Jessica Shirvington knows a thing or two about writing archetypes. Her new novel, Entice, is a classic coming-of-age story that includes angel mythology, forbidden romance, and an epic battle between good and evil. These topics are timeless, but Jessica still managed to give them her own spin.
Today, she shares her thoughts on on how to write archetypes. And she’s offering a writing challenge to help you put her advice into action. Read through to learn more!
Dealing with archetypes is an integral part of writing. We all do it, whether we recognize how and why we are doing it or not. Archetypes are instantly recognizable symbols that help the reader understand plot, characters, and themes in a story.
“But I don’t want to be unoriginal!” I hear you say. Archetypes aren’t about being unoriginal. Useful, carefully constructed archetypes are the handy tool; they are the sign on the road that tells your readers what to expect. Archetypes give your readers a sense of familiarity. They help to drive the plot along—until you decide whether the road you’re on heads straight for the scenic byways or careens right over the edge! The trick is to make archetypes work for you, while avoiding falling into any stereotypes.
My protagonist, Violet, is surrounded by strong archetype characters—by fellow warriors, the mentor, the bad boy, the love interest (or two), the best friend, the otherworldly hybrids, the leader, the guides, the deceiver. Since I use a lot of biblical references and mythology I must harness some of the most obvious of archetypal forms – the angel and devil, good and evil. These archetypes all take shape around Violet, influencing her decisions and impacting on her emotions and motivations. I use these universally understood characters to mold and guide the ultimate archetype of my series: the coming-of-age-heroine, Violet.
The method of tackling the archetype can come in many ways. You can draw a direct, and more obvious line by appropriating and recreating the idea of a well-known character in a new modern tale: a retelling of a Romeo & Juliet story (or most any Shakespeare hero for that matter) or a fairy tale. A perfect example is West Side Story. At its most basic, the musical is Romeo and Juliet transplanted to 1950s New York City.
Another great way to use archetypes is to trade on their universality—upset everyone’s expectations and open up a brand new way of telling your story. Use the archetype as inspiration but take them in unexpected directions. Have your hero’s mentor become the betrayer. Or transform the bad boy into a leader.
Some archetypes evolve on the page—the bad guy turned ally, or the friend turned foe, for example. Others have a clear persona from the moment we meet them. Either way, all writers walk the tricky line between facilitating their roles and falling into the cliché territory. To avoid letting characters being branded “cardboard cutouts,” writers build strong worlds around them and recreate the archetypes with personality, back stories, quirks, conflicts, and emotions that do the characters justice and allow them the depth and dimension they deserve. In other words, we endeavor to make each character unique so that the reader can embrace them and sympathize with their story while the character also fulfills their crucial role.
So, let’s practice this idea, shall we?
Let’s set the scene:
I pulled my coat collar close—a futile attempt to ward off chills that had nothing to do with being cold. My lungs were so tight that when I finally let go of the breath I’d been holding, the dizziness swiftly swam from my chest to my head. The pressure of so many eyes on me, waiting, judging, planning and worst of all, moving closer, spurred an unsettling sensation. But I ignored it and held still. Today just wasn’t my day.
Take your favorite archetype (some ideas: the Cinderella, the Prince Charming, the Fairy Godmother, the Evil Stepmother) and, using the paragraph above, write a short scene with the person as the archetype.
Now do it again with the person showing personality and breaking the mold. Which is more interesting? Why?
Tag your writing ArchetypePractice and the Figment editors will choose our four favorites to feature on the Figment homepage! Tag your entry by 12:00 a.m. ET on Saturday, September 15 to enter. Read the full rules and get writing!