Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Archetypes ….but were afraid to ask.

Archetypes are something you probably studied in high school or if you’re a fan of The Artist’s Journey by Christopher Vogler  or Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey.

ALERT: This is critical information for any writer, any genre. 

An archetype is something that is:

  • an original that has been imitated
  • a recurrent symbol or motif in literature, art, or mythology 

The term archetype can be applied to:
• An image
• A theme
• A symbol
• An idea
• A character type
• A plot pattern

Carl Jung, the first person to recognize that there were universal patterns in
all stories and mythologies regardless of culture or historical period, hypothesized that humans had a collective unconscious, a sort of universal, primal memory. Gender, culture, nationality did not matter. We all recognize these mythic images and stories. We are drawn to certain character patterns used in storytelling which resonate with dynamic experiences and we recognize them in the fairy tales that are read to us and in the literature we read as adults. We respond to these patterns unconsciously and literature brings these responses into the conscious realm.  

Joseph Campbell took Jung’s work with mythic images and refined the concept of hero. Then after several versions of Star Wars, George Lucas decided to revisit The Hero’s Journey and bam! As they say, the rest is history. He used the journey chronology and archetypal characters to secure his place in cinematic history.

To get a better grasp on this idea, watch the first three episodes of Star Wars (the REAL first three) OR episodes 4, 5 and 6 if you are younger. Use this worksheet > http://www.msu.edu/~jdowell/pdf/JosephCampbellPathHero.pdf  to follow the hero’s journey and see which character is filling which archetypal role. don't like star wars

I found the four archetype charts below on Maris McKay’s blog and loved them. I would also add that these archetypes aren’t always this gender specific. My current heroine in my work-in- (very slow)-progress is something of The Charmer and The Lost Soul (her core character trait). My hero is The Chief and The Nurturer (his core character trait) ….. as of now. When creating your characters you might want to consider how each archetype would react to another. Bad boy/Han Solo + The Boss/ Princess Leia =  sparks and head butting. You don’t want to make it easy on them.

heroines 2 

heroines                                                                           heros 2                                    heros

(Thanks Maris!  http://marismckay./heroine-archetypes) She goes into much more detail on her blog, so scoot over there to read up on these.

I’ll be discussing character more in future posts, but in the meantime, see how your characters fall into line. Also, watch Star Wars. Once you incorporate Jung/Campbell/Vogler’s concept in your plotting and character building, you won’t regret it.

If you enjoyed this post, I’d be very grateful if you’d help it spread by emailing it to a friend, or sharing on Facebook. Your comments are greatly appreciated.

Thank you!


Warts and All

I’ve been participating in Camp Nanowrimo ( http://campnanowrimo.org) this month and while not writing 80,973,947 words a day, I am hitting my 1000 mark most days. I actually have a plot to work with this time and characters that I love!

Please excuse me while I do my happy dance.

For this little camping venture, I did a lot, and I mean A LOT of character work before I started. My focus: make each important-move-the-plot-forward character three dimensional. I started by focusing on their flaws, because it’s our flaws that get us into trouble most of the time. And the same should be true of our characters.

Here’s the thing I find interesting (and makes the writer’s world a whole bunch easier). Character traits can be a two-edged sword and in my humble opinion, those are the best kind. After sorting out what kind of person your character is, narrow all those lovely (or not so lovely qualities) down to one primary attribute and one primary flaw and hopefully they are related.

For help figuring out which traits make sense for your character based on his/her history, you might find this Reverse Backstory Tool useful – so good! This is by Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi from http://writershelpingwriters.net .


The Good, Bad and In Between

Once you have a sense of the ‘two edged’ characteristic, you will want to list the behaviors and attitudes that might be evident in a person who exhibits this trait – both positive and negative. My protagonist, Anne, is confident. Some would say overly so. Her list looks like this:

  • is a take-charge kind of gal
  • doesn’t include others’ feedback or suggestions
  • people are attracted to her and she is respected
  • can come across as arrogant or prideful
  • lets her attempt things she wouldn’t otherwise attempt – in a good way
  • lets her attempt things she wouldn’t otherwise attempt – in a bad way
  • can let her over-estimate her abilities in situations which can get her killed
  • can put people at ease
  • can be brazen in her approach

It’s important to show BOTH sides. That’s the way you will achieve depth. No one likes a character who is either all good or all bad. ABC’s show, Once Upon A Time does a great job with making the standard, told a gazillion times fairy tale characters surprisingly fresh and well-developed.

Regina, the Evil Queen/Step-mother from Snow White and the Mayor of Storybrooke is a kick-ass villain. Anyone who challenges her and expects to win must be someone of equivalent fortitude and skill. She is trouble.

She is strong-willed, confident, smart, charming and she would lay down her life for her son. She does NOTHING by half measures. She embodies confidence. She is a complicated, beautiful woman with issues. You know what she’s been through. You know why she feels like she does about things like love, family, and friendship. There are moments when you hear yourself saying, “I hear you, Regina. Been there, done that.” This woman could write the book on ‘loss’. You feel her pain and her anger. It’s not contrived or just splashed on the script for convenience.

Her character has grown and changed over the three seasons of the show. Still the Evil Queen at heart, but always charming and confident that she’ll come out on top. No matter what.

When you have your list of traits- pro and con – there’s another benefit which I LOVE. This list will help you create scenes. I simply went down my list and brainstormed scenes where Anne would show these attributes. Since it is a romance, I then ask myself: what kind of man would fall in love with a woman like this, who could deal with her bossiness or tendency to jump first, think later? What kind of antagonist would threaten her and how or why? What could make her doubt herself or scare her? And HOW would you threaten or scare a woman like this? What could humble her? The scene possibilities grow and grow!

It’s important, this three-dimension stuff. It has been what has kept me from that “I LOVE your book and want to buy it and pay you lots of money” acceptance letter. Let me know how it goes in the comment section. Anything to add?

Thanks for stopping by and don’t forget to follow.


Project Life/January Part 1

I am at a transition point in my life, moving into the ’empty nest’ phase and wanted to capture the changes that were happening to my little family.  . . . and to me. I’ve always documented in some way or another, but this year I wanted to be more intentional in the process, more present and aware. So I decided to begin Project Life, a memory keeping concept created by Becky Higgins.

Instead of week to week, which seems to be the format of choice for most, I chose to document month by month. I just know how I work and knew week to week would be too difficult to keep up. I also didn’t want to be locked into a format that was so strictly time based. That’s the beauty of the system though, you can make it work for you.

Today I’m sharing part of my January pages. This is my cover page.


Tip:  It is your set up. Just as in your novel, the cover page lets the viewer see the ‘before’, the ordinary world. I’ve introduced all the major players – my three kids and me. The first five or so pages of a novel sets the tone, mood, type and scope of your story.


This page was just some pics that I loved. I cheated on the first two pages by using photos that were not from the year 2014, but I figured no one would know in fifty years but me (and all of you).

Tip: Remember, you’re doing this to make you happy. Use pictures that give you joy. Just as in your writing, you want to write the story that YOU want to read.


This page is my goal page. Being the born list maker that I am, I’ve divided life into eight categories and wrote goals for each one. I thought this would make me more accountable in that I must address the progress or completion at some point before or by December 31st.

TIP: The main character’s goals must be stated or alluded to early on in your novel. By the end of the first chapter, the reader wants to know what the point is.


This is just a close up of my insert cards. I haven’t decided if I’m going to go back and mark which goals were finished at the end of the year or redo a goals page with completions on its own.


This is my ‘currently’ page. I want one for each month. I decided to make the writing picture an 8X8 since this is the main focus for this year. I will need the reminder.


I love the look of layered pages. I also felt like I needed this card to visually break up the space and be a transition to the next page.


The back side. Can you tell I love the look of 4X4 pictures?


The insert above is for the single page layout that follows. I didn’t want to clutter up the full page layout with all the info, so hid it away here. I thought it was important for generations to come to know who these people are and how they are related to one another. (The genealogist in me showing.)


My lovely mom, sister and great-nephew. We are on opposite coasts and I miss them terribly. They are the hole in my very nice life.

TIP: Speaking of holes: everybody has one or at least should if they are starring in your story. In the beginning of your story, your job is to show the reader the ‘before’ picture of your character, your character  as they are before the call to adventure or journey or return with the elixir. (If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, I command you to get a copy of The Writer’s Journey by Chris Vogler immediately). This is the beginning of your character arc. From this point forward they will be moving toward a becoming a heroic presence. Part of the set up includes telling the reader what is missing from their lives, what is the hole they carry around inside them? During the set up, one of your characters will speak this fact to the main character; they will tell them whatever ‘truth’ they need to hear, but the main character is not in a place to understand it. 

I’m finding my pace and am having fun with it as the frustrated artist in me is slowly escaping. Hoped you enjoyed the post. Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to join me on Facebook!





Are You Writing Characters Your Reader Will LOVE?

In my pursuit of the well rounded, three dimensional character, I began reading – REALLY reading, Robert McKee’s book, Story – a book I HIGHLY recommend.

OK lovebugs, this is what I’ve learned so far:



They are your babies, your creations, your soul whisperings.

McKee says this: (pay attention)


Repeat after me: empathetic, empathetic, empathetic.

Empathetic : the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings

Empathy = “like me”

As a writer you need to understand: empathetic characters connect with the reader.


Reader says:  Hey! This character and I have some things in common. This PROTAGONIST and I share a humanity. I would like to have this character as a best friend, lover, sister, brother, partner in a bank heist, random stranger I am stuck in an elevator with, neighbor, mother, etc.

 Hell!  I might even want to BE this character. 

Subconscious logic ensues:

A] The PROTAGONIST is like me.

B] I want the PROTAGONIST to have whatever  it is that s/he wants BECAUSE I EMPATHIZE with her/him and …….


Now, here’s another dimension to this whole EMPATHY thing.

As a writer, you HAVE to make sure that  ALL (I repeat: ALL) of your characters are EMPATHETIC ….. even the bad’uns. They deserve love just like everyone else. They don’t think they’re bad’uns, just misunderstood. But then, aren’t we all? 

Watch this interview with John Stewart and David O. Russell, director of American Hustle.  Empathy thing = spot on.



McKee’s advice: “If you can’t love them, don’t write them.”

Do you, as a writer, struggle with this?? What helps you LOVE your little darlings?

A Funny Thing Happened on My Way to the Civil War

Civil War soldier – suspected to be female.

Characters come from everywhere: street corners, pictures in magazines, a conversation you overhear – writers are masters at eavesdropping – a song, a phrase, a piece of clothing, anything really can spark someone into life. Sometimes they just appear from the ether ready to tell their story, not a shy bone in their imaginative bodies. But then there are THOSE characters who lurk in the shadows, taunting you with their silence.

I’ve had this ongoing relationship with a character I’ve called Addie for years now. She won’t leave me be but isn’t forthcoming with her story. All I know about her is that she is obstinate and obnoxious and abrasive. Did I mention closed-mouthed?  Not at all like the heroine I had envisioned for my historical romance. She didn’t even seem to bathe that often. I mean . . . What kind of romance heroine doesn’t bathe? And she’s prone to violence. A shoot-first-ask-questions-later kind of gal.

Trying to pin down her story has been a monumentally difficult task and she still gives me fits. .

And on top of that. The characters in the book – including the hero – didn’t really like her.

I didn’t even like her.  And each time I wanted to get rid of her and find a more manageable leading lady, I stopped short.  To be honest, I did plan her demise – hemlock, falling from a strategically placed cliff, accidental shooting – but I digress.  I can’t get her out of my head. There was something intriguing about this character and I knew she had a story to tell.  But unfortunately for me, she sat there: brooding, shut-mouthed and stubborn, antagonistic toward me and any attempt I made at breaching the void.  And so we sat  – glowering at each other from opposite corners of my brain.

After whining to a fellow writer, my friend suggested that I see a hypnotist.  And not just your normal, run-of-the-mill hypnotist, a regression therapist – someone who will take you down memory lane to revisit all your former selves. She’d done a session or two and it had opened her up to some plotting issues she was having. I mean, what could it hurt?

Many spiritual practices believe that reincarnation is real and I will admit that I have entertained the possibility. But even feeling the way I did, I was prepared for a mediocre experience at best. I thought that if I could walk away with a magic mantra to eradicate writer’s block AND find a way to send Addie back into the ether, I would have gotten my money’s worth.

I was wrong.

The hypnotist put me under and I can honestly say it was one of the oddest sensations I’ve ever had. Walking down the tunnel to another place in time, before the time of my birth and stepping out into the American Civil War. The words came easily, the smell of rotting fall leaves was strong, the crunch, the leaves shadowing on the ground – it was all real. I was looking out, like a first person player video game, into a new, yet familiar, world.

I found myself telling the hypnotist my story and the words came easily. The girl (me) was a spy/agent/loose cannon for the Confederacy and had been shot in the side. I showed the therapist where. I remember thinking – “Here. Like this.” and when I held out my hand I saw blood on it. This girl was angry. Beyond angry. She had been abandoned by the people who said they would stand by her. She was bleeding and cold and alone and in trouble.

A nearby farmer and his daughter found her/me hidden in the woods. Me/she was dressed as a boy and the reasoning made sense to me as I described what I was wearing – part protection in a country gone mad and part in rebellion at the constraints that a woman would have faced. She/me liked the freedom. They took her in and saved her life.

The hypnotist asked what I noticed about the situation and she/me said…………………the daughter’s shoes.

Not the war-torn countryside.

Not the gaping hole in her side.

Not the hunger and fear.

The shoes. Really?

The daughter wore some sort of slipper and were not at all like the men’s too-big riding boots that ‘I’ wore. The strength of emotion that ‘I’ had about those shoes and thinking that they were how ‘I’ judged my life was strong. No money for new shoes, no time for a normal life, no room for being female or showing any feminine side, and even if there were, how would a pair of those slippers fit into someone who lived like ‘I’ did. Slippers weakened you, Slippers made men see you as fragile and less and that was not who ‘I’ was. Slippers were foolishness. And this girl that I had been was no fool. She shot people, she torched barns and homes of Union sympathizers, she was angry and serious and focused and strong.

But oh . . . those slippers were sooooooooooo pretty.

I remember hearing the longing in my voice when I listened to the taped session later and the memory of those shoes still made me smile. And even though her boots were practical, she hated them in a fist-in-the-air-Scarlett O’Hara-as-God-is-my-witness-I-will-never-wear-ugly- shoes-again- kind of way.

It was then that I felt that this girl – this Addie if you will – was me. Maybe she needed to find her voice, to be heard. Maybe she was a part of ME that needed to be heard. Maybe she was a hint, a memory of what I needed to do in this life. (Shoe shopping anyone?)

And my heart has softened towards her. She had reasons for acting the way she did. Don’t we all? (Character development lesson in there somewhere.) She is me and not me at the same time and I find myself wanting parts of Addie back – or at least parts of her sans the barn burnings and midnight raids.

There was not an ounce of fear in her body.

I want that. I want to live life fearlessly. I want to have the strength, the fierceness, the confidence that she had. I want to be passionate about my choices and have the conviction to leap without a net in the face of ‘common sense’ like she did. I want to see if I can meld the two of us back into one person. Sounds a little schizophrenic, but then I’m a writer. And writers hear voices all the time. What’s one more step down the rabbit hole in the name of art?

And maybe I can do that by telling her story. With a few modifications here and there. At least, I think, it might be easier to approach her. She might actually lower her gun and now I know how to tempt her out of the shadows.

French Bronzed Kid Chameleon Shoes , c. 1858-1866

I think I have the perfect pair of shoes.

Tell me: What characters have given you headaches and what have you done to fix the situation? Accept them as they come or kill them off?? I’d love for you to share in the comments below. Thanks, sweetpeas.

Little Darlings


I’ve been working on several blog posts on character development and my personal journey with my “little darlings”. In the meantime, please join me over on Facebook for daily tidbits.  

There are a million character worksheets floating around out there. They are a great way to get a handle on the voices taking up space in your head. Time and attention to all those little character details really do add up to a three dimensional character. And those characters will draw your reader into their world.

Don’t forget to like my Facebook page and let me know how YOU approach a character.