In the previous blog, I asked a seemingly simple question:  If enemies oppose the protagonist, are they evil?  It’s time to consider the three types of characters who are viewed as enemies.

Shapeshifter.  Villain.  Shadow.

public domain
Alice with Humpty, colorized from the original in Through the Looking Glass

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean–neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty, “which is to be master–that’s all.”

These three characters who provide “Tests from Enemies” have strong associations with evil thoughts and evil deeds, but only one of them is truly evil.  One could be but isn’t–or isn’t considered so but is.  And one will be evil with the wrong choices.

Confused yet?  So was Alice with Humpty.

Shapeshifter

Shifter characters take one of two forms in order to be considered enemies:

  • 1st = seemingly allied to the protagonist but actually working for the antagonist.
  • 2nd = seemingly supportive of the antagonist but actually not supportive.
Second Form

This form has the angst.  Misread, misunderstood, isolated by perception, and excluded before they open their mouths, these characters may wish to support the protagonist.  Circumstances create a trap.  Relationships may gag the truth they so desperately want to reveal.

Sirius Black escapes in The Prisoner of Azkaban.

Building a believable angst for the audience is difficult.  Even when building a story with the omniscient viewpoint, the writer needs to select carefully which viewpoints will inform the audience.  Enemies that aren’t actually enemies don’t need to be viewpoint characters.

Withholding this shapeshifter’s angst until the end creates an even more potent revelation after the antagonist’s defeat.

Snippets of body language convey this trapped situation:

  • The mouth opened to speak only to close with a shake of the head.
  • The aborted gesture to stop.
  • The step forward then back.

These behaviors are minor touches that express a repressed drive.

Think Sirius Black in the Harry Potter film.  Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

First Form

This shapeshifter form is the double agent, back-stabber, hypocrite, secret mole, and two-faced dastardly being who tricks the protagonist.  First form projects total loyalty, an ally—even as s/he fulfills the antagonist’s commands.

Friendly connivers, First Form enemies are wholly trusted.  Until the truth is revealed.

Think Loki in the first Thor film.  Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity.  Wyckham, antagonistic to P&P‘s Darcy.

Revelation of the true alliance occurs in the Tests stage or is held (preferably so) until the Approach to the Inmost Cave, the crucial Ordeal, or the Resurrection Stages.

Classic Villain

Totally evil dudes.  Totally enemies.

The best examples in story are the goblins and ogres and trolls of the Tolkien realm.  A true villain, unlike an antagonist, will have no redeeming traits.  Goblins lie and steal and kill even their comrades.

Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyers created their own versions of vampires with redeeming qualities.  The saturnine Louis captured hearts;  Lestat reminds audiences of the vampire’s true nature.  Meyer’s Twilight turned vampires “vegetarian”.  I remember reading the first 50 pages or so of the first book and thinking, “Okay, yes, this is going somewhere” only to have great disappointment as the danger just dissipated.

Hannibal Lechter in Silence of the Lambs has no redeeming qualities—any help he gives is only to help himself escape and resume his evil desires.

After Silence…Lambs came out as a film, enthralled fans clamored for more Hannibal.  The author then proceeded to write Hannibal as a warning of what true evil is.

Never mistake villains.  They have NO redeeming qualities.

Shadow

First Choice

The Shadow avatar reveals the dark side of the protagonist.  This is the reflection of what the protagonist can become if s/he gives in to evil.

Dark secrets, dark instincts, dark emotions:  release these in the protagonist during a test to have a fall from worthiness.  The protagonist must then deny, overcome, reject, or defeat these self-enemies.

Luke Skywalker has the same potential for evil as his dark father, yet he rejects it and triumphs.

Mary Crawford (L) with Fanny Price in the 2007 Mansfield Park

In Austen’s Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford could be a second protagonist.  (She isn’t.  See below.)  She gives into the dark greed of contemplating Edmund’s advance into his brother’s shoes while the true protagonist Fanny Price thinks only of helping brother Tom recover his health.  It takes a while for Edmund to recognize Fanny’s sweetness, which rewards her long and steadfast love for him. 

Very much antagonistic, the Shadow self struggles with negative forces intermixed with positive ones.  While repressing dark for the light, the destroying aspects will ultimately control the Shadowy protagonist.

This is totally Mary Crawford.  Hints of the negative forces that shaped her are explored in 2007 Mansfield Park (totally missing in the 1999 version, my favorite even as the 2007 fascinates me).  She is alluring, fascinating, witty, assured, sophisticated–but the dark desire of greed compels her.

Recovering standing after collapsing into the temporary satisfaction of the dark becomes a great test for the protagonist.  Unforeseen repercussions ripple outward from that cold, hard pebble.

This is truly Walter Neff in the classic Double Indemnity:

Better Choices

Nevertheless, the best Shadows are antagonistic foils of the protagonist:  “There but for the grace of God go I,” an arrogance in itself but also a truth.  See, Mary Crawford belongs here.

As a character separate from the protagonist, the Shadow needs to tempt and even call up the darkness in the hero/ine (Double Indemnity again, Barbara Stanwyck’s character.  If you have never seen this film noir classic, please do).  The protagonist must reject the Shadow because it treads too closely to the path that the antagonist has taken.

And the protagonist must reject the antagonistic path.  S/he cannot tread the evil ways without transforming into evil.

Wrapping Up

  1. Threshold Guardian
  2. Ally (and potentially the Love Interest)
  3. Foil
  4. Herald
  5. Idol
  6. Blocking Figure
  7. Trickster
  8. Shapeshifter
  9. Villain
  10. Shadow

Not all of these allies and enemies are necessary in stories.  They also need not occur only in the testing stage.

A protagonist who overcomes the tests presented by these characters is more prepared for the next stage:  Approach to the Inmost Cave.

The cave itself is the Dark Moment, the Ordeal.  Before reaching this cataclysmic encounter with the antagonist, however, the protagonist must continue through the Approach.

And after the Ordeal?  Well, it’s still not an easy downhill slide.

Join Writers’ Ink in 2017 as we explore characters and plot through archetype.

There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.

 ~ ~ Willa Cather

A Definition

What is an Archetype?  It’s a chief type ~ a pattern or mold or model.

These are patterns, elements for the artist to use or ingredients for the cook.

The glory of the archetype :: it’s the basic form we can use when we start structuring our stories.

Why should we use Archetype?

When we understand the pattern—the archetype—then we can manipulate it—add/subtract, multiply/divide.

  • We are not going to write stereotypes.
  • Archetypes are the basic foundation—a basic technique to build a landscape or portrait or a basic recipe to center a dinner.

A writer is like an artist.

  • All artists learn basic drawing techniques: cross-hatching, smudging, scrumbling, stippling >> symmetry, depth perception, negative space.
  • Just because an artist knows and understands the techniques does not mean her drawings will always look the same.

Or consider the cook who actually wants to reproduce similar results with a recipe except as they tweak the flavors.

  • In building a meal, however, certain dishes reproduce their recipes.  Other dishes will showcase the cook’s ingenuity.
  • The guests, the drinks, the place settings, the table decorations, and the atmosphere—all of these mix together in different ways to create a unique dining experience.

So with Archetypes.

Writers build story frameworks with these patterns.  They then add concepts and personal techniques and skills.  The broad strokes of archetypes may seem simplistic, but apple pie with a lattice top is still a great dessert.

Archetype Dwells in the Audience’s Mind

Archetype of the Ruler and the Sage
Is King Arthur the Ruler or the Warrior archetype? Is Merlin the Magician or the Sage?

As part of his theory of the Collective Unconscious, Carl Jung said that the human mind over the millennia developed expectations in life and in story.  He propounds three significant areas:

  • Events: birth, separation from parents, marriage . . . .
  • Figures: sage, rebel, ruler . . . .
  • Motifs: creation, deluge, apocalypse . . . .

Jung gives us the 12 Character Archetypes.

  1. Innocent
  2. Orphan
  3. Warrior
  4. Protector (caregiver)
  5. Creator
  6. Destroyer (rebel)
  7. Seeker (explorer)
  8. Lover
  9. Ruler
  10. Sage
  11. Magician
  12. Fool (jester)

We will examine these 12 Character Archetypes before we launch into story structure.

After all, it’s the people who drive our stories, and it’s the people who engage our audience and bring them back.

Next Blog on Jan. 15, discussing background:  the 4 Who’s Who in the Development of Archetypes.  Very dry.

~~M. A. Lee