Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Day 2 with Vickie McDonough

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Developing Characters Using Archetypes - Part 2

Yesterday, I introduced the concept of using archetypes to create characters in a book and mentioned the book I use: The Complete Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes.

Besides listing the strengths and weaknesses of each archetype, another aspect of Heroes and Heroines I love is that toward the end of the book it demonstrates how the different male and female archetypes clash and mesh. This is fabulous info for a writer! Let me show you how I use the archetype info to plot my hero and heroine in Finally a Bride, book 3 in Texas Boardinghouse Brides series, which release in April.

Noah Jeffers, my hero, is a man with a past who has met the Lord and is now a changed man. He's come to Lookout to serve as temporary pastor of the only church in town. As a child his family moved around and he never had a permanent home, especially after his mother and sister died. He was the belittled son of the town drunk, and he longs to earn the respect of the townsfolk and to find a place to belong.

Noah is a Lost Soul archetype. Here's a partial description of how Heroes and Heroines describes a Lost Soul:

A tormented man filled with angst and passion, he drifts through life with a heavy heart and wounded spirit (This was Noah before he became a Christian - and he still struggles with some issues). Mystery and solitude surround him. A man with a past who yearns for love and acceptance, but never seems to find it. He's dramatic, intriguing, and secretive. He loves fiercely and hates just as passionately. Remembers every kindness done to him, but never forgets a slight. He wants to see things right but is unwilling to risk being vulnerable in order to make that happen.

The Lost Soul is:

Devoted - to whatever he believes in. When he makes a commitment, he gives all. He is attentive and ardent in the pursuit of what he loves.

Vulnerable - easily hurt. Guards his heart because he knows it's his greatest weakness. Criticism and censure slash deep wounds.

Discerning - no secrets can be kept from him. He sees beneath the surface.

The Lost Soul hopes for the best but expect the worst. He's not a complainer. He dreams of marrying but isn't willing to stick his neck out. Hides his warm sensitive side behind a cloak of mystery. Beneath the ugly facade lies a hero with a heart of gold.

This pretty much sums up Noah. Things are different now because he is a Christian and his values have changed, but the wounds from his past remain and shape his attitudes, responses, and actions. He works hard to overcome them and achieves some success. As the pastor, he must be strong for his parishioners and relies on God to help him out, but he also longs for acceptance, true friendship, and love.

Contrast Noah with my heroine, Jack (aka Jacqueline Hamilton Davis). She also had an abusive father as a young girl, which shaded her childhood, but she has lived the past ten years with a godly step-father who loves her deeply, and she has a caring mother and several younger siblings. She has a loving home, but she longs for adventure, to see more than her small town, and to get a job in Dallas as a newspaper reporter. Jack's archetype is a Crusader.

The Crusader is:

Confident, tenacious, and headstrong against opposition. If she doesn't do it, it won't get done - or at least not done correctly. Self-assured. Organized. An achiever.

Courageous - risks everything for the mission. Brave in the facade of opposition. Resolved to win every encounter with a man.

Resolute - unyielding. A formidable foe.

Persuasive - if she needs help, she uses reason and emotion to gain supporters.

Her compassion is for those she champions, not those she tramples over to succeed in her mission.

Obstinate - not easily dissuaded from her task, even if she's wrong. Doesn't like errors in her reasoning pointed out.

Opinionated - has no trouble saying what she thinks - no matter how misguided her ideas. She can easily raise the hackles on other people.

Rash - she rushes in no matter the danger to her. Her reckless attitude might win the battle but it can lose the war.

Whatever happened in her past to shape her (for Jack, this was the abuse she faced as a child) she cannot let go of or forgive. She fought the battle because no one else would or at least wouldn't do it as good as she. She never gave nor accepted excuses. She believes her mission is a task given to her from God and no one can tell her different.

So you can see that putting such a headstrong, determined woman together with a man like Noah will create some juicy conflict. Toss in an immediate attraction on both sides and you have the makings of an interesting story. The last thing I want to show you is how Heroes and Heroines illustrates how the Lost Soul and the Crusader clash and mesh and how they change:

Clash: She is out to make a difference and will rope anyone she can to help. The Lost Soul is reluctant to join in. She thinks he is selfish and depressing. It's painful for him to watch her - he has seen it all before and knows how horrible it can be when person gives up. Her first instinct is to do something. His is to sit back and observe.

Mesh: Both need to control their environment. He has to withdraw from society in order to achieve his goal (Noah needs to get off where it's quiet and to think and pray). She is still fighting the good fight, trying to change the worlds for the better. (Jack's fight is to report the news, no matter what it takes or whose toes she must step on). They are both very quick to judge an can be unforgiving and uncompromising, but they admire what they call their decisiveness and they share an honorable stoicism.

They Change: He sees the big picture with this woman. She will not allow him to hide.. He may be a man of few words, bit those he chooses are often gold. She learns that not everything can be conquered and that it is better to choose her battles well.

Are you seeing how this all works? Once you understand your character's archetype, you'll know how they will respond in most situations. I could go on, but I hope you've caught a glimpse of how using archetypes can help you develop your characters. The key is knowing why your characters do what they do - what motivates them?

Obviously, no archetype will be an exact match to your character, but it is a tool you can use to flesh them out and make them come alive on the page.

Who is your favorite character and why?


  1. That's it. I'm heading to to get this book. :)

    Favorite Character: Amelia Peabody written by Elizabeth Peters. Amelia is a late 19th century Egyptologist who also fights crime and solves mysteries with her dashing husband Emerson.

  2. Amelia sounds like a fascinating character, Erica. I haven't heard about her before. My interest in Egypt has escalated, because my #3 son is currently serving there with the National Guard.

    Let me know how you like the book.

  3. These two posts have been so interesting, Vickie! I always felt that a good novelist almost needed to be a psychologist! (which I am not!) But this book does the work for you. Thanks for telling us about it.


  4. These posts, and this information, is awesome! Thanks, Vickie - I'll be referring back to this often. (Also enjoyed the peek into what's happening with Jack...I love her character from the first two books.)

  5. Great info, Vickie! Thanks!!

  6. I'm glad to know these articles were helpful. I know I always appreciate finding a useful tool that helps me be a better writer. Thanks, everybody, for leaving a comment.