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CHARACTER BUILDING AND ARCHETYPES

The Search for the Hero

Jedi Costume

I do not have a common personality. In order to write and sell stories, I had to go find out how to make a character. I could not look inside myself. I do not make a good story character at all! I got really, REALLY tired of "what is your character's fear?" and "how is your character broken?" Even popular writers often write about people as if we are all the same inside. Yes, many of us are. No, some of us are not the same. There have been enough personality studies done now to figure out what percentages are of what traits and yes, a popular personality emerges. Everyone has their quirks, but there is a reason for popularity and sayings like "we are all the same inside." Here is the article to take it all apart.

America loves heroes. And the hero is a certain personality type. The hero is also a spiritual path that contains Christianity. The hero is also an economic success. If you are not heroic in the United States, you are in for trouble. This is sad, but every country has its stereotypes and in the States and more and more in the world because of the media, the hero is popular. The hero is even synonymous with the protagonist, so much so that ghetto fiction like mystery and romance, traditionally not heroic stories are being forced into that mold. Heroes are good guys. Heroes (see the above Jedi costume) still wear white. Heroes still act white, no matter how dark(ish) they are. This is not a bad thing, it is just such a prevalent stereotype that most people don't even see it and consider everyone outside of this personality to be "broken" a "character actor" a "villain" or "weird." And yes, most nerds are of this type and act this type in gaming, one of the most popular nerd activities. Science Fiction and Fantasy requires this type to be the hero, no matter how you fight it.

I am not this type. Before you think this is a whining rant, let me tell you that I got back rejection letters (when they were still common) asking me to change the protagonists in my books and stories to be more like me. This is the equivalent of saying, make the protagonist blond. So, I took this seriously and said, "okay, I can't make my characters like me, how to I make them acceptable? I went about to bleach my characters. And failed. Miserably. I got stuck with wooden characters that were somehow false. My darkness showed through the bleach and no one believed the clown face I put on my protagonists. No Method for me! Rather than recognize this, I just thought I was a bad writer. Now, I have accepted that my work will never be popular and that's okay. The heroic personality dominates about sixty percent of the population, which leaves a huge audience of other characters. And, I will show you that many of the media's most popular characters are NOT heroic in their personalities.



Who are Heroic Types and Who are Not?

Kirk

I have at my hands an excellent example of a non-heroic character and a heroic. In the original Star Trek series, the character of Kirk was not a hero. He was not played by an actor with a "hero" personality. In the new version of the movies, Captain Kirk is redone by an actor with a heroic personality and Kirk is changed into a hero. If you are confused or saying "wow" under your breath, let me explain before I show you the personality maps we have available.

Kirk

This analysis is based on the Enneagram map, which is a good one for characters. Despite that, you can see from their faces that the Kirk on the right is counter-phobic and the Kirk on the left is aggressive in a very different way, more determined, less defensive. Men in the West, especially male characters are not allowed a large range of emotional expression. Anger is so preferable to fear that people started to say that anger was a form of fear. There are many ways to look at this. In most folklore, the hero is searching for a father connection, either to please a father, or find a father, or put to rest a father. In a spiritual sense, the hero is looking to become the father, redeem the father, and pass on the father to his redeemer son. He is the vegetative king, or the sun king who is renewed through the rebirth of his self in his son. Because of fear, he will overbuild the defenses for those he protects until he is turning on them, weeding out the threats to a finer and finer degree until he becomes the tyrant and must die. The difference between these two Kirks is profound: the one on the left wants to lead, the one on the right to protect. The one on the left will break the rules simply because he sees a better option, the one on the right will break the rules in defiance of authority he wants to become. The one on the left doesn't care to set an example, the one on the right is overly aware of leading the team and making sure he inspires them. Essentially, the left-hand Kirk is not modelling people, but facing and overcoming a problem, the one on the right is aware every moment of the others around him. Early Kirk represents America on the Frontier, going out boldly to explore, 21st Century Kirk is conscious of others and hoping to keep the Empire from collapsing. A clear showing of a shift in American values!

Western

Westerners have always been fascinated with frontier stories. Here are snaps from two very famous movies from different eras. The right picture shows a sherriff defending his town, reluctantly shooting down the bad guys. He is a hero in a hero's journey story. The left picture is of a popular kind of movie made later in which the protagonist, is not a hero, but the trickster in a tale of justice. This tale is more common in mystery, where the trickster is the "shamus/seamus" who rights wrong and usually loses the woman. In the hero's story, people help him and he learns from them. In the trickster's story, people seek him out and tag along to see him effect justice. The trickster is a loner or an underdog fighting an enemy that is oppressive and large. Often he doesn't get involved until he is beaten up. The hero is fighting an outside force, defending his people, trying to help resist oppression or a threat. To make a tricker into a hero is suddenly wanting a different show of emotion. The trickster, in a story, rarely shows emotion that is not sarcasm, delight in revenge, or irritation. His purpose is not to fix something broken in himself, but to fix something broken in the world. He is not broken. That is the basic difference in these stories, is that the direction of energy is opposite. The hero takes in healing to become the prince, the trickster gives out energy to become justice. The desire to show the emotion breakage of the hero is a story flaw in the trickster. For a trickster to have an emotional flaw that interferes with the story, is a violation of his character (not of the person, of the story character.) The trickster can be cynical, driven by guilt, but he is not searching to heal himself.

Female Heroes

The desire for female action stars also tries to force them into heroic models. The first of these three characters, Lara Croft, is a trickster. Played extremely well by Angelina Jolie, she is emotionally "unavailable" pitted against oppressive enemies, trying to right wrongs and bring balance back to the world using her skills. The second is a picture of Jane Grey as she explodes in the Dark Phoenix character. She is not a hero, a bride, or a trickster, but a witch. Like the trickster, the witch heals the world, brings balance back, but through her person, not through her skills. She, herself, is "god-gifted" or channels a power beyond that of the other characters. Witch stories are usually about falling rock stars (Amadeus, the Doors) not about their power to heal or destroy the world. She is more of a god/devil/angel character than an action star. The final picture of Jyn Erso from Rogue One (a Star Wars movie) is a true hero. Searching for her father, finding helpers, assisting in a defense, jumping into action to protect. She is a wonderful model for an heroic female, probably the best I've seen. Most action females are still stuck in bride stories, like Princess Leia who is a spunky bride. The bride heals herself through interaction with the world, but her role is passive rather than active. Not passive in that she can't do anything, but passive in that she responds to direction, rather than initiates it. The hero dives in to save himself, the bride swims when the flood catches her to save herself. The trickster stops the flood with some kind of skill, the witch is the flood. Although there is a slight in our society for being passive or responsive, there is not in Asia, where the power behind martial arts and Buddhism is being, not acting. Quai Ch'ang Kane in Kung Fu was a passive/responsive character. He did not initiate anything. A trickster is a responsive character, so is the bride. The witch and the hero are not. The hero is inner driven, the witch outer.

Switching Roles: Trying to Make the Bride a Hero

Underworld

Much of what we see in Hollywood and in popular fiction is an attempt to toughen up girls and make them sexy and active rather than sexy and passive. Rather than wait around for Prince Charming, she's out there saving the world and Prince Charming. This is all very fun, but without doing this with understanding, weird hybrids come about that sometimes work and sometimes end up feeling "wrong." The bride story that so many people hate, has been watered down. Very much like being a housewife was watered down so much in the 1950's that it no longer was a real job, being a bride became being a Barbie Doll who was waiting around (singing) hoping for a prince to come riding by to save her. In the old stories, the story of the bride was the story of the earth goddess who was the ruler of the land with her consort king. It was she who was royal, she to whom the land belonged, and she who was related to the people. The prince was an outsider, come into her land to win a contest for her hand, for the chance to protect her people, and for the honor to be sacrificed when his luck wore thin. But just as the hero became the tyrant out of paranoia, the bride became the ogress who devoured her young in order to have immortal beauty and power. Bride stories are about politics and power. Hero stories are about battles and contests. Trickester stories are about justice and revenge. Witch stories are about creation and destruction.

Underworld, one of the better vampire movies stars a very action oriented bride in a traditional bride story. Complete with romance, it is not a Disney movie for girls. It is one of the best bride stories out there because it is stripped of the strange attire that women accumulated during the Victorian Age. Selene, the vampire, is not a hero, but she does not act in the way we expect of romantic heroines. But she does not initiate the action, but is a responsive character healed by interaction with the outer world. She is close to being a hero, but she is not. See the plot below mapped onto the bride story:

Underworld

Unlike Underworld the movie Romancing the Stone is a hero's journey movie, although the hero is a woman. This story follows the story arc of the hero's journey completely, yet we are left with a strange feeling that we have been sold something not quite right. Joan Wilder is a great hero, but she represents a woman that the feminists hate. House of Games is also a hero's journey starring a female hero, but with a twist to the end that is not heroic, but is like the hero's story arc. The heroic story is fairy easy for a woman to play, but Hollywood gets caught up in the love aspect too much and falls into the trap of making the female a female.

Hero's Journey

Here is the story arc of the first half of the hero's journey as put forth by Joseph Campbell in his book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces. As you can see from this list, it would be very easy to substitute a woman in this role. Using an active, but normal woman in this story would be believable. Trying to make a bride or a witch story have a female hero star in it, is sometimes jarring. In the West, it seems difficult for women to come to terms with story roles that have gender attached to them. My suggestion might be to try for stories that are more generless like trickster stories (mysteries) or witch stories. Bride stories can be very interesting once pulled out of the stereotype, just as the full cycle hero's journey can also be more interesting.

Making Everyone a Hero

Aragorn

Changing some characters into heroes works all right, but other times it is a fiasco. It would seem (in my humble opinion!) that no one has ever been able to capture the character of Aragorn son of Arathorn from J.R.R. Tolkien's work, the Lord of Rings. To show his need for the hero's journey, they had to break Aragorn. They did a good job. So good, in fact, that I cannot watch him because I find him to be emasculated and unbelievable. In the books, he was almost a cardboard character. He was an exiled king who was still a leader of his people in exile, ninety years old, but looked forty, weathered, but obviously of the race of Westernesse. He had a relationship off stage with the daughter of Elrond which almost never came up. He was in the books to help protect the hobbits. He had almost no personality. Rather than develop Aragorn as an exiled king, they tried to make him a hero and show his path from immature, has-been, wannabe to deserving to rule all of Middle Earth. And his beloved Arwen had to chase him all the way. I am not going to presume to do a better job on my own movie version, but I find the sad story of the path of Aragorn to the screen to be pretty bad. To be fair, the previous screen versions did worse. They also took the Elf Prince, Legolas and made him a hero's journey story, complete with reconciliation to his father. Boromir was a hero, but his brother, Faramir was not. The Princess Eowyn, was a hero, and her story stood intact, but what is strange is the story of Frodo. Frodo's journey as a hero, was subsumed under the story of Aragorn. He becomes a weak character and has no "journey" in which he can grow and become a hero. His hero's journey is in the first book, from Bag End to Rivendell. The series of overlapping hero's journeys that Tolkien carefully crafted was ignored for the sake of a hero's story of a king who was not a hero. Aragorn was in a heroic tale in a heroic time, but was already a king who was already engaged in his defense against the enemy. Aragorn even states that he has already been tried. Legolas is another trickster like the wizards, a messenger from his father, we are told. Faramir, in this story is the bride, for Eowyn is the hero. You cannot flip a story and have the hero a woman who marries and changes through a man and have him also be a hero. Well, you can, but it detracts from Eowyn's story as a hero who becomes of two world when she steps out of her warrior's costume and becomes a healer.

I am passionate about this movie because, here, Tolkien has given us two of the great heroes of our age and this movie does not honor their stories. It takes a great king and makes him a buffoon who needs a woman to guide and push him. This does not set a good example for our children, who would rather see Orcs. Having said that, I also cried at the battle of Helm's deep and the blowing of the horns of Rohan. It is an epic film. The movie continues to be immensely popular and these actors have become star icons for romantic girls. I have an article elsewhere on the structure and meaning behind this set of books by Tolkien.

Putting the Hero in Place

Aragorn

The hero's journey can be a dark story or a funny story, an adventure or a satire. The necessary ingredients are: 1. A call to action 2. A treshold into a different world 3. A relationship with a mentor 4. Training and trials, becoming someone 5. A deliberate attempt to change 6. Finding the change is applicable to the real world. There is no mystery to this story, there are a thousand models for the writer to emulate. Sometimes the change corrupts the hero (for hero let us think fool/initiate.) Sometimes the adventures are in a magical world, sometimes that world is merely the village next door. The adventures can be zany, can be thrilling, but all involve some kind of relationship with a mentor that can be a breaking relationship or a healing relationship or an absent one (in the hero's head) but revolves around the desire to prove oneself or overcome some perceived flaw. The hero is usually aided by a group of friends, but can be a loner as long as the skill set is practiced with some conflict external and internal. The penultimate test gives the hero the ability. The ultimate test confirms it. There is usually a death in one of these tests, often of the mentor.

On top of this story, there is the character's personality. If the personality is of the heroic type, the adventure rings true with most readers/viewers even if the hero is reluctant. If the hero is not of the heroic type, the story can be very interesting. How does the personality interfere with the hero's journey? If the personality is anti-social you may get a story like House of Games.

Just for your reference, here are the other basic "half" story archetypes like the hero's journey from Joseph Campbell's work The Masks of God. The necessary path for the trickster's tale is: 1. Death opening the door to the "normal" world 2. The magus arriving in that world 3. The warning (often in the form of threats) 4. Beaten, robbed, violated, swearing vengeance 5. Desertion of old allies, refusal to quit 6. Setting up the trap and success at trapping the bad guys. House of Games seems to follow this pattern, but the position of the initiate from normal world going into the criminal is gaining a skill, not applying a magic to get oppressors. This movie is interesting because it is a border story between these two spiritual paths and can be forced into the trickster's tale model. However, there are thousands of better models in the form of P.I. tales, including the great Sherlock Holmes, always played by a character with a trickster personality. The personality of Sherlock Holmes almost demands this story. P.I. characters are sometimes more heroic like the character of Spenser in Parker's excellent P.I. series. Marlow is also a P.I. who is heroic, played to perfection by the heroic actor Humphrey Bogart. Buggs Bunny is a classic example of a trickster who is in a comic tale, but if you look at the stories, the structure is there. Buggs lives in his hole, he is interrupted by an oppressor, (usually a hunter) he is warned off, does not obey, and gets into fights until he finally thinks up a trap to win back his peace. The sign of a trickster is the ability to outthink more powerful enemies.

The bride's story is despised by people who want stories of the earth mother in her glory not in her becoming. The story has been denigrated by popular romance, but continues to sell in the millions. This is not the entire gender being trained to wait for a prince, but a need for the half-story of the bride that is as prevalent as the need for a heroic tale. So, if you bristle at the word "bride", think of the new moon and the aspects of the childless earth goddess. The bridal path is thus: 1. The adopted family 2. Abuse pushes the bride out of her home into a magical world 3. She is "mothered" by an older relation sometimes in the form of animal helpers 4. She breaks into the new land as its future queen 5. Failures and seeing the undeserving stealing her position 6. She is revealed as the true bride/queen. You can see the romance here, but without the prince, this is another coming of age story where the adventure is the stage, not the battle. The bride grows into her position by shucking off her old, false self not by growing into a new self. Think of the story as a story of masks, and the prince as a person with the ability to see through those masks. Everyone wants to be seen for what they truly are, as a queen and a woman of attraction and power, not a dirty servant. This is the appeal. Change the romance and you may have a woman growing into herself like the new movie of the writer, Colette. There are many creative ways around the romance, as seen in the story Orlando where the bride shucks off mask after mask until she realizes that the final mask is the house.

The witch's way is not a common story. The witch is not a common figure except in her powerful aspect as a dragon, a disease, a bomb or some other threat to the hero. The witch is usually viewed with suspicion as a weapon or potential weapon, which is why the government watches science so carefully. Often, this story is biographical and cautionary, like stories of people gifted with inexplicable talent who die too early or tales of religious fanatics like Jeanne d'Arc, or tales of science gone wrong. Here is the story line: 1. The door opens between the magical world and the normal by some imbalance or injustice 2. The witch escapes on borrowed time or on a countdown 3. She aids or helps or serves in the house of another power 4. Her trials show that she is worthy of her gift 5. She is beaten or broken for her talent 6. The talent explodes from her to heal or wipe clean the world. We are actually more familiar with this character after she is kidnapped by dark forces who want to use her as a weapon. I want to rescue this story for those women who need a strong vision of the Female that is not heroic. Every artist, scientist, composer, monk or nun is part of this story. One aspect of the Female is to turn away from the old, fighting world and create anew another, better world. This is not male. Every magus had a familiar who channeled this energy. His job was to coax it out and interpret it (and sometimes abuse it). Everyone who channels energy to create, worship, or learn is accessing this part of our spirit. There are too few stories to show it. There are some excellent ones in the Dr. Who series and in Star Trek. Science fiction is often where you find witches. Look for the clock ticking away, sometimes an actual clock! Andromeda Strain is a great witch story starring, a virus!

There is a huge article on this page (which I will break up one day) on plot if you want to read more.





© 2018, A.R. Stone