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Fictivity: Revisiting Character Archetypes

I’m not sure that many writers understand the real power of the Seven Character Archetypes.

Perhaps they are thinking of them as one of those ‘5 Ways of Eating Cheesecake’ things that proliferate across social media — you know the idea: ‘Let’s make a list in order to attract people’s attention and just combine some random stuff together in a sequence.’ It’s a common marketing trick, especially over the last few years. Common, because it works.

But that isn’t what the Seven CharacterArchetypes is all about.

Imagine a scale: at the top is ‘Goodness’, or Light, or Victory, or whatever you want to name the positive end of a spectrum. At the bottom is ‘Badness’, or Night, or Defeat, the negative end. This scale comes from Myth: it is Myth, and you can read more about that in my book, Myth & the ‘Now’.

Basically, if you can grasp that scale, you have the underlying power behind every successful story, whether it’s a children’s tale or a romantic comedy or an epic superhero adventure, or even a complex literary drama.

All stories - at least, all successful stories, stories that move readers in some way - move up and down this scale. In fact, that’s what is meant by ‘move readers’: you’re either moving them up or down this progression, sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly, but always it’s the motion that counts.

Epics and Comedies move upwards overall; Tragedies and Ironies move downwards. Some of the story ‘beats’ that are involved are on the diagram above. There are more - but most good stories contain several of these 'beats'.

What exactly is it that experiences the ‘beats’?

Character archetypes.

You don’t design a character from scratch - at least, you don’t if you want to be a successful author. You tap into one or more of the character archetypes given above and make them your own. Why? Because that way you will be able to resonate with readers - you'll be able to MOVE them. Readers expect - even desire - these archetypes. And what they desire even more is to see those archetypes MOVE either up or down that scale.

There are thousands of examples of these movements, because they comprise the primary action of all successful fiction, which is the motion of character archetypes up and down the scale above.

Please look at these and think about any favourite story of yours.

And then let me know if you have any questions.


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