Writing Story: 7 Questions to Start

Every man has three characters: that which he exhibits, that which he has, and that which he thinks he has. ~ Alphonse Kerr

We start life as a tabula rasa.  Then we transform ourselves as we mature.

Who we are . . .

is not who we want to be . . .

and not who we should be.

All of us struggle with a duality, positive in conflict with negativity and only rarely in balance.  While we strive to improve, we are also tugged to wallow in a morass.

In the ancient monomyth, the Hero’s Journey did not just exhibit how an ordinary person became extraordinary.  It also developed how a shallow community member became a strong individual, a leader who inspired others to change.

The first stage of the Hero’s Journey—the Ordinary World—presents who we are before the transforming journey occurs.

Start with Duality

Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit (my favorite Tolkien) is complacent, self-absorbed, content

but certainly not satisfied.  He must be pushed and tempted into the journey There and Back Again.  This trailer shows the strength of a well-written Ordinary World and Call to Adventure.

 

Frodo in Lord of the Rings certainly feels his dissatisfaction, but he lacks both the impetus and will to take the first brave steps alone.  Thus, we have the necessity of his friends at the onset of the journey, each who have their own individual transformation to come.

A character’s dual nature can be two sides of the personality, can be two sides of the genetic inheritance (as it is for Bilbo), or can be two of the Tripartite Being in conflict.

OW

from The Hobbit, 2012
Bilbo Pushed & Tempted

Take care when presenting the primary characters during the Ordinary World.  The primaries should not become so arrogant that the audience can’t stand them.  Any bad trait should be counterbalanced with a good trait.

The Ordinary World (OW) stage of the Hero’s Journey—however brief—is necessary to show the unchanged primaries.  Obviously, the protagonist is necessary to introduce.  Presentation of the other primaries is necessary only if their transformation is key to the protagonist’s.

In The Hobbit film, Thorin Oakenshield’s OWie is presented in flashback, a story recounted in heroic fashion to Bilbo.

The problem with flashback and the reason it is kept for limited use are that it disrupts the story flow.  In film, this disruption traps the audience—unless we control the remote and skip ahead.  In a book we can skip it or skim it—although we rarely do.  Flashback used to present OW information becomes info dump, which is always to be avoided.

How do we write an Ordinary World start to our story without turning it into info dump?

Marion Zimmer Bradley said often to start a story at the first onset of trouble.

However, we need a bit to set up how that onset came in as trouble.

So, find the moment right before the onset of trouble.

1st Story Stage: the Ordinary World

Build the OW with the Latin 7.

WHO is here?

The protagonist, of course.  The actual question should be who else is here?  Any primaries?  Are these primaries allies?  How will the antagonist enter this scene?  Who else do we need?

WHAT is the sacrifice?

The What can be person, thing, object, place, and idea.

What thing needs destruction in order to start the protagonist on the journey?  How is that thing cherished by the protagonist?

The destruction, which is the 2nd Story Stage, is an explosion, literal and figurative.  Our job in the OW is to start rolling toward that destruction.

For example, if the destruction is the revelation of a lie, what dream will the lie destroy?  That dream becomes the protagonist’s OW focus.

The cherished thing to be sacrificed should be so strong that the antagonist can’t just turn away.

WHY is the cherished thing so dear?

Know the reason.  We may not write the reason into the 1st Stage.  We should certainly state it by the end of the 3rd Stage.  Yet we need to know it now, as we start.

HOW will the sacrifice occur?

Writers also need an early knowledge of the How, for we must set up for it.

BY WHOSE AID?

This is a two-sided question.

1st: The sacrifice needs to be important to the protagonist and another (one or more).  This increases the need for the protagonist to embark on the difficult Hero’s Journey.  Whether the genre is contemporary mainstream, historical romance, fantasy adventure, or another one, the destruction of the sacrifice should shock more than the protagonist.

2nd: The other side of “by whose aid” focuses on the participants in the destruction.

Know the reason that the antagonist is able to focus on the sacrifice.  This may come out at any point in the story, especially if the antagonist has a moment to gloat over the destruction of the dear.  The antagonist should also “know” the protagonist well enough to understand how the destruction will hurt the protagonist and other primaries.

Sidestep to a Side Character

A side element is the character who conveys information about the sacrifice to the antagonist.  This character needs to be familiar with the protagonist:  the degree of this side character’s perfidy is up to us writers.  And the revelation of the perfidy—that is also up to us.

WHEN and WHERE

The last two of the Latin 7 seem simple.

WHEN is a moment when destruction is least expected.  A moment of happiness is typical:  wedding, family gathering, holiday celebration.  Try to break the typical.

Pick an ordinary moment: driving home, going to a restaurant, Saturday errands.

WHERE should be a place of security for the protagonist.  Then the sacrifice of the cherished thing becomes even greater, for security is sacrificed as well.

Just as with the WHEN, the destruction’s occurrence in an ordinary place destroys the semblance of security.

Start the Story

“Begin with the end in mind,” Stephen Covey said in his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.  As it works in business, so it works in story.

From Hero with a 1,000 Faces
Campbell’s Keys to the Monomyth, from which the 12-Stage Hero’s Journey is derived by Christopher Vogler in The Writer’s Journey

Writers should start by knowing where the story is going, so we can lay traps for our protagonists.  And our first traps start in the Ordinary World.

Here are the 12 Stages of the Hero’s Journey.  We are working our way through them, two stages per month.  Join us for the next stage on the 20th of May ~~ and a promo for one of my books on the 1st.

  1. Ordinary World
  2. Call to Adventure
  3. Refusal of the Call
  4. Meet the Mentor
  5. Crossing the 1st Threshold
  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies
  7. Approach to the Inmost Cave
  8. Ordeal / Dark Moment
  9. A Reward
  10. The Road Back
  11. Resurrection
  12. Return with the Elixir

~ M. A. Lee

Last but not Least

the 4 Archetypes who Complete Jung’s 12

The Everyman.  The Lover.  The Innocent.  The Trickster.  Last but not least, these four characters provide rich ground for story beyond the same-old same-old.

Of these four, only the last seems to have any potential as a story’s protagonist.  They would seem to be the last choices.  Yet when we examine them more closely, we discover that they may be last but not the least in that selection.

In these unexpected protagonists lie the truth of life.  Never forget Jane Austen :: 

Jane Austen can get more drama out of morality than most other writers can get from shipwreck, battle, murder, or mayhem.  ~ Robert Blythe

The Everyman

Jung calls this archetype the Orphan.  Everyman is the modern take on the term.

The Everyman fits in with everyone.  S/He (Always remember that the archetypes can be viewed from either gender.) is a good friend to all.  With “street smarts” gained over time, s/he is very aware of how people and society work, even if s/he never lived “on the streets”.

Like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, the Everyman comes wired to understand the hidden networking.  S/He thrives through understanding the interconnections within any social system.

The Everyman’s Downfall

The Everyman can stumble into irresponsibility.  Understanding the interconnections,

It's a Wonderful Life
George Bailey on the Bridge

s/he can find ways to slip away from obligations.  Everybody’s friend can actually be no one’s friend as s/he plays upon friendship to “pass the buck”.

Look at George Bailey’s uncle:  the perfect example of the irresponsible Everyman.

And George himself provides us with the Everyman as victim, especially when he stands on the bridge and contemplates abandoning his obligations through suicide. 

The Everyman can also turn into the victim: “oh poor me.  What a poor life I’ve had.”  In controlling the networks, s/he can manipulate others into co-dependency.

Yet when the Everyman takes control of his story, when he rejects the victim and becomes the leader, everyone benefits, everyone is enriched, from story characters to the readers.

The Lover

The Lover archetype is driven to bond.  Familial, relational, social, physical, spiritual:  no matter the type of bond, the Lover will seek intimacy.  In doing so, s/he may leap over the walls that some people have, enforcing friendship too soon.

The Lover wants that zing of love.  Like Gary Oldman’s Dracula who is driven to bond with Mina, the blood connections drive him.  He is the top predator building his pack, ruling them with a velvet-gloved hand.

S/he needs the constant sustenance of the relationship.  Without it, the Lover will feel abandoned.

However, the Lover is capable of great sacrifice to keep the loved ones safe.

One Side of the Lover’s Downfall

Heathcliff has an instant and soul-deep connection with Cathy of the first generation.  Denied the closer bond of sex, he turns on those he believes interfered, and the Cathy of the second generation suffers from his revenge.

Heathcliff provides the example of the self-impetus that destroys this character.  In this

Heathcliff, obsessed and manipulative, trying to control Cathy

respect, he is last but not least, for he drives his belief that he was “last selected” to punish everyone he believes de-valued him.

  • First, he jumped to the conclusion that he would be denied the bond he sought.
  • Second, his love turned to obsession. In this respect, he takes on the Stalker Mentality:
    • Controlling and manipulative
    • Focused on self needs rather than love for the other.
  • Once the obsession is in place, he cannot release it. To abandon the obsession is to destroy the connective bond.
The Other Side of the Lover’s Downfall

The Lover can mistake that connective bond as copulation.  Rushing too quickly into relationships, the Lover risks getting burned.  Or the sustaining family bond could have failed, leaving the Lover crippled in how to build and maintain a relationship.

This archetype may mistake physical intimacy for relationship intimacy.  The Lover then becomes the bed-hopping siren or seducer.  Obsessed with the high of attraction and sex, s/he will be unable or unwilling to analyze the reason no deep connection ever occurs.

Worse, the crippled Lover may only objectify the other person.

The Innocent

The idealistic Innocent is often a trusting optimist.

We need Innocents in our lives.  They look forward with hope.  They see the potential for sunny skies when all around them are storms.  While some of us slog through the rain, they’re singing and dancing in it.

That can be very frustrating.

However, their bright shiny helps us see the end.  They spot the rainbow first because they are always looking for it.

Sam Gamgee in the Lord of the Rings trilogy keeps Frodo on the trail, even to the point of carrying Frodo when he can go no farther.  He has bought into the mission, and he sees the possibility of success.

Rue in The Hunger Games and Forrest Gump are two more examples of the Innocent.  They may be considered last, but their influence is certainly not the least, giving hope when all hope is dissipated.

The Innocent’s Downfall

The blind cannot lead the blind.  When the Innocent loses touch with the stone-hard reality of a truly impossible situation, s/he will refuse to acknowledge the truth.  S/he will have great capacity for self-denial.

Those who trust too much are easily burned.  Those who are burned too much become ashy cynics, burning everyone else.

The Innocent who comes through the fire, properly valuing the miracle of love and community, that is a true hero, definitely last but not least.

The Trickster / Fool

Many teen-agers think they are Tricksters because they like to play tricks.  All they want is to have fun, which is the Fool’s defining trait.

Many writers mistake the Trickster as a prankster of evil intent.  This is not truly the definition of a Trickster.

Coyote of Native American myth never cared about the consequences of his actions because he never considered them.  He thought it was enough that he was “acting” and having a good time.

Getting joy out of life should be the goal of all of us, but we need to temper it with good sense, something the Trickster may claim to have done as everything crashes down.  However, the Trickster merely considered the best outcome of the prank, not all the outcomes of the prank.

Alex Foley in Beverly Hills Cop is the perfect example of a Trickster. He appears to have no better sense, but he has a wily innate cleverness, much as Odysseus eventually gains.  Alex Foley is the best example of the Trickster.

Click here to see a trailer of this classic 1980s flick.

Capt. Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean, however, is the classic Fool.  Sparrow spots something to do, sees how it will work out if everything works out, and heads straight into the event.  He is gifted with the god’s own luck;  nothing will always work out for the best.  Disney has weakened this character by always providing a deus ex machina.  

The Trickster’s Downfall is to Become a Fool
Illustration by Henry Justice Ford
Odysseus Kills the Suitors

Too obsessed with cleverness, the Trickster will constantly upend things just to have done so.  When the consequences to others are not be considered, s/he becomes the self-absorbed Fool.

The Drunken Fool is another downfall of this archetype.  Seeking a good time, s/he can become addicted to alcohol or caffeine, sugar or drugs, video gaming or adrenal rushes, anything to give a sustained high.  The dark side devolves to gluttony, ruled by temporary satisfiers like food or liquor or cocaine, high speed or pranks or petty vandalism.

If the Fool never suffers consequences (just like teenagers), s/he will spiral down to greater problems.

Odysseus—after foolishly announcing himself to the blinded cyclops—eventually learns to control his Trickster side.  He begins to use it cleverly, such as his trickery against the suitors who had overrun his home.

However, not telling his long-suffering wife of his return—that is classic Fool behavior.

Next Up

These Last but not Least four archetypes complete our survey of Jung’s 12 characters.

In the next blog, we start a closer examination of the 12 Stages of the Archetypal Story Pattern, launching with the importance of the Ordinary World.

Join us on the 10th and 20th of every month as we examine the classic Story Arc that should guide all plotting.

~~ M. A. Lee

Have you ever created an unheroic hero?

The protagonist you started with has transformed from the original vision?  Or the protagonist will never achieve the goal your story needs him to achieve?  When this happens, your protagonist has turned into an unheroic hero.

Writing’s hard work, and if anything’s true about the process, it’s that fact that a good story is hard to find and even trickier to get on paper. ~~ Adam Johnson

Heroes of All Archetypes in the TV series The Walking Dead

The unheroic hero may twist and writhe within the parameters we set for our protagonist until his personality transforms.  Or the story may twist and writhe until it takes unintended directions.  Both of these situations can be creatively wonderful but frustratingly challenging.

Meet the first two of four Unheroic Heroes, courtesy of Carl Jung (who first developed the idea of character archetypes).

These archetypes might entice the writer in us to construct a story around them.  Nevertheless, that story will not become what we imagined when first we embarked on our manuscript.

These unheroic hero archetypes can become extremely rich for us writers when they turn to evil.

The Warrior as an Unheroic Hero

If ever an archetype was looking for the name ‘hero’, this one is it.

The Warrior is courageous in the face of insurmountable obstacles and stolidly tough against dragonish opponents.  He rides straight at the problem, attacks it, and usually wins.  Why isn’t he a hero archetype? 

What’s wrong?

Let me at ’em, the Warrior cries . . . Gimli in The Lord of the Rings

Plenty.

The Warrior doesn’t think;  he just drives in.

Protagonists must think about these three:

  • the dangers to themselves and others.
  • the consequences of their actions.
  • the vacuum that will be left when the leader dies.

The Warrior is too simple :: Problem?  I’ll knock it down.

Honor and Discipline.  Compassion and Mercy.  Morality and Ethics.  These are the nobler ideals of the protagonist, and the Warrior lacks them.  Thus, he is an unheroic hero, for internal conflict is necessary.  Without internal conflict, our readers will not cheer when the hero overcomes obstacles.

The Warrior makes an excellent Ally for Leader Heroes, as we discussed in the previous two blogs:  “Oh Men!” parts 1 and 2.

The positive Warrior becomes the Tool when he acts as little more than an automaton.  As writers, we can point the Tool at anything, wind him up, and let him go, a wind-up soldier who never questions.

His actions are a series of achievements, notches on his swordbelt.  He doesn’t care how he wins, just that he wins.  When he reports in to his leader, he doesn’t expect praise;  he wants the next assignment.

Warrior William Wallace and Beta Ruler Robert the Bruce

The Warrior in Film

A story with a Warrior will have little angst.

William Wallace in Braveheart sacrifices himself in pursuit of his goal.  He has no middle ground, not for himself and not for anyone around him.  Those who seek the middle ground are beneath him.

The angst resides with the Beta character of Robert the Bruce.  It is his decision to attack the English army at the end of the film that makes us shout “Yes!”  Without the Warrior Wallace, the Bruce would never have decided to attack.  The Warrior Wallace’s sacrifice drives the Bruce to refuse continued capitulation.

Gimli in The Lord of the Rings is another example of a classic Warrior archetype.  Gimli is always focused on defeating the enemy.  He doesn’t consider any repercussions;  he just heads for the battle.

When the great battle at Minas Tirith ends, Gimli prods Aragorn not to release the Dead Men of Dunharrow from their curse.  He sees only that they can be kept in thrall to defeat more and more enemies.  Aragorn proves his mettle as a heroic leader by freeing them.  He knows that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (the first Baron Acton).

The Creator as an Unheroic Hero

If a Destroyer/Rebel is a hero leader, why is the Creator Archetype considered an unheroic hero?

After all, we need imagination and innovation.  We need vision and idealism.  This defines the Creator.  Why is he unheroic?

The Creator often lacks the self-discipline needed to stay with one task and not be distracted by shiny new ideas.

The Creator flies from any thought of being static—just as the Destroyer does.  Yet we need a protagonist who knows when to change and when to hold fast, a dichotomy that causes the necessary angst that a protagonist requires.

The negative form of the Creator is the Dreamer who never takes action.

Imagination is necessary, but too many flights of fancy can overwhelm plans.  The Creator can juggle multiple projects, but anything that loses its sparkly newness will be dropped by the Dreamer.  And both forms of this unheroic hero will not be concerned with ethics and other people in their pursuit of the new.

What ethical considerations drive the need to create new life? None. I dreamed it; I will do it. ~~ This is the problem when the unheroic hero Gene Wilder portrays Frankenstein.

The Creator-Dreamer loves the new and blingy, yet the daily grind will have this character archetype looking for a new road—and nothing is more challenging than a relationship.  (What a Beast!)

The Creator in Film

A story with a Creator-Dreamer may never have an end.

John Hammond in Jurassic Park is the classic Creator.  He had the wealth to pursue his dream.  He had the wealth to direct people to turn his dream into reality.  Yet notice that he does not know what to do when his dream falls apart.

Frankenstein in any film iteration, including the wonderful Gene Wilder’s comic take, is also a Creator, driven by new ideas to improve the world.  Yet he has to keep improving it—and improving it >> until they can dance a duet of Putting on the Ritz.

Only a dreamer Creator would not anticipate any problems with his monster creation.  Is that fire?!

Coming Up

The next two Unheroic Heroes are the Magician and the Sage.  See us on March 10 for a new perspective on these two Character Archetypes.

Also in March, we take a look at “Bright Lights and Hot Messes”, women as leaders.  Your female protagonists will use different methods to control your story.

Until then, enjoy the writing!

~~ M. A. Lee

Oh, those Men :: the Hero Archetype, part 1

“One of the hardest things to do in writing is create characters that readers will care about, that will make them have to read on.”

~ Noah Lukeman

In the first two blogs of this year, we introduced the importance of archetype as well as its background.  We begin our survey with the all-important Hero Archetype.

Character Archetype is our opportunity to reveal our hero(ine)
in his/her untransformed life.

How do we know who our protagonist is?  As writers, the first step in developing protagonists may be basic description and what our character will be and do.  Our second step is to determine more deeply how our character will be and do.  The how of our Hero Archetype will drive our story.

Carl Jung listed 12 Archetypal Characters, all of whom serve will for developing our various characters in our book.  Here’s the list again:

Heroes of all Archetypes in The Walking Dead
  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)

Something in us looks for the central lead to be taken by the Warrior or the Rebel or the Seeker.  Others are drawn to the Ruler or Protector or Sage.  Yet the true hero archetype can be any one of those 12.

I can run a description list for each of these characters.  Dry and boooooorrrrrrrinnnnnng.

Let’s try this:  The Walking Dead.

Yes, I am suggesting the cult phenomenon zombie TV series and comic book for character development and a complete-r understanding of the hero archetype.  

Other films can also give us clarity in understanding hero archetypes.

By the time we enter Season 2 of WDead, the writers have presented four different types of Heroic Men–Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and Delta, sometimes in two antithetical forms.

Alpha = the true leader

The Alpha hero archetype is divided into the True Alpha and the Alpha Dog.

Pure Alpha :: Aragorn in The Two Towers and Return of the King

In The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Aragorn doesn’t truly become an Alpha until The Two Towers.  Boromir, from the first book, is a great example of the Alpha Dog.

The Alpha~

  • Leads through encouragement, example, and explanation.
  • Helps people understand their job, the goal, and the reason for the goal.

The Alpha Dog~

  • Is dominant.
  • Seeks control of any situation.
  • Is rigid in seeking order from chaos.

Jung’s RULER has traits of the Alpha Dog who drives through intimidation, manipulation, and outright pain (physical, emotional, and intellectual).

In Walking Dead, this is the character of Shane, best friend of the protagonist Rick.  Because Shane wants Rick’s wife, he subsumes his Alpha traits to assist Rick.

Beta = the understated leader who doesn’t need to lead

The Beta hero archetype is willing (but not content) to follow a good Alpha, but he will lead a mutiny against an Alpha Dog (Tyrannical Ruler).

This Hero Archetype is divided into the basic Beta and the Yes-Man.

More angst develops from the Beta.  He doesn’t necessarily thrive in leadership roles unless no other leader is practicable.

Many British heroes in historical dramas and RomComs are Betas.

Beta British Heroes have more angst-potential.
  • Dan Stevens as Edward Ferrars in the 2008 miniseries Sense & Sensibility is an excellent example of a Beta who leads. He cannot be forced into a role;  he will choose duty and responsibility over personal happiness.  When leadership and responsibility fall in with his personal desires, then you have a truly happy man.
  • Darcy (Colin Firth) in Pride and Prejudice is another example of a British Beta hero.

Jung’s SEEKER has elements of the Beta hero.

  1. Independent
  2. Searches for what is better

    The Woman between the Two Friends: Beta on the left, Alpha on the Right: Notice the Stances of B and A Reflect their Archetypes
  3. Does not need support from others but often receives it when the goal is inspirational.

In WDead, the protagonist Rick is a Beta.  Much of his angst occurs because he recognizes his friend Shane is a better leader, but Shane won’t step up.

Shane won’t risk alienating Rick (or Lori, Rick’s wife).  He intuitively understands that Rick will mutiny if he thinks Shane is leading the survivors astray, and his desire for Lori forces him to remain close.

Rick’s additional angst relates to the Jungian’s Seeker’s attempt to find the perfect solution, and the WDead writers have placed him in a situation that has no perfect solution.

Coming Next

Our next blog is Feb. 10 and will discuss the Gamma and the Delta, the two other types of leaders.  For WDead fans, this is Daryl (Jung’s Destroyer / Rebel) and Dale (Jung’s Caregiver without the strong Protector element).

Join us as we take a Part 2 look at “Oh, Men!”

~~M. A. Lee