Tuesday, August 3

Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?

The Big Bad Wolf. The mean man. He stalks the pages and poses a threat to little pigs and small children with baskets full of cakes. Anything he can get a meal out of, really. Oh and he’s a cross dresser...with a killer smile.

Sounds like a guy who is down on his luck. The world is set against him, so he is set against the world.

He also sounds like a character with depth, plenty of history, conflict (both inner conflict and that with other characters, circumstances etc) but someone who knows who he is, despite what others think of him, how others treat him, or how he treats them.

There. I already have the bones of my character and where did it come from? The idea of the "Big Bad Wolf." Of course, my character isn't really a wolf at all. He’s a man. Obviously an intimidating man since people are afraid of him...or maybe they just avoid him because he’s different. "Bad" is a relative term of course.

I've decided that my character doesn't steal from children. He bakes his own cakes and trades them with a local kindergartner for jewelry she has made for her neglectful mother.

I still haven't decided how old my character is or his name but it'll come to me.

See? A whole thought process: a character unravelling and a story developing. This is why I love character archetypes.

What is an archetype?

An archetype is a stereotype or generic idea. The Hero, the Arch Nemesis, the Corporate Power, the Trickster, the Mentor, the Sidekick, the Villain. They are all found in so many places, and are very well known. Those are just some ideas of character archetypes. You can also have story archetypes, "The Hero's Journey" or "Rags to Riches."

There are many different archetypes and so many different names for them. Sometimes when people think of archetypes they think of clichés. This is not quite accurate. There are archetypes such as the "mentor" or the "sidekick" but not every mentor is the wise old man and not every sidekick wears tights and runs after the hero making jokes and blunders.

What if the little girl who trades homemade jewelry for cake turns out to be my character's mentor? There's nothing to say that children can't impart wisdom and understanding to an adult. In kindergarten, everyone can play together a lot more easily than when you're grown up. They don't judge, they just want to have fun – and eat cakes!

See, my character has a child for a mentor, and who knows, maybe he will have a comical sidekick for a friend, but I can always make that character more complex and less cliché.

Archetypes can be a great way to build ideas and characters. You don’t have to be afraid of clichés if you turn them on their heads develop them right.

What do you think? Do you ever use archetypes in your writing process?

The example above is not an actual story/character I’m working on. I came up with it for this post. All it took was a simple idea to get the brainstorm rolling.

Try taking an archetype - or even a cliché - and moulding and developing it into something new!

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