Archetypes: The Herald

herald.jpgToday’s post will take a look at the herald as an archetype.  Most stories include a character, being, or mechanism that serves as an announcer of things to come.  In regards to the Hero’s Journey, the herald usually works as a “call to adventure” for the hero/heroine.

In non-fiction, heralds are an important part of history.  They transcribed, orated, and tracked the various families, coats of arms, battles, and wars.  When a war or conflict would break out, a herald would be called to court to give an oral dictation of the history of events and offer insights into current ones.  In essence, the herald would reveal to the court the chessboard and describe all the pieces on it.

While one function of the herald was simply to catalog and pass information, they also acted to inspire action.  Their accounts of current events were often laced with language designed to rouse fence-sitters from their perches and spur them to action.  In this way, the herald did more than simply show everyone all the pieces in play, they offered insights as to what might happen if action was met by inaction, or indecision.


We also see heralds in mythology.  Christopher Vogler, in his book, The Writer’s Journey, states, “Heralds are so necessary in mythology that the Greek god Hermes (Roman Mercury) is devoted to expressing this function.  Hermes appears everywhere as the messenger or Herald of the gods, performing some errand or bearing a message from Zeus” (p. 70).

In fiction, the psychological function of the herald is to introduce change.  We relate to this idea because heralds come to us in different forms and trigger thoughts of change.  To some extent, events, stories, and people trigger in us the need to change our current path.  This might be as simple as the doctor saying your blood pressure is high, and it might be as complex as someone very close to you passing away.  These events remind us of potential futures.

The heralds’ message, once delivered, typically triggers a conflict (physical, emotional, or spiritual) for the characters involved.  If you watch Game of Thrones (GoT), or read the books, the statement, “Winter is coming,” is a constant herald.  While it serves multiple functions in that story, it is a non-stop reminder to the reader that change is coming. logo_game_of_thrones
like the GoT example because it reveals the power of a herald to tie many individual stories together and highlight a greater conflict.  GoT is an extremely complex story with many sub-plots running all at once.  The idea that, “winter is coming,” works to tie all of these sub-plots together and unite them.

The website TV Tropes has a page devoted to heralds.  Don’t let the name of the website fool you though, the source I have linked here, breaks heralds down into categories and offers basic examples from the following categories: anime, manga, comicbooks, literature, religion, and many more.

question-markThat’s it for today.  I hope this brief introduction into heralds was useful to you.  If character archetypes interest you,  you can go to my archetypes category and see more examples.  As usual, I’m curious as to how you all use heralds in your own work.  I’m also curious about any examples of heralds you find interesting in stories.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Archetypes: The Mentor

father.jpgMentors are one of my favorite archetypes.  They span in type and function wildly.  They can be good, bad, indifferent, insane, comical, and everything in-between.  Today we will look at what a mentor is, what their psychological functions can be, and offer some different types to play with.

If you’ve followed this blog for any amount of time then you know how much I love an origins story.  The origin of the mentor is a cool one!

Homer penned up the character, Mentor, in The Odyssey.  The devious goddess Athena used Mentor’s body as a meat suit a couple of times to influence major characters to pursue different courses of action.  Even when not being possessed by busty goddesses, Mentor worked as a trusted adviser to the wayward Odysseus.

I also ran the word, “mentor,” through the Online Etymological Dictionary (which is awesome if you haven’t used it before).  The following is the result (I made some of the key points bold):

the oddyssey of homer.jpg[“wise advisor,” 1750, from Greek Mentor, friend of Odysseus and adviser of Telemachus (but often actually Athene in disguise) in the “Odyssey,” perhaps ultimately meaning “adviser,” because the name appears to be an agent noun of mentosintent, purpose, spirit, passion” from PIE *mon-eyo- (source also of Sanskrit man-tar-one who thinks,” Latin mon-i-torone who admonishes“), causative form of root *men-to think” ]

Sometimes it’s just amazing to see how a word breaks down into component pieces; mentor is no exception.  I find it very interesting to see how different languages and cultures shaped not just our language, but how we have come to understand it.

History and origin aside, we can move forward knowing that a mentor, at a very basic level, is a being who:  advises, stirs passions, causes people to think, and helps others find purpose.

writers journey.jpgThe best explanation I have found for the psychological function of the mentor comes from Christopher Vogler’s, The Writers Journey.  Vogler explains that many mentors were once heroes and heroines themselves.  It is because of this connection they often resonate with the person they are advising.

Vogler also explains that, “The Mentor archetype is closely related to the image of the parent.  The fairy godmother in stories such as ‘Cinderella’ can be interpreted as the protecting spirit of the girl’s dead mother.  Merlin is a surrogate parent to the young King Arthur, whose father is dead” (p. 52).

Does this mean the mentors we create should fit these molds?  Nah!  But it’s good to understand how a reader may view the mentor on a subconscious level.  They may accept or reject your mentor based on psychological aspects trapped in their brains.  Given most of us grew up hearing and seeing these fairy tale stories (or version of them) some of this is embedded right into our brains as canon.

Summon the Mentor.jpgLet’s look at a handful of different types of mentors to use in your stories.

The Fallen Mentor:  They are usually on a hero’s journey themselves.  They are portrayed as drunks, failures, outcasts, and are generally unsavory.  Some of them have placed themselves into a self-imposed hermit status.  Many times their failures seem minor to us, but affected them deeply.  They often don’t take the budding hero/heroine seriously at first.  Then the apprentice re-awakes the fallen mentor’s passion through watching them struggle, fight, and overcome obstacles.

The Treacherous Adviser:  These folks are usually wise and powerful, but are still looking to gain more power.  They manipulate actions and people to best match their own agendas.  Often times these folks cloak themselves behind a friendly face.  In many fairy tales they are obviously the bad guy from the readers perspective, but the hero/heroine is oblivious.  We say, “Bro!  Your adviser is stroking a human skull while giving you advice…red flag!”  Sometimes we were right, sometimes we were wrong.  This is the power of the treacherous adviser: the reader is forced to continuously reappraise whether they are good or bad.

The Foolish Wanderer:  Usually appear disheveled and generally insane.  This is sometimes their natural state and sometimes a ploy they use to test the worthiness of those around them.  They are sometimes discounted by the hero or heroine until they say some jaw-dropping comment or reduce a mountain to pebbles by flicking it.

game of throns.jpgThe Wise Jester:  They’ve got jokes!  These folks are constantly goofing off, drinking, prodding, and not taking things seriously.  These mentors tend to find the overly serious hero/heroine and subject them to constant tomfoolery.  Usually this mentor is not taken seriously, until their humor or ability somehow enables them to do something the hero/heroine could only dream of.  This is part of the mentors core function.  They show the hero/heroine a trait they lack and how to become whole.

The Enigma:  Just what are they?  No one knows.  They are the mysterious figure who wanders in and out of the story.  The characters in the story (and the reader) often wonder if they are a neutral party or some supernatural observing force with an agenda.  They tend to offer advice that is cloaked in mystery.  As one of my favorite people from history said, ” It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key” (Winston Churchill).

Maharishi_BhrighujiThe Mystic Force:  These tend to exist environmentally to enforce balance in a world.  If the villain (or hero) of the story is threatening to disrupt the balance it usually triggers this mentor to pop up and offer tidbits to the opposition.  This mentor offers measured advice and often acts as a harbinger.  They are quick to remind the hero/heroine of balance and will jump sides if the balance requires them to do so.

That’s it for today!  As usual, we only scratched the surface of this archetype.  I encourage you to blend archetypal dimensions however you want!  Your mentor could be a treacherous, shape shifting, threshold guardian.  There are no rules.  Only that it makes sense in the context of your own story.  I have created a category specific to archetypes in my site navigation (the widget in the sidebar) and will continue to populate it with examples for you all to play with.

Do you have some real or made up examples you’d add to the list?  What kind of mentor appeals to you?  And I’m talking about in fiction and in life.  Whether you answer that question or not (in the comments) it’s important to consider.  Being able to tap into this current of emotions and translate it into your writing will make the character far more believable.  I look forward to hearing your thoughts!  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Archetypes: Threshold Guardians

A while ago, we went on an adventure and traced the lines of The Hero’s Journey.  We talked about the hidden pulse flowing through most of the stories we read and see.  Today we are going to hit the trail again, and test our mettle against some threshold guardians.

dragon attack.jpgHave you heard of these beasts?  If not, strap on your armor, quiff a potion, grab your sharpest quill, and let’s break it down.

The scholar Christopher Vogler penned in his dusty tome, The Writer’s Journey, that, “At each gateway to a new world there are powerful guardians at the threshold, placed to keep the unworthy from entering.  They present a menacing face to the hero, but if properly understood, they can be overcome, bypassed, or even turned into allies” (p. 63).

I have created a bestiary of sorts to catalog some of the various types to assist you in your quest.  Oh, and for you more seasoned explorers, a threshold guardian is considered by some as a type of archetype.  If archetypes are unfamiliar to you,  touch this stone, and the information will be telepathically linked into your brain.  Now let’s examine some of these garden variety beasties.

semicolon monster.jpgThe Underling.  They haven’t achieved super-villain status yet, but they are trying.  You can find them in the tavern throwing darts at pictures of unicorns, boxing unwary peasants, and ordering lesser life forms around. These are your mercenaries in the woods, giant stone golems barring entry into the mine, or the big bosses second-in-command.

The Unwitting Barrier.  These foes have no allegiances.  In fact, they may not even be foes.  It doesn’t mean they won’t test your resolve.  Sometimes the jackals feast on the leftovers of the dragon.  While the dragon is your enemy, you will still have to contend with those toothy little scavengers – be it by sword, or by cunning.

scale of justice.pngThe Scale of Judgement.  You’ve battled your way across the land leaving a trail of destruction behind you.  This has attracted the attention of great powers – curious powers.  These super-powered entities enforce balance.  Even if you slay the dragon, if you destroy the world doing it, you are no better.  These entities will appear and test both your heart and your body.  Pass their tests, and they will offer knowledge and/or powers.  Fail, and be ground into the dirt and serve as cautionary tale to those who follow.

The Switcheroo.  Sometimes the underling doesn’t want to be an underling.  They were strong armed into it.  You can cut them down or enlist them to your cause. Never forget, while sometimes smelly and verbally obtuse, these switcheroos have unique insight into their boss’s inner circle.

The Inanimate Object.  Stupid door, wall, mountain, swamp, ocean, rubik’s cube!  These may just seem like boring obstacles to overcome, but they are something more.  The door can teach you an important lesson about locks.  The mountain can offer you perspective on resolve.  Not to mention the grip strength.  Seriously.  Climb a mountain wearing full plate and you will have fingers that can crush boulders.  That might be useful for say, a stone golem!  Every barrier stopping you is a chance to become stronger, wiser, and more well-rounded.

link v link.jpg

Very cool artwork from ComicVine.  Image ‘Link’ed back to artist!

Yourself.  No, not a conjured doppelganger hell bent on your stealing your life, but your inner self.  Your own fear and hesitation can serve as powerful threshold guardian.  You must take a leap of faith, face your own fears and weaknesses, and transcend.  What use is a flaming sword if you fear fire, or the power to walk on water if you fear drowning?  Often times, the threshold guardian we conjure in our mind is greater than any perceived foe.

Are you ready?  While my bestiary may not be totally complete, (the last two heroes never returned so I didn’t get updated information) it’s a good starting point.

The beauty of examining archetypes, and sub-types, is it opens your mind to the possibilities of merging different concepts.  By understanding the sheer number of available archetypes, and blending them in a way that suits our purposes, we can move away from stereotypes and create multi-dimensional characters.

warrior.jpgWhen it comes to threshold guardians, they are the fodder that builds your characters.  Each obstacle (threshold guardian), is a chance for you to shape that character in a different way.  Think of a door.  A character can turn the doorknob, use a key, kick it down, blow it up, remove the hinges, pick the lock, or get someone else to open it up for them.  An action as simple as how they approach a door can drastically change the way we perceive them.  In this way, threshold guardians have great potential to tell volumes about your characters.

What I love about the concept of threshold guardians, is outside of fiction, we contend with them in our own lives.  If we can just be willing to accept that we have the heart of a hero, we can look at these struggles as chances to improve.  Do you have some examples you would like to add to the bestiary?  Or perhaps some instances where a threshold guardian knocked your socks off?  I’d love to hear about it.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp.

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Archetypes: Shapeshifting Characters


Zeus shapeshifting into birds; what a creeper.

When I think of shapeshifters, I think of television shows like Supernatural, and the liquid metal android assassin T-1000 from the Terminator movies.  I also think of the mythology I read when I was a younger.  Stories of Zeus shifting his godly form to seduce women and sow chaos for us mere mortals.

A shapeshifter is a form of archetype (if you are unfamiliar with archetypes you can go here for more information).  While the ones I mentioned above are literally  shapeshifters, they can even be more subtle in the context of fiction.  A shapeshifter can be a chaotic character who constantly switches sides, opinions, and appearance.

Christopher Vogler explains in The Writer’s Journey that, “Shapeshifters change appearance or mood, and are difficult for the hero and the audience to pin down.  They may mislead the hero or keep her guessing, and their loyalty or sincerity is often in question” (p. 75).

subliminal.jpgThere is an interesting psychological component to shapeshifters.  Carl Gustav Jung, the psychologist who developed Jungian Archetypes, believed that on a basic subconscious level we all identify with certain types of characters.  The shapeshifter taps into our human need to categorize people.  When we are unable to do this successfully, this adds another dimension in how we think of the character.

I think we have all met someone who we found to be very attractive, or very repulsive.  It is a shallow way of thinking, but on a certain level, we all do it.  In that moment, we make a snap judgement about the person before we know anything about them.  Often times, our judgments are flawed.

This is one reason why shapeshifters are such a powerful tool.  The ability to cause the reader to make snap judgement allows you the opportunity to surprise them.

Here are a couple concepts to play with and toss into your creative whirlpools.


I made sweet tea!  Don’t mind the rocks…

Physical observation clashes with emotional understanding.  This is classically revealed in fiction as the femme fatale.  These are the beautiful and enchanting sirens singing songs and luring sailors to their dooms.  Or the damsel in distress who is actually a spider weaving a dangerous web.

This is obviously not gender dependent.  I think of the television show Dexter.  The socially awkward, and seemingly harmless, blood spatter analyst who moonlights as a serial killer.

Regardless of gender, the shapeshifter wears their disguise just as well as they hide their intentions.

These examples don’t just challenge your heroes and add interesting twists to you story, they also impact the readers understanding of the world around them.  It alters the way they look at it.  It enforces the idea that things aren’t always as they seem.

loki.jpgThe convenient shapeshifter.  These are the characters who don personalities and disguises to navigate troublesome situations.  This ability for a character to change who they are adds a level of complexity to the writing.  It can also cause the reader to look at your characters in a different light.

There is something inspiring about the daring hero who uses a disguise to sneak into a enemy hideout and delve out justice.  Or the hero who pretends to be a bad guy just long enough to take out their enemies.

On the flip-side, there is something cowardly and nefarious about the person who changes their personality to make those around them happy, or for the purposes of manipulation.  What makes this sort of character appealing is we all know one.

That’s it for shapeshifters.  If you run into a literal one, you should probably try to kill them with silver (according to Supernatural).  If they are a liquid metal android assassin just run – that’s a complex beast to kill.

I will touch on other archetypes in the future as I become more educated about them.  What are some examples of shapeshifters you have found appealing?  What was it about them that stands out to you?  I would love to know – it’ll help me build my own creations!

Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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Archetypes: Altering the Blueprint

We want our characters to reach off the page and grip our readers by the heart strings.  We want them to pluck those strings until the reader laughs, cries, or feels something profound.  It’s essential.  No matter how amazing your conflict, it is only as interesting as the characters who navigate it (my opinion).  We want heroes, villains, side kicks, and love interests.  But we want more than that.  We want conflicted characters.  Imperfect beings who are struggling to overcome both internal and external issues.

archetypes.pngWhen we talk about heroes and villains what we are talking about are archetypes.  Many of you already know, but an archetype is just a fancy way of lumping our written characters into categories (i.e. hero, villain, love interest, mentor, side kick, care taker).  Here is a great article to get your gears moving if you are unfamiliar with the term.  The image you see, 5 Characters Who Should Be in Your Story, is borrowed from that article.

So now that we have that cleared up and we have decided on what characters we will write – how do we make them unique and not seem trite?  What dimension can we add to make them break the blueprint and sing?  It’s a challenge many of us face.

The number one tip is to read, and read a lot.  Not just desserts (fiction of your genre) but greens as well (non-fiction books about writing).  You can’t avoid falling into the trap of writing a character blueprint that is overused, if you don’t know it has been.  Put another way, you can’t alter the blueprint if you don’t know what it looks like.

We see it over and over again in movies and writing.  The alcoholic hero.  The mentally disturbed hero.  The hero who doesn’t know he/she is a hero.  The weakling hero who finds their inner strength.  Can it work?  Absolutely it can. If you can provide a new take on an old classic, you win the prize.  Can it fail?  It sure can.  If you do the same old thing, but don’t find a way to make it unique, people are going to let you know when the reviews start blowing in.

While I’m not an expert in every genre (just a novice in my own) I do a fair amount of reading in the way of greens.  Here are some concepts and works you might consider to round out your diet and help you redraw the blueprint.

hero with a thousand faces.jpgMy book suggestion would be, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, by Joseph Campbell.  The book examines the hero throughout history as well as the mythology surrounding them.  It is well written, and honestly, almost a spiritual experience. While some of the sections are pretty challenging to read, a bulk of the book inspires.  Just go to the Amazon or GoodReads reviews section and see what people are writing.  This book has literally saved peoples lives (not their writing lives, like literally, their lives).

Flipping through my copy here, this is the first quote (of many) I highlighted.  “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: The hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man” (p. 23).

jungian archetypes.jpg

Graphic from Emily Bennett

My next breadcrumb would be to check out Jungian archetypes.  This method of thinking about character was developed by psychologist Carl Gustav Jung.  His idea was simple – people the world over believe in universal types of characters whether we are aware of it or not. He argues that these archetypal perspectives are hardwired right into our brains.  That’s my kind of weird science!

Most of my Jungian research (I like how that sounds) has been internet based.  If you have found a solid book regarding it I would love to hear about it.

With those two concepts in the bag, let’s take a moment to jam out with this idea.  It is my belief that many writers focus much of their attention on one or two characters (traditionally their protagonist and antagonist).  What they fail to realize is all of the other characters around them are what makes the book come to life.

The Kick-Ass Writer

If we can swallow that idea and accept it, then the solution becomes more clear.  Treat each and every character in your book like they are the main character.  Like they are the most important person in the book.  Chuck Wendig put it best in his book, The Kick-Ass Writer, “Your supporting character’s shouldn’t act like supporting characters.  They have full lives in which they are totally invested and where they are the protagonist.  They’re not puppets for fiction.  They don’t know they’re not the heroes” (p. 91).

Don’t treat your characters like puppets.  You are their creator, give them the best opportunity available in your story.  When you do this, you will be amazed at how your protagonist gains depth and feeling.  You will then turn a blueprint, into a fingerprint.

That’s it for today.  Do you have any tools you use to help bolster your blueprint?  Do you have a method you employ that has been especially fruitful?  I would love to hear about it.  I’m always looking to add more sharpened pencils to my toolbox.  Until tomorrow, keep reading, keep writing, and as always – stay sharp!

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