For sure youve heard this slice of
storytelling wisdom. Quite true. Great characters
married with a unique and compelling plotline and
effective writing can be your ticket into the
world of published authors.
Now lets up the odds. Lets add an
important element into the character mix:
character ARCHETYPES. Character archetypes are
character types that have remained constant down
through the ages. There has always been a king,
for example, along with his queen and cadre of
princes, princesses and warriors. There have
always been heroes and villains and jesters.
Here is a listing of most of the possible
An examination of the character archetypes in the
hugely successful Star Wars series reveals a
brilliant use of archetypes. We have two wise old
men in Yoda and Obie Wan Kenobi. We have the hero
(prince) Luke Skywalker and his Princess Leia.
There is one of the greatest villains of all time
in Darth Vader and a quite attractive rebel in
Hans Solo. Add to this the jester, C3PO and the
genius R2D2 along with the brute/beast archetype
of Chewbaca and great character archetypes
In the childrens story arena, look at
Winnie the Pooh. Pooh is a loveable and innocent
buffoon mixed with a bit of the unlikely not
quite hero. Piglet is a great innocent also and
sidekick. Owl is wise questionably - and
Eeyore is the nay-saying simpleton.
The enduring successes of many Disney stories is
in large part due to effective character types.
Mickey Mouse is heroic and this quality is
combined with a certain innocence. Goofy is aptly
named as a jester, and Huey, Louie and Dewey are
the mischievous kids. Oilcan Harry stands out as
a villain in early Disney. Heralded as one of the
greatest Disney stories is the Lion King. All the
archetypical pieces are in place here. The
innocent lion cub, Simba, the murdered king and
father archetype, Mufasa, the loving mother
Sarabi, the treacherous villain Uncle Scar, the
wise advisor baboon, Rafiki, and the jesters in
Timon and Pumbaa.
When you sit down to first put pen to paper,
characters and character archetypes are a solid
place to start. Most stories have a central
character. What archetype? Hero? Innocent?
Warrior like Max in Where the Wild Things Are?
What is the central characters goal and
what character archetype stands in his way, if
any? Can you bring in the fun that a jester
Its all about identification,
drama/conflict and fun. There are essentially
five types of identification or ways that
readers relate to characters:
* Nurturing Identification: The reader is drawn
to nurture or be nurtured by a character.
* Like Me: The reader experiences a character to
be like himself/herself.
* Emulatory: The reader wants to be like the
character in some ways.
* Entertaining: The reader is simply entertained
by this archetype.
* Disidentification: The reader is attracted to
or repelled by (or both) a villain character.
Given the central idea and theme of your story, a
key is to determine which character archetypes
will bring about which kinds of identification.
Childrens stories often have only a few
characters. The dynamic between these characters,
that is how they interrelate with each other, is
largely a function of their archetypes. Using the
chart above, think your archetypes through and
create your cast of characters with the
archetypes firmly in mind.
All rights reserved Dr. Dan Acuff
Note: Dr. Dan Acuff is a globally recognized
expert on products and programs for kids and
youth. As a consultant he has worked with over 50
major corporations such as Disney, Mattel,
Hasbro, Scholastic, Western Publishing, Lucas
Film, Warner Bros., 20th Century Fox and
Nickelodeon. He is author of What Kids buy and
Why The Psychology of Marketing to Kids.
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