Tag: lists (Page 2 of 4)

(Ten) Innovative Idea Winners of Game-Based Learning

This incredible showcase highlights ten ideas for gamifying learning, both in and outside the classroom. These concepts are not that complex, and most don’t require a huge amount of technical skill, but they can do wonders in keeping students engaged.

Originally from classroom-aid.com

The top 10  innovators were announced and listed here: Meet 10 Innovative Educators Using Game-Based Learning. These ideas could be inspiring for game industry teams, educators or even parents.

  • Journalism : A computer game is envisioned allowing students to travel to historic or imaginary crime scenes and act as reporters or investigators.
  • Science : In an in-flight journey as a young bird following migration routes and discovering ecosystems, habitats, food chains, and life cycles along the way, students must accomplish missions that involve identifying, befriending, and helping the different species of animals and birds in the area.
  • Curriculum APPlications : Students earn points by finding examples of the science learning content within popular interactive games, they create a mini-poster about the connection which can be displayed on one section of the classroom wall “leader board”.
  • Challenge the World : It”™s about opening up “World Math Day” ““ a three-day global competition ““ to more students in more subject areas, the competition would motivate and engage students in learning, while helping to build their understanding of other cultures around the world.

Read the rest here.

(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?

Books for Visual Artists

The folks over at BlenderGuru have compiled a great list of books that every (visual) artist should read. Its a wonderful list, so check it out. I have picked the four that I feel are the most important to build a foundation in visual storytelling. The descriptions are quoted from the original.

  • Digital Lighting and Rendering ““ The CG industry”™s go-to book on creating appealing art. It tackles one of the hardest concepts to understand: Lighting. I”™ve been the proud owner of this book for over 5 years and refer to it several times a year.
  • Universal Principles of Design ““ A must have book for any artist or designer. Extremely useful for creating images that are actually based on sound design principles, as opposed to guesswork.
  • The Non-Designer”™s Design Book ““ Explains the fundamental principles of graphic design and typography. Whether you”™re designing a website, business card or flyer. This book explains how to make it look visually captivating ““ in plain easy.
  • Picture Perfect Practice ““ A fantastic book on composition, that although is written for photographers, applies equally to cg art.

Read the rest.

(Seven) Principles of Transmedia Storytelling (from Henry Jenkins)

Henry Jenkins is one of the leading researchers studying transmedia, fanfiction, and media consumption. In graduate school, I read lots of his books and he is quoted in my thesis. Here, he details seven core principles to telling mixed-media, interactive stories (transmedia in his words). This article is pretty technical and long, but really great. I’ve pulled out the seven with a quote, just to wet your appetite.

Read the rest.

  1. Spreadability vs. Drillability – “the capacity of the public to engage actively in the circulation of media content through social networks and in the process expand its economic value and cultural worth”
  2. Continuity vs. Multiplicity – Is the story linear from point a to b or is it fragmented?
  3. Immersion vs. Extractability – “These two concepts refer to the perceived relationship between the transmedia fiction and our everyday experiences.”
  4. Worldbuilding – The internal consistency of the characters, plot, and setting
  5. Seriality – Lots of smaller stories combined together to form a larger narrative.
  6. Subjectivity – The story outside the story, such as fanfiction, twitter wars, and cosplay.
  7. Performance – The reader performs the story in life.

From the Article:

I first introduced my concept of transmedia storytelling in my Technology Review column in 2003 and elaborated upon it through the “Searching for the Oragami Unicorn: The Matrix and Transmedia Storytelling” chapter in Convergence Culture. For me, the origami unicorn has remained emblematic of the core principles shaping my understanding of transmedia storytelling, a kind of patron saint for what has emerged as increasing passionate and motivated community of artists, storytellers, brands, game designers, and critics/scholars, for whom transmedia has emerged as a driving cause in their creative and intellectual lives. We all have somewhat different definitions of transmedia storytelling and indeed, we don”™t even agree on the same term ““ with Frank Rose talking about “Deep Media” and Christy Dena talking about “Cross-media.”

As Frank has put it, same elephant, different blind men. We are all groping to grasp a significant shift in the underlying logic of commercial entertainment, one which has both commercial and aesthetic potentials we are still trying to understand, one which has to do with the interplay between different media systems and delivery platforms (and of course different media audiences and modes of engagement.)

I will devote more time to applying some of these principles and reviewing the core concepts in later posts.

Read the entire article.

Storytelling With WordPress

In trolling the vast interwebs for research, I found several great resources to create storytelling websites using the popular (and free) web-software, WordPress. For those that don’t know, WordPress is a mini-content-management system that runs about 20% of all the websites in the internet. It’s totally free, made by community volunteers, open source (so you can modify it), and very easy to use. Usually, it makes websites, but the links below give tips on transforming that website into an interactive story. Enjoy!

WordPress Storytelling – A great introduction with examples of how people are using WordPress to tell stories.

Storytelling in WordPress – Another showcase of WordPress stories.

Immersive Storytelling – The next step, how to get started.

A DIY Guide to WordPress Storytelling – Another step by step guide. Very readable. Great people over at WPMU.

The Aesop Story Engine – A great tool to get you started. Does a lot of the technical stuff for you. Easy to use.

Building Stories Using a Multimedia Storyteller – Another tool that gives you more control, but is a little more tech-y.


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?

Brandon Sanderson and Magic

In this week dedicated to fantasy writing and world-building, it is only right to start with a look at a master. Brandon Sanderson is one of the greatest world builders of our time, not only because his works are imaginative and well-executed, but because they are consistent, thought out, and deceptively simple. To achieve this, he has devised his Three Laws of Magic, which cover the ground rules for creating magical systems in fantasy works.

The following is shamelessly pulled from Wikipedia, which in this case, offers a fantastic summary. Read the rest on wikipedia.org or brandonsanderson.com

Sanderson’s First Law

“An author’s ability to solve conflict satisfactorily with magic is directly proportional to how well the reader understands said magic.”[25]

While originally created as a rule for magic systems in fantasy novels, Sanderson has specified that this law need not apply just to fantasy, but is also applicable to science fiction. This Law was originally defined in Sanderson’s online essay “Sanderson’s First Law”.[25] In the essay he qualifies the two extremes1 of design as being:

Hard Magic
Magic/technology has well defined rules that the audience understands. As a result, one can use this to solve conflict more easily as the capabilities are cleanly defined. Sanderson classifies this as “Hard Magic”. C.L. Wilson in her essay Worldbuilding 101 – Making Magic[26] advocated this method of creation, stating, “…create your rules, then follow them.”
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, but the ability to solve problems without resorting to deus ex machina decreases. Sanderson classifies this as “Soft Magic”. Lawrence Watt-Evans specifically advised “The trick is to be a benevolent and consistent deity, not one who pulls miracles out of a hat as needed”[27]

Sanderson’s Second Law

“Limitations > Powers”[25]

Or in other words, a character’s weaknesses are more interesting than his or her abilities. It was initially set down in Episode 14 of the podcast Writing Excuses.[28]2

John Brown, likewise looked to Sanderson’s work in his own essay involving magic systems, noting “What are the ramifications and conflicts of using it?”[29] Patricia Wrede likewise noted several issues on this topic ranging from magic suppressing other technologies, to how a magic might affect farming.[30][31]

In explaining the second law, Sanderson references the magic system of Superman, claiming that Superman’s powers are not what make him interesting, but his limits, specifically his vulnerability to kryptonite and the code of ethics he received from his parents.

Sanderson’s Third Law

“Expand what you already have before you add something new.”[32]

The Third Law implies that the writer should go deeper with worldbuilding before going wider.

Sanderson points out that magic does not take place in a vacuum, a good magic system should be interconnected with the world around it. It is related to the ecology, religion, economics, warfare, and politics of the world it inhabits. The job of the author is to think further than the reader about the ramifications of the magic system. If magic can turn mud into diamonds, that has an effect on the value of diamonds. Sanderson states that readers of genre fiction are interested not just in the magic system but how the world and characters will be different because of the magic.[33]

Quoted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brandon_Sanderson#Sanderson.27s_Laws

Fellow Revolutionaries

Storytelling is every-changing, and it is awesome! A shift in the way we share stories is happening all around. Tales are becoming more mixed-media, more interactive. They move between text and images and sounds. We get to be the characters and influence the plot. Stories are becoming more than passive things we enjoy.

There is a revolution, a revolution this blog is dedicated to.

But, I am not the only one sparking the flame. Here are some other artists and storytellers who are pushing the envelope in mixed-media, interactive stories.

Brian Selznick

I personally owe this guy a lot. His most recent books, The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck are both told in pictures and text. That is the story alternates between pictures and novel chapters. It was eye-opening to me. My current project, Allyson Darke, took the same approach, though for a decidedly older audience.

Besides be a revolutionary in that sense, he is a great illustrator. The level of detail and charm in is works is astounding. Check him out!

Read More

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





(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

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