Using Archetypes to Create Characters

Writers BlockIt’s been on my list for a while to write a post about character archetypes and how they can inspire your writing…


…but Mark Nichol over at DailyWritingTips has such a comprehensive post about character archetypes—including the use of horoscope signs, Jungian psychology, Shakespeare characters, and the “personality enneagram” for character inspiration that instead of writing my own post, I’m going to point you over there.

Here’s a taste:

In essence, any literary character is drawn from one or more archetypes. An archetype is basically the pattern for a character, associated with a trait or a concept. Archetypes are most easily recognized in genre fiction — science fiction, fantasy, horror, thriller — but they are applicable to any fiction, whether of high or low literary aspiration. The key is to select one or more archetypes as just the first step in character building.

But there are many types of archetypes from various belief systems and other sources. Try, for example, associating a character with one of the figures from the Chinese zodiac — boar, dog, dragon, horse, goat, monkey, ox, rabbit, rat, rooster, snake, and tiger — each of which is endowed with a complex array of both positive and negative traits….

See? Don’t you have to go read the rest?


:-) Cheryl

Games in Boys’ Books

I’m racing forward with the first draft of my latest middle grade fantasy…and learning things left and right as I go. Is it just me, or do other writers find the writing process a terrific teacher? Since I’m writing middle grade fiction right now, you all get to hear about my middle grade fiction insights <grin>.

****DRUMROLL….Here it comes….BOYS LOVE GAMES!****

boy*Photo courtesy of Jerry on Flickr Creative Commons

Okay, maybe it’s not *that* revolutionary an idea, but I think it’s worth keeping in mind if you write middle grade stories. Games can be a great way to add action, explore theme, develop character, and engage the ever-elusive boy reader.

Games feature prominently in several great books for middle school students.

  • In the Harry Potter series, the sport of Quidditch provides a backdrop against which Harry is challenged both mentally and physically and, ultimately, triumphs. J.K. Rowling uses the Quidditch pitch as a place to develop characters, ramp up conflict, and reveal key plot points, all woven in with the action and tension of a game.
  • In Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief,  Rick Riordan unfolds plot and develops character via a game of capture-the-flag—fought with real swords.
  • Hunger Games revolves around a game gone horribly wrong—a “game” that is a life-and-death challenge for our heroine, but because it’s a game, is filled with an unending stream of creative challenges.
  • Ender’s Game (not really a middle grade book, but still read by many middle schoolers) prominently features a teaching “game” that—SPOILER ALERT—turns out not to be a game at all.

Games don’t fit into every story, but a tool this powerful deserves consideration. I’ll write more about how to use games on Monday. Meanwhile, are you wondering if I put a game in my book? You bet!

What about you: Do you incorporate games, sports, or other types of play into your writing? If so, why?

Writing from Your Character’s Point of View: 5 Guidelines

In my current work-in-progress, I’m writing from the POV of a 12-year-old boy. As I wrote earlier, finding his voice has been a challenge! And since I’m writing in first person, I have to stay in that voice ALL THE TIME—when he speaks, when he thinks, even in the details I include when describing setting and other characters.

squirrel*Photo courtesy of exfordy on Flickr Creative Commons

Despite my love of writing flowery description, 12-year-old Elliot probably won’t think about the way light reflects golden from the many-paned window, and even he does happen to notice flowers growing alongside the path, he certainly won’t know that they’re tiger lilies unless I’ve already shown him to have a love of horticulture. (He doesn’t. He loves squirrels.)

I never get voice perfect on a first draft, but keeping the following guidelines in mind can help me get closer. On a rewrite, these guidelines help me analyze whether the voice is consistent and believable—or whether it strays into author-speak.

Five Guidelines for Writing Character’s POV

  1. What does your character TYPE notice? A typical 12-year-old’s attention can be captured by friends, games, food, and, occasionally, school. On the other hand, he probably won’t notice his sister’s new hairstyle, the wrinkles on his t-shirt, or the school books scattered across the living room floor.
  2. What does your SPECIFIC character notice—what sets him apart? One way to bring setting detail into your writing without sacrificing voice is to explore the things that will interest your character. For instance, my 12-year-old, squirrel-loving protagonist notices trees and the creatures that live in them. He could point out a squirrel nest and would know when a pair of starlings were harrying a squirrel. This sort of detail brings the scene to life as well as providing insight into your character.
  3. How do your character’s opinions reflect in his observations? Description from a character’s POV is a great way to show attitude and bias. Does he like his math teacher? If so, he’s more likely to notice pleasant details like a smile, twinkling eyes, rosy cheeks. If he hates the teacher, he’s more likely to notice negative details—greasy hair, a lined face, boots that look like they could break fingers. Even a neutral detail—the teacher’s habit of humming under his breath—can be described as endearing or annoying.
  4. What’s your character’s emotional state? We’ve all experienced it: grumpy people tend to notice the negative whereas happy people tend to notice the positive. Frightened people are more likely to jump at shadows and creaking floorboards. Portray your character’s emotional state both by what he notices and by his interpretation.
  5. How does your character use language? Now that you’ve figured out WHAT your character would notice, how his pre-existing OPINIONS and biases would impact his observations, and how his EMOTIONAL STATE affects his interpretations, you’re ready to think about how he would EXPRESS what he notices. Let him draw on his experience for analogies. Incorporate characteristic phrases, gestures, and speech rhythms (yep, I’m talking about voice again!) not just into his speech and thoughts—incorporate them into the narrative itself.

What about you? How do you stay in your characters’ POV?

:) Cheryl

Mining Real Life for Story Ideas

I’ve written previously about reading local news coverage to inspire plot, setting, and character for my last work-in-progress. Well, another amusing tidbit—filed away when I read it last fall—is making its way into my current book: “Woman Fights Bear with Zucchini, Wins”.

bear What more could a story desire?

Do you incorporate news items, overheard conversation, or intriguing-looking characters into your writing? What sources inspire you?

:) Cheryl

Photo courtesy of http2007 on Flickr Commons