Character Archetypes: The Mentor

We’re all familiar with the Mentor Archetype. In fact, I would wager that, aside from the Hero Archetype, this is the one that most of us would identify off the top of our heads next. That may be because the Mentor Archetype is so intricately tied into your classic Hero’s Journey. For every Frodo or Bilbo Baggins, there is a Gandalf. For every Harry Potter, there is a Dumbledore.

Common Aspects of the Mentor Archetype:

  • Acts as a mentor or guide to Hero Archetype character
  • Usually old and wise
  • Introduce Hero to knowledge they will need to complete their quest
  • Typically are not present at the conclusion of the quest
  • Can be either gender

But, for all the commonalities and omnipresence of Mentor Archetypes, there are a lot of variations. Sometimes a Hero character has more than one mentor, or a mentor that leads them toward evil versus good. While most mentors disappear from the narrative from some point (often through death), some are there constantly, especially in an ongoing series (such as Alfred from Batman). Mentors can help with the larger quest or only be present for a smaller side quest.

Additionally, Mentor characters can morph into other archetypes as narratives go on. A Hero may eventually learn more than his original mentor, thus becoming the master (to quote Star Wars) themselves. A mentor may become a good friend over time, moving more into a love interest or sidekick role.

Mentor Archetypes are extremely common across all genres and forms of media. Buffy has Giles, King Arthur has Merlin, Luke has Obi-Wan, Dorothy has Glinda the Good Witch.

Who’s your favorite Mentor Character, Squiders? Can you think of examples where a Mentor character has morphed into another archetypal character?

Next: The Evil Character with a Heart of Gold

Character Archetypes: The Villain

Aside from the Hero, the Villain is probably the most common character archetype. After all, without a villain, many stories would not happen. Heroes rise up solely to fight the evil villains bring into the world; with a villain, without their evil plan, heroes probably wouldn’t have destinies, or have lost their families, or be forced into the world. They’d stay on their farms and raise sheep.

The Villain Archetype tends to display the following characteristics:

  • Tends to be evil purely to be evil
  • Don’t care who else is hurt in the process
  • Tends to be complete opposite of Hero Archetype
  • Selfish, egotistical, power-hungry

The Villain Archetype tends to be less straightforward than the Hero Archetype. Many experts consider there to be sub-archetypes within this archetype, such as the Tyrant or the Fanatic. Some people consider them to be evil incarnate, whereas some people consider them to merely be the opposite of whatever the Hero is.

Examples of the Villain Archetype include Jafar (Aladdin), Sauron (though less traditionally), or the Wicked Witch of the West. Often, the Villain Archetype tends to be lacking in character motivation beyond “take over the world,” or even just “be in the hero’s way.” As such, the Villain Archetype tends to get more criticism than some of the others.

Villain Archetypes are used in a lot of different types of stories, from your evil businessman to corrupt politician to religious fanatic. You find them lurking behind TV shows, fantasy novels, thriller plots, and murder mysteries. Done well, they can draw you in, as you wait to see what they get up to next.

Who’s your favorite Villain Archetype? Any one that drives you mad or that you love madly?

Next: The Mentor Archetype

Character Archetypes: The Hero

Perhaps the best known of all character archetypes is the hero. Most stories have a hero, after all, and even non-standard protagonists tend to be labeled by their relationship to the hero archetype: a tragic hero, for example, or an anti-hero. And one of the most common, most universal (at least according to Joseph Campbell) types of plot is the Hero’s Journey.

Common Aspects of the Hero Archetype:

  • Forced to leave home
  • Often an orphan, or discovers his/her family is not really his/her family
  • Tend to be uniformly “good”
  • Tend to see world as a division of good vs. evil
  • Often “chosen” in some way to defeat some great evil (prophecy, royalty, etc.)
  • Often has special powers in some form
  • Usually driven out into the world by some traumatic event

Luke Skywalker is often considered a perfect example of the Hero Archetype. Orphan, raised by remote relatives, has special powers, has clear “evil” to fight, forced to leave home by traumatic events.

Other Hero Archetype characters include Superman, Simba, King Arthur, Harry Potter–the list goes on and on. This is one of the most universal of all the archetypes. I’m sure you can think of a few–or a dozen–more without too much work.

Hero Archetypes are often encountered with Mentor Archetypes (which will will discuss next week), and may also, at some point, suffer from an incurable wound or a moment when it seems like everything’s lost. To continue using Luke as an example, we have his Obi-Wan (and also Yoda, once he loses Obi-Wan), and the end of Empire Strikes Back, when Luke loses his hand and learns that Darth Vader is his father.

Hero Archetypes are common across several genres, including, but not limited to, adventure, fantasy, thriller, and science fiction. They’re easy for most people to relate to and come with built-in characteristics that make for an interesting narrative.

Who’s your favorite Hero Archetype, Squiders? Have you seen this archetype used well or subverted any place that’s really stuck with you?

Next: The Villain Archetype

Character Archetypes: An Introduction

So, Squiders, over the next month we’re going to be looking at a series of the most common character archetypes.

What’s an archetype? An archetype is generally defined as something–a character, theme, or situation, for example–that can be considered “universal.”

Archetypes are somewhat controversial. Some people claim that they’re essential, and the everything can be broken down in a basic number of archetypes (though the number of “basic” archetypes seems to vary from expert to expert). Other people claim that archetypes lack depth, lack complexity, and if you use archetypes in your writing, you’re missing the nuances of real life and human behavior.

Archetypes are common throughout different forms of media (though some may be confined to a certain culture) and are often reoccurring across genre and time period. They’re often the basis of theories like universal consciousness and phrases like, “There’s only eight types of plots.”

I’ve picked 10 of the most common from various lists. We’ll look at two a week, examining what the definition of the archetype is, and also exploring characters that fall into said archetype.

Should be fun! I hope you’ll all come along with me.

But before we get started, what are your feelings on archetypes? Are they something you ever think about, or are characters just characters? Do you feel they are universal or overarcing?

[Guest Post] Chris Mandeville on the Inspiration Behind Her Post-Apocalyptic Seeds

My friend Chris Mandeville’s debut novel, Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure, was released on April 18, 2015. One week later it shot to number 6 on Amazon’s Top 100 list of post-apocalyptic books, and it’s been in the top 100 since. She’s agreed to share her inspiration here with us, Squiders.

SEEDS FINAL LARGEMy inspiration for Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure was two-fold: a “practical” inspiration and a creative one. The seed for both came in the form of a phone call that woke me from a dead sleep.

Early one morning my husband phoned me on his way to work to tell me about a news story he’d just heard on the radio about a seed bank. The story was about the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a storage repository for crop seeds in Norway. My husband was convinced that this “Doomsday Vault” would make a great basis for a post-apocalyptic novel, and since he’s not a writer, he figured I should write it. I politely told him “no thank you, I have my own story ideas” (though according to his recollection I wasn’t quite that polite), then I hung up and went back to sleep. Needless to say, I wasn’t feeling the inspiration.

At that time in my writing career, I was unpublished but had completed a fantasy novel, The Spider Prophet, a quest tale that takes place in a Native American dreamspace. When I received the Doomsday Vault phone call from my husband, Spider Prophet was in the submission phase. This means I wasn’t actively writing or revising the story, but instead spent my writing time sending query letters and sample pages to editors and agents. The process of submitting work isn’t very creative, so despite my “rejection” of my husband’s story premise, my very bored creative mind began playing around with the concept of a story where stored seeds would play a crucial role. I still wasn’t feeling inspired by the concept, but something about it had taken hold in my subconscious. I could feel it trying to germinate even as I resisted.

During the course of submissions for Spider Prophet, I queried an agent with the Harvey Klinger Agency, Andrea Somberg, who I really respect and admire. She asked to see “a full” (i.e. the complete manuscript). While she was reading it, I continued to submit the manuscript to other agents and editors, but found myself growing antsy and impatient waiting to hear back.

My critique group strongly suggested I start writing a new story while I waited. It was hard to shift my mindset to an entirely new story, but eventually I acquiesed. You might think this is the part where I embraced the idea of writing Seeds, but you’d be wrong. I still wasn’t “feeling it.” I suspect I was resisting at least partially because the idea wasn’t my own. So I started writing scenes for a time-hopping, reincarnation, love-triangle story.

Ultimately Andrea came back with a rejection of Spider Prophet. However, it was the best rejection I’d ever received. She said great things about my writing and gave me suggestions for improvement. Encouraged by her comments, I decided to respond to her email with a note thanking her and asking if she’d be interested in seeing my next project.

Here’s where you’re thinking I pitched Seeds, right? Well, not at first. You see, I still hadn’t embraced the Doomsday Vault idea, so I tried to come up with a logline for the story I’d just started working on. But despite my best efforts, I couldn’t manage to produce a coherent, compelling pitch for my time-hopping, reincarnation, love-triangle mash-up. So here’s what I pitched her instead:

In “Seeds” a nomadic journeyman is confronted with knowledge from a past life that could save the remnants of his post-apocalyptic civilization….

To that Andrea replied with an enthusiastic “Yes, send it!” Knowing I needed to send Andrea a story about seeds provided me with a very real, practical “inspiration” to write that story. I still wasn’t feeling creatively inspired, but I didn’t have the luxury of sitting around waiting for the muse to find me. I had to take action and get the story rolling despite my lack of creative inspiration.

At this point I asked myself “what kind of apocalypse would make a seed vault valuable?” Since I don’t have the background necessary to answer this question scientifically, I went to my scientist husband for help. That seemed fitting since he was the one who got me into this whole mess in the first place. Together we gathered a small group of scientist-friends, provided them with food and beverage, and began brainstorming the apocalypse.

That’s when I got my creative inspiration. The past life/reincarnation element of my pitch was quickly discarded (it was really just a ghost of that time-hopping love-triangle story anyway) and I got totally enthused about the idea of a solar storm that wipes out all the plants, animals, and technology on the planet, with the only survivors being those who were underground. It wasn’t long before the survivors inside Cheyenne Mountain (NORAD) became the object of my focus, and the story sprouted and grew from there.

I did eventually send Seeds to Andrea Somberg, who really liked the story and the writing, but ultimately didn’t take on the project because of market considerations—she had recently tried to sell a similar story to publishers without success, so she didn’t think she’d be the best advocate for me. After this, I sent Seeds to quite a few more agents and editors, and received rejection after rejection with similar feedback about the marketplace.

Ultimately I came to accept that the traditional publishing establishment was not going to embrace Seeds, and I had a decision to make: self-publish or stow it in the bottom drawer alongside The Spider Prophet.

I sought advice from one of my mentors who suggested I consider a third option: indie publish with a micro-publisher. That led to a deal with Parker Hayden Media, where I landed a phenomenal editor and cover designer, and couldn’t be happier!

The moral of this story? I suppose it’s two-fold like my inspiration:

1. don’t automatically shun another person’s inspiration when it’s given to you; and

2. when you don’t feel creatively inspired, do the work and inspiration may follow.

20120414_70 aChris writes SF/F and nonfiction for writers. She served as Pikes Peak Writers’ president for 5 years, and has taught writing workshops for 10 years. Her books include Seeds: a post-apocalyptic adventure and 52 Ways to Get Unstuck: Exercises to Break Through Writer’s Block. chrismandeville.com

If you’d like to learn more about Seeds or pick up a copy, go here!

Are Podcasts Really the Future?

Flowing from Tuesday’s topic, podcasts are something I’m starting to see recommended everywhere in the marketing world. One writing marketing newsletter I receive has gone fully that direction and now talks about nothing else.

A podcast, just so we’re all on the same page, is like a blog post, or a newsletter, except instead of being written, someone records it, and you listen to it. They can be a few minutes long to close to (or sometimes over) an hour.

The general selling point seems to be that we as a society are not willing to sit and read anything, and that by creating a podcast, you can reach more, busier people who you would never reach otherwise.

So, is this true?

Well, possibly.

We’ve talked in the past about things along these lines (whether people will read shorter things over longer things, watch movies over books, etc.) and the bottom line is that there will always be people who prefer to read over anything else.

Personally, I am not terribly fond of podcasts. They’re really only convenient to do when you’re doing something else (like mowing the lawn, or going on a long car trip) and I feel like it kind of divides your attention. I only listen to two on any sort of regular basis (Welcome to Night Vale and the Author Marketing Podcast) and they either distract me from what I’m doing at the same time, or I feel like I miss key information from the podcast itself.

But, on the other hand, I had an acquaintance the other day tell me they hadn’t read a book in eight years and it had been great (which is, honestly, about the saddest thing I’ve ever heard). So, is there a market of non-reading people out there that could potentially be reached through podcasts? Sure.

But podcasts replacing the written word? No. Supplementing? Why not?

(I mean, assuming you have a nice, quiet place to either record–if you’re a content producer–or listen to podcasts. Not in my household.)

What are your opinions on podcasts, Squiders? Wave of the future? A passing fad? Any podcasts you really like and would recommend?

Also, if a story were released serially in an audio format, would that be something worthwhile to you?

Marketing to Distraction

I’ve noticed something lately. I, like many people, I suspect, have a limited amount of time every day to spend on writing-related activities. These activities include:

  • Plotting/planning
  • Research
  • Writing
  • Editing
  • Marketing
  • Publishing activities
  • Ancillary activities, like blogging or market research

I would like to break these down a bit, so, say, I always have half an hour to an hour for actual writing, and maybe another half an hour for marketing/publishing activities, but that doesn’t seem to be the way things are working out at the moment.

So everything is currently coming out of the same well of time. And with the current climate of publishing, where authors are increasingly in charge of their own marketing, it behooves people to be aware of marketing techniques and to keep up with new and changing marketing trends.

And I realized lately that I seem to be denoting the majority of my writing time pool to marketing. But not, like, actual marketing. Learning about marketing. Taking marketing classes, readings marketing blogs, going to marketing webinars. Most are writing-related, but some are just general marketing.

Am I procrastinating? Is it an excuse to not do any real marketing, because I’m still “learning”? (Though, at this point, everything’s starting to sound the same and I’m pretty sure I’m not getting anything new out of anything.) Is it something that makes it seem like I’m being productive when I’m really not?

I hope to be able to better utilize my time now that I’ve realized what I’ve been doing. But I thought I’d bring it up in case other people are unknowingly (or in denial about) doing the same thing. Learning is well and good, but if you’re not getting anything done, it’s time to re-evaluate.

Have you ever realized you were trapped in the illusion of productivity? And to stick with marketing, what is the most useful thing you’ve found works?

(In other good news, my Kit Campbell Books and Kit the Editor websites are back up. They did lose some of the more recent content, so I will need to get them back up to date, but if you need general info, it’s all there, so go and take a look!)

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