Every story consists, in one form or another, a selection of specific characters archetypes interwoven into a specific story arc. And what I’m about to tell you isn’t new…Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler have already covered this but I think they are amongst some of the most important writing lessons anyone could ever learn and should always bear in mind when constructing their plot.
In fact, its probably something you already do and don’t even realsie. Don’t believe me? Okay, consider these:
1.) The hero is introduced in his/her ORDINARY WORLD
2.) The CALL TO ADVENTURE.
3.) The hero is reluctant at first. (REFUSAL OF THE CALL.)
4.) The hero is encouraged by the Wise Old Man or Woman. (MEETING WITH THE MENTOR.)
5.) The hero passes the first threshold. (CROSSING THE THRESHOLD.)
6.) The hero encounters tests and helpers. (TESTS, ALLIES, ENEMIES.)
7.) The hero reaches the innermost cave. (APPROACH TO THE INMOST CAVE.)
8.) The hero endures the supreme ORDEAL.
9.) The hero seizes the sword. (SEIZING THE SWORD, REWARD)
10.) THE ROAD BACK.
12.) RETURN WITH THE ELIXIR
Don’t think you can fit this around any story? Okay then….
We meet farm boy Luke Skywalker on Tatooine (ordinary world introduction). He meets R2D2, C3PO and Obi Wan Kenobi. Obi Wan tells him of his father who fought in the Clone Wars (call to adventure). Ask to accompany Obi Wan, Luke refuses until he discovers his aunt and uncle murdered which then persuades him (meeting with the mentor). Journeying to Mos Eisley, he meets Han Solo and Chewbacca (crossing the threshold) that leads to an encounter with Princess Leia, the Death Star and Darth Vader (tests, allies, enemies). He journeys deep in to the Death Star (approach to the innermost cave), but loses Obi Wan to Darth Vader (ordeal). Returning to join the Rebellion, he joins them in an attack on the Death Star (seizing the sword). Successful in blowing up the gigantic space station, he receives his reward alongside Han and Chewie (the road back). Indeed, in Return of the Jedi, he almost turns to the dark side whilst fighting his father (Darth Vader…see previous blog piece!) which is the resurrection. The lesson Luke has learnt throughout the entire Star Wars saga is about the light and dark sides of the force and how powerful friends and family can be (return with the elixir).
Everyone knows the old adage of ‘the villain makes the hero’. You need the overwhelming evil so that the most unlikely good can overcome it. Joseph Campbell knew this, which is why his construct for what makes the best stories can be seen over countless tales over countless years. He also knew you needed specific character types, or archetypes as he called them, to make your stories truly come to life. And they were; heroes, shadows, mentors, heralds, threshold guardians, shape shifters, tricksters and allies.
Using Sherlock Holmes as an example – Holmes is the hero, Moriarty is the shadow or villain, Watson is the mentor with guiding principles, Irene Adler could be the herald who calls the hero to adventure, Lestrade could be the threshold guardian standing in the way of important points, the shape shifter could be Stapleton in The Hound of the Baskervilles, the trickster again Irene Adler/Moriarty and the allies, well Lestrade again, even Adler on some occasions if the circumstances suited her. The character types can be interchangeable. But the fact exists that they are always there in some respect.
Works with Doctor Who too…
The Doctor – hero.
Dalek/Cyberman/Sontaran/Weeping Angel – villain.
The Face of Boe– mentor.
Wilf (Donna’s uncle who ended up being the cause of the 10th Doctor’s regeneration)– threshold guardian
Captain Jack Harkness – shapeshifter
Missy/The Master - trickster
Amy/Sarah-Jane/Clara/Donna/Martha/Rose - allies
Think about it…it works with your story too. Granted, as with anything it may not have rigidly adhered to these guidelines. Stick to closely and your story will be stilted…deviate to far and you story will be lost in a mire of plot holes and inconsistencies. But use it as a skeleton framework to build your story around, and you can shuffle them about, retitle them, delete some, add others and discover the true power held within your story. Power to tell the most wonderful of tales that you hadn’t even realised.
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