of the most time-honored launching pads: the writing prompt.

I have a copy of The Amazing Story Generator which I have used to concoct the following three scenes.

  • Penniless after a failed business venture, an old lady with twenty cats solves a ten-year-old murder
  • After a monthlong fast, a North Korean scientist forgets to mail an important letter
  • While on a second honeymoon, a small town mayor is initiated into a secret cult

And from here, we construct a story.

2. Story

I chose those three, bizarrely disconnected plot lines on purpose. My stories always begin with scenes, characters, or emotional moments. Interesting bits of news or questions that I connect to personally. Then, I ask question to connect these bits into a functioning story. The above prompts are not really connected at all, but we can create connections and birth a beautiful story.

Story Fundamentals

Let’s begin by understanding what a story is and has, at least for our purposes. At its most basic level, a hero’s life is at balance in their world, ordinary as it is for them. Something happens to knock that balance out of whack and sends that hero on some sort of quest to set the world to rights again. Along the way, lots of things try to stop the hero, and a few things (like mentors) will be the hero’s aid. Even more important, our hero grows. They begin with a want (to set the world right again), a wound (something bad that keeps them from growing), and a need (to be get past the wound). The story takes the hero through the growth. They are not the same at the end, and neither is the world, but this new world is in balance, at least for the hero.

Yes, that’s all from my treatment on the Hero’s Journey, and (to me) the simplest structure to create powerful stories. I’m using it here as a sort-of-formula. Normally, I’m not that rigid, but this is a blog post, after all.

Questions to Construct Stories

Now that we know what we’re aiming for, how can we connect those above prompts? Well, in a virtually infinite number of ways. Here is how my questioning path led to a story outline.

  • Is the important letter connected to the murder? Yes, the letter was an last minute cancellation of a contract assassination.
  • Why was the scientist wanting to assassinate someone in the first place? Obviously because they were rivals in some secret government research.  He changed his mind when, after his fast, he believed his god spoke to him in a vision. Now, I’m changing my prompt from “forgets to mail” to “fails to mail”.
  • So, what stops the scientist from mailing the letter? The secret cult also wants the rival dead, so they dispose of the scientist and let the hit man take care of the rival.
  • Why does the secret cult care? They are an old order that believes they must protect the world from abomination of medicine. Both scientists were working on advanced genetics.
  • The secret cult uses mind control serum to indoctrinate their members.
  • That means that the small town-mayor is going to be the villian of our story. He is recruited by the cult to dispatch of the cat lady, because the cat-lady is stumbling upon the truth.
  • What is the cat-lady’s wound and growth? She is scared of being independent and has been relying on others to get her through. She learns that she can take care of herself — and others. The wound, her son passed away from an infection years ago. She couldn’t save him. She isn’t capable. Not great, but it’ll work.

And I can keep going. Suffice it to say, that works out enough plot for this post.

The Treatment

Now that I have the connections, lets fashion it into a short description of the story for our purposes. Remember the story fundamentals. Our hero will be the cat lady and our villain will be the secret cult that is manipulating the small-town mayor.

Beth spends her days at home, dreaming of ways to become independent. Of ways to stop needing to rely on others. Of taking care of herself as she once had. But, she is too afraid. What if she can’t? What if others rely on her? What if she lets them down? Her latest hopes were dashed when a business venture — that she invested everything she had into — fell through. Not just fell through: the CEO of the company died suddenly and the headquarters were destroyed, taking all of the research with it and bankrupting the entire process. The genetics lab was promising to enhance vision, reflexes, and memory. Now, it’s all gone.

Normally Beth would just wallow in her misery. But she’s through wallowing. She does some more digging and finds that there have been lots of similar incidents from around the world. Then she remembers the story her father told her. Of when he was a boy and his father (a North Korean Scientist) was murdered. She still has the last letter her grandfather meant to send. It’s never been opened. Now is the time.

The letter describes a secret cult that will stop at nothing to “preserve the human race from medicine.” Fascinated, Beth digs some more. The cult, every watching for those who may know its secrets, discovers her and recruits a small-town mayor who is sympathetic to their cause and on a second honeymoon nearby. They drug him and brainwash him to go after Beth.

A lot of stuff happens in the middle. You know: mystery, intrigue, blah, blah, blah.

In the end, Beth and the Mayor (who we will call Roger) must rely on each other to defeat and expose the cult. Beth’s growth is complete when (in the final climax) she surrenders any control and relies totally on Roger. That doesn’t make her weak, or helpless, or a loser. And, she realizes that she is capable.

Of course, they save the world.

Wow, what a weird story, right? In any case, its enough to start splitting it into mixed-media and interactive bits.

3-4. Mixed-Media, Interactive Awesomeness

Our mantra is “don’t do anything for novelty sake.” That said, what parts of this story would best be told in which mediums? Well, you could definitely have a journal from the North Korean scientist with all his clues and suspicions. Images, sketches, very visual. For that matter, a few audio recordings would be great two.

Beth’s story would best be done in narrative prose so we can get inside her mind and really grow with her. Ditto with Roger’s storyline, but maybe a touch less.

What about the person Roger is on a second-honeymoon with? If Roger is sneaking away to get at Beth, that would make Roger’s wife pretty suspicious. Let’s give her a smartphone and have her do her own investigation, snapping pictures and taking videos to tell that part of the story. That isn’t just a gimmick. Images in that way produce great suspense as the audience must decide what in the image is important and what is not. The author can do amazing things with misdirection

As far as interactivity goes, I like the idea of making the journal interactive. Let’s give the audience the ability to explore the journal and piece the mystery together herself.

That leaves us with a novel that alternates between photographs, novel prose, and printed journal entries alongside an interactive journal. And, for the fun of it, a hidden track where one of Beth’s cats narrate the story through a feline POV.

5. Collaboration and Awesomeness

That’s a lot. More than I could do myself, admittedly. I would start, as I have, with a fleshed out draft all in text. In it, I would break the scenes into photos, prose, or journal and describe what the photos show and the journal says. Once I have my story more-less perfect, I can approach others to help flesh it out. Working together, we are stronger.

I will talk more about my format experiments in a later post.

For now, I hope you were able to follow this and see that, even from bizarre beginnings, a mixed-media, interactive story is possible. Think what you could do with an actually good idea.

Comments, please. What’s your process?

Hero’s Journey: A Review

This post is part of a series exploring the Hero’s Journey. Joseph Campbell studied hundreds of world-wide myths, finding patterns to virtually any story. This basic framework gives the stories we tell a universal, timeless appeal and resonate deeply with our audiences. This series is not about a “five steps to perfect stories” method, nor does it claim a best way to tell stories.  Today, we review what we’ve talked about so far.

Check out the rest of the series and a compare different versions of the Hero’s Journey

Just like a good story, this series has reached its “midpoint,” that is twisting point where the second half is almost a different story than the first. Up until now, this Hero’s Journey series has focused on the mechanics of the journey. What are the stages? Who are the characters? What is the world? Basically, what makes up the Hero’s Journey?

We are about to jump into the how, and I’m pretty excited about it. We are going to work together through a story from beginning to end and see exactly what it takes (and how simple it is) to create a journey. Finally, we’ll talk about some practical tips (18 in all) to make the journey interesting, memorable, and personal.

But Before We Go There

Let’s review what we’ve seen so far. The most basic

At its most basic, a story has three elements: Character, Plot, and Setting. A person (not necessarily human) doing stuff in a place and time. That’s all the hero’s journey is, one way to describe that person doing that stuff in that place and time. What makes the Journey special is its seeming universiality (why can’t that be a word?)

The Hero”™s Journey is one way to weave characters, plot, and setting. It is not the only way. It may not be the best way. The magic of the Hero’s Journey arises from its primality; its universal basicness. Joseph Campbell spent his lifetime investigating myths from all around the world, distilling patterns he found from all civilizations into some common principles. Carl Jung, a prominant psychologist, built upon this these patterns by likening this journey to facets found deep in the human psyche and cultural memories.  This isn”™t some kooky metaphysical idea, it”™s basic psychology. – Series Home

To break down the journey into a sentence: “A hero is at home in the ordinary world until something happens to unbalance her reality, leaving the hero to enter the special world on a quest to set the world in balance again which can only happen by confronting the Shadow.”

Though I originally posted them in a different order, lets go through that definition of a story in a hero’s journey way.

Characters

Characters allow storytellers to explore how different people react to different situations. Even deeper than all that, though: Characters are what the audience identify with. – Major Archetypes

There are to kinds of players in a typical Hero’s Journey: Major Archetypes and Minor Archetypes. Major archetypes are those that are necessary for the journey to work. You need a hero, a mentor, a shadow, and a herald of some kind. The Hero is the main character who actually goes on the quest to set the world in balance again. Along the way, the hero grows. They have some flaw they overcome. This growth is paramount to any good story.

The Mentor is a character (or circumstance, interestingly enough) that guide the hero part of the way. Maybe they’ve been down the road before or posses some knowledge or gift the hero will need. The Shadow actively tries to stop the hero from succeeding. This shadow can be an external enemy (Darth Vader) or an internal foe (self-doubt). The Herald calls the hero off on the adventure. Many times the herald may be the mentor, or not even a character as such.

Minor Archetypes fill out your cast. They have a relationship with the hero, even if (in the story) they have to connection. These characters reflect the hero by bringing out a specific facet of the hero’s character, counterpoint the hero by showing what the hero “could be” if circumstances were different, and aid the hero, most especially in growth. Minor Archetypes lists several common character types, and there are limitless more.

Mixing and matching these basic functions into more specific characters can be a blast. Han Solo in Star Wars, for instance, is an ally, a mercenary, a ranger, and a redeemed. The more creative you get, the further from cliche you will find yourself.

Remember:

Archetypes are powerful characters because most anyone can identify with most any archetype at some point in their life. Archetypes are broad types that we all encountered in life, and (whether we like to admit it or not) have portrayed at some point. Each of us has been a Mentor. We”™ve all felt like the Hero going the road alone. We”™ve even been the Shadow trying to hinder another, though we never think of ourselves as evil. Even with minor archetypes, this is true. I”™ve been a trickster, a shape shifter, an ally and (yes) the wicked-step-mother. – Major Archetypes

Plot

Having all the greatest characters mean nothing if they don’t do stuff. The plot is the most defined part of the Hero’s Journey, and there have been a million books and articles discussing it. The point of this series is not to make that a million and one, but to simplify it a little. Let’s break the Journey down into five steps:

The Hero and the Ordinary World, Broken

In the ordinary world, all is well”¦or at least all is ordinary for our hero. This first phase of the story introduces our hero and his world, and gives our audience something to connect with the main character. Then it happens. Something causes the world to be thrown into chaos. This may be literal (plague, war, the ring of power is found) as in many epics. Or, it may be much more personal (the hero meets the girl of his dreams, a parent falls ill or dies, or the next-door neighbors begin the secret club). Whatever the event, intentional or not, the hero must step out into the special world. – Plot I

The Hero and the Quest

Now that the hero is on the road towards a goal, they meet Allies, Shadows, Tricksters, or whatever your heart desires. Just make your Hero work to get where they”™re going, and never let them get anything easily. The basic principles are 1.) Characters crave stability (or what they perceive is stability), and 2.) They will do the least amount of work possible to acheive it.

Really, the quest is wide open. Have fun. For those who want more structure, check out Writer”™s Journey and Joseph Campbell”™s original Hero”™s Journey.

The Hero and the Passion

At some point (usually around the middle of the story), the Quest becomes more than a Quest to the hero. It becomes a passion, a drive, an obsession. This is no longer, “lets save the princess so she”™ll reward us.” Now it”™s, “we have to ““ and will ““ save the princess no matter the cost.” This is the point of no return for the Hero.

Often, this turning point has something to do with the Shadow. It may also be the point the Hero starts to realize the unconscious need and becomes less focused on the conscious  want. This scene has to be powerful, because from here to the next part (which is the climax) things have to get dire for the Hero — as dire as you can make them. This passion is what will carry them through.

The Hero and the Moment

It all comes down to this. This is the climax. This is the Moment the Hero faces her worst fear, the most powerful adversary, the greatest challenge. This is almost always faced alone. This should also be the moment of change in the Hero”™s character arc. Lastly, many of the most powerful stories involve a resurrection of some kind.

The Hero and the Repercussions

Believe it or not, the character does not have to get what they want ““ but they do have to get they need, that is their growth.  Whether it is a happy, sad, or bitter-sweet ending, the Hero is no longer the same. And, they have made their way into another ordinary world. This will not be the same ordinary world they began in (though it may be similar). It will, however, be ordinary to the Hero. Things are settled now. – Plot III

World

Our characters are doing stuff, but where? The setting is just as important as the characters and plot.

In this deeply-powerful, hero-centric way of storytelling everything is connected to the main character. The plot is determined by their choices, the secondary characters are archetypes that fill psychological functions, the hero’s growth is the bones of the tale. Setting is also connected to the hero in the same way that minor archetypes are; by reflecting, counterpointing, challenging or aiding, and adding believability to the protagonist. – The Hero’s Three Worlds

The importance of a well-constructed, internally consistent world cannot be overstated. And, this isn’t just important for fantasy. Wherever you ground your story, the world is a part of it and must be completely fleshed out.

In the case of the Hero’s Journey, it can be said that there are three worlds. The ordinary world is where the hero starts out. It is in balance, she knows her place in the world, everything is ordinary (at least to her). The special world is the world of the quest. While it doesn’t have to be fantastic, it does have to be different. The remade world is the world after the climax. In balance again, but not quite the same.

All Done

Phew…that was a longer post than I like to write, but I wanted to lay out the entire journey in a snapshot because we are about to put it to the test to create three different stories running in parallel: a fantasy, a romantic comedy, and an intimate drama. Just to prove it works. Stick around!

Types of Fantasy Stories

Earlier this week, I posted about Brandon Sanderson’s Three Laws of Magic. Continuing on that theme, I wanted to explore the different kinds of fantasy stories. First, let me be clear: I am not a fan of lists or concepts that claim to boil everything down to 12 easy steps. Those things may have a certain place in life, but I feel that reducing the complexities of the world to an even number people can count to using hands and feet is more a marketing scheme than anything else.

Okay, not that my little sermon is out of the way. While this isn’t a post about a limited number of ways to write a story, it is a helpful way to be intentional in the stories we tell. Knowing what you are trying to say is half the battle, the other half being to say it.

I found when crafting plots for my novels, that I needed to understand my own boundaries in order to be consistent. Not to say that I pinned myself in. Quite the opposite. Once I learned how my worlds worked, I was about to make them work with my characters, scenes, and awesome ideas. For me, the most important step was to see what kind of story I was writing.

This was especially important while rewritng a novel call Mississippi Secrets. The story seemed to fall flat to me, more mimicking other things I had read than being anything truly original. Once I took a step back and tried to see where it would sit on shelves, I noticed that it was a blend of several different things. That was great! But, I could not have gotten there until I knew what else existed.

Here is the list I have cultivated over the years. Different types of fantasy stories.


Worlds Upon Worlds

This list describes different worlds for each type of fantasy story. A world is the entire context for the story including history, geography, culture,  and the like.

  • “This world” does not necessarily mean Earth. What it means is the same basic context as the reader (which is Earth, I assume).
  • “Other world” is a totally separate planet or existence that is not connected to our reality at all.
  • A third “alternate world” would be some sort of alternate reality. That is, “what if” stories (what if the South had won the Civil War?).
  • Lastly, “past world” would be anything before the current context of the reader.

Also, building on Brandon Sanderson:

  • Hard Magic – Magic/technology has well defined rules that the audience understands.
  • Soft Magic – Magic/technology has unclear or vague rules, or none at all. This allows for a greater sense of wonder to be attained for the reader

Fantasy, unbound

High Fantasy, Other world

High fantasy describes magic that is deeply integrated into the fabric of the world and affects virtually every aspect of it. Other world means that it is a world totally out of the context of the reader, though there must some some kind of parallel for the reader to understand what is happening.

Most often, in Sanderson’s terms, these stories would tend towards Hard Magic.

The best example of high fantasy, other world is The Lord of the Rings.

Low Fantasy, This World

Low fantasy implies that magical things may happen, but they are not so widespread that the entire culture has been altered by them. This world means that it happens in a context that the reader thoroughly understands and (more less) lives in. These stories include the child who can pull magical tricks on their nanny, or the nanny who uses magic to teach the children (Mary Poppins). In most cases, this is very Soft Magic.

Secret Society, This world

This is one of my favorite types of fantasy stories. Think Harry Potter. In these cases, we are squarely in this world, but find that there is another, secretly hidden world all around us for magical folk. These may be wizards, or demigods, or vampires, or whatever. In each instance, these secret societies run parallel to our own reality and ofter intersect at points in history. So, some member of the secret society may have been a famous historical figure. In almost all cases I have seen, the protagonist must (in some way) juggle living in both our world and the secret realm.

Mythology, This World

Similarly (often extending) the secret society is the idea that some mythological force (gods, demons, angels, etc) are still active all around us. While this could include so many of the “fairy tales are actually true and still going on around us” stories, I would tend to make a distinction between mythology and folklore. Many books have been written on this, but to make it simple: mythology explains the world (gods make storms), folklore colors the world (fairies are entertaining).

Folklore, This World

Because I made the above distinction, I felt obligated to include this. The above applies 🙂

Generic, Non-World

These are hard to pull off, but incredibly satisfying. When you are able to concoct a world that is enough like our context but lacking specifics that lead the reader to wonder “are they in our world or not?” Lemony Snicket did a great job with this. Often, these stories take place in “the city” or “the country” or some other vague location.

Paranormal or Spiritual, This World

In these cases, the “afterworld” or “spiritual realm” bleeds into our current context. Psychics, mediums, ghosts, and telepaths often fit here.

Crossover, Two Worlds

In Narnia the children cross from our world into another. This may be the most staple type of fantasy story, and often the easiest to write if you are first starting out. Why? Because you can have a main character who needs to have the rules of the new world explained — just like your reader will.

Mix and Match an Elixir

Like the greatest alchemists, the best stories will mix and match elements from these different types. I may do some follow up posts on this idea in the future.

For now, I challenge you to take a look at your current manuscript, favorite story, or best idea and see where it may fit. Then look at others of that same ilk. What are the rules? How did that writer pull it off? How can you do it differently?

Five and a Half Useful Archetypes: The Classics

Last week, I threw about 37 practical tips for using archetypes in your stories. I also told you that I would start compiling a master list of archtypes. Well, let it never be said that I don’t follow through. Here is the beginning of that master list. I have started with about five, and I will continue to add to this list and update this post as time goes on.

What’s the deal with the half archetype? As I said before, archetypes feel like stereotypes because they are shallow, one-sided characters filled with characteristics instead of contradictions. One of the easiest ways to battle this is to mix archetypes into a single character. For instance, a Mentor who is also a Trickster. That’s the half archetypes. Each time I update this, I will detail some new archetypes and give one example (the half) of how you could mix two of these archetypes.

A note on how I compile this list. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of theorists, artists, pyschologists, and others who have searched for archetypes and found them everywhere. Some of the most popular include Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Dramatica, and Michael Hauge. There are also archetypes hidden in places like astrological signs, the Chinese zodiac, and Maya calendar. This series will draw from all these places and keep them in one reference.

Finally, let’s remember why archetypes work. We have all been there. We can empathize with these characters, and often fantasize about what it would be like to be them.


These archetypes are some of the more popular (and vanilla or overused) character types. That doesn’t mean you can’t make them interesting, just be aware that we’ve seen all these over and over. Mix and match and flesh them out to make something interesting. Even if these are used a lot, they are still foundational.

1. Lovable Rogue

From tvtropes.com:

A person who breaks the law, for their own personal profit, but is nice enough and charming enough to allow the audience to root for them, especially if they don’t kill or otherwise seriously harm anyone. It helps that none of their victims are anyone we know or that they’ve made sure the audience knew they were jerks, which makes it “okay” to steal from them.

The Lovable Rogue is right up there with anti-hero’s, gentleman thief, and scoundrels. They have themselves in mind first. They fight for their own gain. If someone else happens to benefit, that’s great. Don’t mistake this attitude for lack of direction, though. The Lovable Rogue has a compass, a code, that that follow strictly.

At the heart of this archetype is the idea that “the rules don’t apply to me” or even more that “the rules don’t apply to this situation.” They aren’t evil. They aren’t bad. They aren’t trying to hurt anyone. They are just trying to get by. And, probably due to some trauma in the past, they feel like the institution (be it government, family, society, whatever) has failed them. No one else is looking out for them, so they are justified in doing what they must to look after themselves.

That is why this archetype resonates with us. We’ve all been there: lost in the system, failed by the school, a victim of some injustice. In someway, we’ve been let down. No one else looked out for us. So, we dreamed about what it would be like to look after ourselves. The lovable rogue is also special and confident. We all wish we were that confident.

Often, the Lovable Rogue will actually end up doing good for others, but you knew that.

2. Salty Old Soldier

The old soldier has been there and seen that, and has the badass scars to prove it. He or she has been through every war, seen every combat, and has lived to fight and keep on fighting. That is not to say they haven’t been damaged by the struggle. They are cynical, don’t make friends, and deal with a hatred of the enemy that borders on psychotic. The Salty Old Soldier is a complex character. Even with all the conflict they’ve seen, they never shy from a fight. Always in the thick of things, this character is typically the backbone of whatever unit, though rarely in the lead.

Moving on from a military situation, this character type can be used in any situation where there is conflict (and what story doesn’t have conflict). The defining mark is that they Salty Old Soldier has been there and is always ready to go there again. Not particularly likable, but a great source for mentoring and seasoning.

3. Wise Old Soldier

In many ways, this is the yin to the yang of the Salty Old Soldier. He to has been there through countless battles and survived, even thrived, in the conflict. However, the Wise Old Soldier has a calmer, more reflective personality. They see the conflict not as an outlet for their anger, but as an exercise in discipline, mind, and soul. Often, this character truly believes in the cause, whereas the Salty Old Soldier believes in conflict (or cannot escape it). This is your stereotypical (though not accurate) Zenified Samurai.

Don’t mistake the disciple and balance for weakness. The Wise Old Soldier is lethal and unmatched in the conflict. More of often than not, they will go out of their way to train or care for the younger soldiers. Also a great source of mentoring. Again, does not have to be used in war.

4. The Girl Back Home

There have been many recent twists on this age-old archetype. Traditionally, this is a female character who pines away and struggles at home as the hero is off on an adventure. In more modern times, this character has become stronger, living an adventure of her own as her partner is fighting a different (but no more intense) battle.

In all reality, “The Girl Back Home” is a lot more flexible than that. Think about why we use archetypes: We have all been there. How often have we been unable to help in some situation? How many times have we had to see someone else fight our battles? Or, how often have we been forced to do the work for two when the other is off on their own.

This can be a powerful, dramatic element for the adventurer as well. The reason he or she fights. Often, this archetype does not have to be a romantic woman or spouse back home. Children work just as well. As do the elderly.

5. The Book Nerd

This archetype is a writer’s best friend, especially in any situation where you are entering into a world or setting unfamiliar to the reader. J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) said it best (and I paraphrase): “Whenever I have to tell the reader something, I put it in Hermoine’s mouth. We can just assume she read it somewhere.” But, this character is more than just a repository for information. Often the most identifiable character, the Book Nerd strikes a chord with the part of us that wants to understand how the universe works, and find our place it it. Furthermore, most often, they are somewhat socially outcast for pursuing this part of themselves further than the norm.

How many of us have been belittled in the same way?

The Book Nerd is often a seemingly weak character who actually has a lot of strength. That, also, is an identifying point. Use the Book Nerd carefully, though. It is easy to fall into stereotypes or use the Book Nerd as an easy out for exposition instead of find a better way for the reader to discover information.

And a Half.

As promised, let’s look at how we can build a character by mixing archetypes. In this case, let’s do something really unexpected and create the “Lovable Book Nerd Rogue.”

Characteristics of our Lovable Rogue

  • Outside Society
  • Selfish
  • Charming
  • A hidden, good heart
  • Component and confident
  • Damaged

Characteristics of our Book Nerd

  • Curious
  • Shy
  • Outside Society
  • A good heart
  • Damaged
  • Intelligent

Already we see some commonalities and contradictions. Both are damaged, live outside society, and have good hearts. Contradictions exist, too. One is shy, the other confident. Contradictions make better characters. So, it looks like our new character will struggle between acting or being confident while really feeling inadequate around people. They will also be cunning and intelligent and well-read, though perhaps downplay that aspect of them.

Just to put me out of my comfort zone, an non-fantasy example:

Jenna is a political journalist New York City who has made a career by exposing scandals. No one is safe, though. She will expose anyone, and isn’t afraid to break the rules to find her source. She is charming, daring, salty, and hard as a rock in her business-casual suite, wining and dining and manipulating some of the most powerful men in the city. She was a victim of some scandal years ago, but the perpetrator made it away scott free. Now, she hunts everyone.

In public.

Her private moments, though? Poetry at a small coffee house in Brooklyn. A chance to unwind and forget about cover-ups and conspiracies. Hey, we all need a break from ourselves, right? 

I’m not sure where this story would go, but its an example of how to mix two archtypes. Keep an eye out, this is just the first post compiling a list of archetypes.

Some of My Sources

http://www.soulcraft.co/essays/the_12_common_archetypes.html

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ArchetypalCharacter

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_stock_characters

http://www.helpingwritersbecomeauthors.com/2013/12/8-%C2%BD-character-archetypes-writing.html

(37ish) Keys to Using Archetypes

We’ve talked about archetypes in some length, especially in the Hero’s Journey Series. Archetypes can be a powerful addition to your story, and I’m sure you’ve been using them without even realizing it. Mostly because “there is nothing new under the sun.” What you write is a mixture of what you’ve experienced and read, which is a mixture of what other artists have experienced and read. Don’t fight against this. Instead, focus on reinventing the wheel, but adding some of that flare that can only come from your creative genius.

People identify with archetypes because we have all been there. Each of us has been a Hero and a Mentor and even a Trickster at some point. So, using archetypes allows your reader to empathize with your character and enter the story. The primary goal of any story is to hold the reader’s attention. There is no better way to do that than to draw your reader into a character so they can live the adventure vicariously. I talk about this as Hero Audience Bonding.

We know, almost instinctively, that we should use archetypes in our stories. In this post, I have compiled some simple thoughts on how to use those character types.

So, without further adieu, here are 37(ish) character tips for using archetypes in your writing.

General Tips

  • Compile a list of character types. (I will be compiling one starting next week.)
  • Next time you watch a movie or read a book, keep this list of archetypes handy and try to identify them in the story.
  • Thinking back on stories you know and love, come up with a list of five characters for each archetype.
  • In your own work, ask whether any of these archetypes could strengthen a story you”™ve been working on.
  • You may be able to use one of your existing characters to fulfill the role of an archetypal character.
  • Clarify the character Arc– every hero must grow and change be it physical, emotional, spiritual, or otherwise.
  • Focus on the Present Tense-who is the character now? While it may be useful to know who the character was ten years ago, the story is being experienced now.
  • Use back-story only if it’s revelation- Back-story is only valuable if it surprises the audience or explains the character’s behavior.
  • Avoid decorative tags– don’t waste time coming up with imaginative eccentricities. What is the character’s self-assessment? What is the world’s? Is there a gap?
  • Show, don’t tell– Don’t tell the audience that a character is a traveler. Show the audience by the array of suitcases and travel brochures lying about.
  • Don’t underestimate the power of small moments– When information is revealed to the audience when the character believes they are alone.
  • Mix and match archetypes. Try a Mentor who is also a Trickster, or an Eternal Boy/Threshold Guardian.
  • Get to know your characters. Adding flesh to those bones will make them feel less “archetype-y.”
  • Try associating a character with one of the figures from the Chinese zodiac “” boar, dog, dragon, horse, goat, monkey, ox, rabbit, rat, rooster, snake, and tiger “” each of which is endowed with a complex array of both positive and negative traits.
  • The personality enneagram, a nine-pointed array of personality types, might also be a useful reference for character building.
  • Consider these psychological types based on the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator psychometric assessment: introversion/extroversion, sensing/intuition, thinking/feeling, and judgment/perception. (Everyone is a combination of both types in each pair, but in different ratios.)
  • Don’t focus on characteristics, instead build characters. (Read more about that here.)
  • Stereotypes are archetypes that are shallow. Give your character contradictions.

Archetypes in Primary Characters

  • If using the Hero’s Journey, understand the Major Archetypes.
  • If not using the Hero’s Journey, understand the Major Archetypes.
  • Give your main character growth. They need a flaw to be worked through.
  • Connect that flaw to the story. So they must grow through that flaw in order to make it through the story.
  • Archetypes (like Mentors) don’t have to be standalone characters. A mentor can also be a threshold guardian, for instance.

Archetypes in Secondary Characters

  • If using the Hero’s Journey, understand the Minor Archetypes.
  • If not using the Hero’s Journey, understand the Minor Archetypes.
  • Give your secondary characters a reason to be there.
  • Use secondary characters to play with themes.
    • For instance, if a theme is “truthfulness” have a secondary character who constantly lies.
  • Secondary Archetypes can reflect the hero by showing a past or future version of your main character.
  • They can reflect the hero by showing a more exaggerated trait of the protagonist.
  • They can react against the hero by being the opposite in some way.
  • Secondary characters should aid or hinder your main character’s journey.

Want, Wound, and Need

  • Use character growth, especially in your main character.
  • The hero”™s flaw and growth revolve around three aspects of the hero.
    • The want is the obvious desire they are striving for: the relationship; the elixir of life; acceptance into the secret club; etc.
    • The need is the subconscious desire that drives the want. It is not the specific relationship that is the key; it is the need to be validated. The elixir of life isn”™t really what drives; it”™s a fear of death. The secret club isn”™t the end all; instead the hero searches for acceptance.
    • The wound is one of the primary things holding the hero back. This may be inflicted by the villain or may be part of the circumstances. The relationship can”™t work because the hero comes from a lower class. The elixir oflife is out of reach because the hero is too old and feels useless. The secret club is out of bounds to someone who cannot read.
    • These wounds may be real or imagined, but they always bear great weight in the eyes of the hero.
  • The wounded (flawed) hero searches for a want, but grows as they address the need.

Wrapping Up

I notice, as I review this list, how important character growth is. Every character that is anything more than incidental should grow, at least a little. Not necessarily positive growth, either.

In any case, these are just some tips to think about. Next week, I will begin a master list of character types.

Some of my sources

Educational Storytelling: Constructing the Tale, A Hero’s Growth

This post is part of a series that explores the Basics of Educational Storytelling. Largely taken from my master”™s thesis, The Value and Principles of Educational Storytelling (which can be read here), this I will lay the foundation for an educational storytelling model regardless of setting and medium. We look at the basic elements of storytelling, five guiding principles and educational stories, and practical tips.

Check out the rest of the series.

We are using the Hero’s Journey as a skeleton for our story. If you want a full breakdown of the Hero’s Journey, check out my this series. I have boiled this down to five pieces of the Journey, each with an important task. Last time we covered the first three. Today, the last two.

  1. The Hero and the Cast of Characters
  2. The Hero and the Ordinary World, Broken
  3. The Hero and the Journey
  4. The Hero and the Moment
  5. The Hero and the Repercussions

Don’t forget our first guiding principle: Hero Audience Bonding.

We create a hero the audience can learn through, vicariously. As the hero progresses through the story, learning and problem solving, the audience will learn the same lessons “” given they have bonded with the main character.

Learning Goals

As this is an educational story, there are objectives. We want the students to learn something. It is important to define what these objectives are. They can be identity oriented learning (morals) or process oriented learning (math) goals. And, there may be several goals. Perhaps along the road to learning the dangers of lying, the hero also learns the distributive property and bits of the scientific method? Whatever the case may be, establish theme to yourself early so you can keep on focus.

The Hero and the Moment

Heroes must make a multitude of decisions along the journey in order to be a willful character. She does not necessarily have to make these decisions alone. In fact allies are some of the most important aspects of a compelling story. These allies function as mentors, moral compasses, and even shape shifting enemies at times. However, there comes a time when the hero must make the final set of decisions alone. She must stand at the last threshold, face the final antagonistic force, and accept the consequences of those decisions.

Read More

Educational Storytelling: Constructing the Tale, A Hero’s Journey

This post is part of a series that explores the Basics of Educational Storytelling. Largely taken from my master”™s thesis, The Value and Principles of Educational Storytelling (which can be read here), this I will lay the foundation for an educational storytelling model regardless of setting and medium. We look at the basic elements of storytelling, five guiding principles and educational stories, and practical tips.

Check out the rest of the series.

Finally its here! We have discussed the value of educational storytelling, the different elements of story (plot, setting, character), and one of the guiding principles of stories that teach. Now it’s time to dig into constructing stories for education. What is the skeleton of an educational story?

We will use the Hero’s Journey as a skeleton for our story. We first looked at this journey. There is a comprehensive series elsewhere on my blog.

I am a fan of simplicity. Many Hero’s Journey outlines include 12 or 15 stages plus a dozen archetypes. I have boiled this down to five pieces of the Journey, each with an important task.

  1. The Hero and the Cast of Characters
  2. The Hero and the Ordinary World, Broken
  3. The Hero and the Journey
  4. The Hero and the Moment
  5. The Hero and the Repercussions

We will walk through the first three this week and the final two next week. As we work through this, remember our first guiding principle: Hero Audience Bonding.

We create a hero the audience can learn through, vicariously. As the hero progresses through the story, learning and problem solving, the audience will learn the same lessons “” given they have bonded with the main character.

Learning Goals

As this is an educational story, there are objectives. We want the students to learn something. It is important to define what these objectives are. They can be identity oriented learning (morals) or process oriented learning (math) goals. And, there may be several goals. Perhaps along the road to learning the dangers of lying, the hero also learns the distributive property and bits of the scientific method? Whatever the case may be, establish theme to yourself early so you can keep on focus.

The Hero and the Cast of Characters

The hero is not the only character in your story. Supporting characters, villains, mentors, even talking trees all have a place in the tale. When we went through characters, we listed several archetypes essential to the Hero’s Journey. Those character types are also relevant here, and they each play a specific role in teaching.

Each character is an archetype and  has a connection to the hero.

Read More

Learning About Your Characters

This post is by thriller author, Nicole Wilson.

Read more at nicolewilsonauthor.com or facebook.com/nicolewilson31author.


While I was working on the first draft of my novel, I realized that, despite all of my planning, plotting, and outlining, I did not know who my characters were. Nor did I realize that I needed to know who they were. I figured they would just come alive in the story, take on a personality by themselves. Right?

Wrong. At least for me. There was no flair. No personal touches to any of the dialogue. Not until I got to a scene where I needed a guy in a mask did I add some personality traits to my characters. The guy ends up wearing a Reaver mask, which is an entity in the TV show Firefly. But two of my main characters recognize it as a Reaver, while another character simply thinks it’s a monster. This helped develop that the first two were 1) good friends, 2)Firefly fans, and 3) a little bit geeky. It also helped me see that the other character wasn’t into cult classics like Firefly and helped build her as an outsider in that relationship.

That one little entry into my story made me realize that I needed to really dig deep into my characters, especially since I’m planning other books with some of them. Once I finally did my digging, I felt like there was so much more that could be added to my story, whether it be backstory, little conversational bits, anything that allows the reader to bond with the characters.

To go about exploring my characters, I googled “character profiles” and found a ton of hits. I picked out three that seemed to be pretty extensive and combined them into one Excel spreadsheet for a total of 200-and-something questions. Good grief. I decided that I would answer these to the best of my ability, and that I would do the best I could, but I was not going to answer 200-plus questions for seven characters. No thanks.

Read the rest.


Nicole Wilson is a thriller author, who loves her husband, Jesus, books, running, and Microsoft Excel. She has two short stories published and is at work on her first novel.

Hero Audience Bonding in Educational Storytelling

This post is part of a series that explores the Basics of Educational Storytelling. Largely taken from my master”™s thesis, The Value and Principles of Educational Storytelling (which can be read here), this I will lay the foundation for an educational storytelling model regardless of setting and medium. We look at the basic elements of storytelling, five guiding principles and educational stories, and practical tips.

Check out the rest of the series.

So far, we have discussed the value of Educational Stories, and looked at the basic elements of storytelling (character, plot, and setting) and ran through an overview of our guiding principles for educational storytelling. The first is Hero Audience Bonding.

Throughout the rest of this series, we will talk about two kinds of learning: Identity/Social oriented and Process oriented. Identity oriented learning is that learning which stories have traditionally been useful: teaching morals, self-esteem, and social behavior. Process oriented learning has gotten less story-limelight. This is learning in disciplines like math and science, where the audience is capturing processes and methods for reproducing results.

Storytelling can be used for both types of learning, and we will discuss each. The cornerstone of educational storytelling is Hero Audience bonding. In short,

We create a hero the audience can learn through, vicariously.

As the hero progresses through the story, learning and problem solving, the audience will learn the same lessons — given they have bonded with the main character. So, what makes a hero “bondable?” Identification, empathy, complexity, and a want, a wound, and a need.

Read More

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