Welcome back! I took a few weeks off for non-book reasons, but we’re back at it again for Week Three!
Last time, I said the next step is doing my beat sheets, but sorry to say, I missed a step! So, indulge me as we put a pause on beat sheets and instead turn our attention to character archetypes!
Week Three: Character Archetypes
I believe most of us have run into character archetypes in the past. I know my paladins, I know my clerics, tell me again about healers? Wait, that’s not the same thing.
Character archetypes basically the bucket you put your cast of characters into based on the decisions they make and the actions they take. Since I knew that my characters were fun, but a little blurry, and could really use some help amping up the conflict, I turned to character archetypes to inspire friction and deepen their character development.
My mentor SHEENA BOEKWEG originally walked me through character archetypes before we got deep into my Pitch Wars revisions, and while I didn’t fully understand it at the time, it did help with the characterizations I was working with. Now that I’m no longer under the gun of PW’s nutty timelines, I went back and read a little bit more into it!
Starting, of course, with one of my faves, KM Weiland. She broke down the 8 1/2 Character Archetypes that she uses for her writing, with a ton of great examples. But, I wasn’t quite getting it, so I took a deeper dive. Weiland recommended Dramatica’s eight characters, and I really liked the simplicity of how she presented it, so I started my search there. Literally. I googled ‘Dramatica Character Archetypes’ and the first result was a treasure trove of information!
Oof. Dramatica has posted a literal textbook chapter on Character Archetypes, ready for the reading for anyone who has time to spare on 18,000 words. I was fully planning on skimming (my one true vice), but as I read, I kept getting pulled into the concepts. I highly recommend reading the chapter, but my main takeaways were this:
Characters can be broken down into 8 categories that determine their action and decision characteristics. Meaning, this is the core purpose that dictates their action/reaction to the plot, for every choice they make or action they do.
Protagonist: Desire to solve the problem of the plot
Antagonist: Desire to increase the problem of the plot
Guardian: Aid the efforts to achieve the goal, through consideration
Contagonist: Hinder the efforts to achieve the goal, through temptation
Sidekick: Support the efforts through faith and belief
Skeptic: Oppose the efforts through doubt and disbelief
Emotion: Respond to the efforts with frenzy and emotion
Reason: Respond to the efforts with calm, controlled logic
Granted, these are my boiled down notes that I took from a very long text, there’s a lot that this list does not encompass. We haven’t even delved into the action/decision, driver/passenger dichotomies that Dramatica gets into. But for me, this is a great overview that is helping me decide which of my characters fit into which bucket, and how they’ll drive their responses to the plot, either through action they take or decisions they make. But really, what’s fascinating (haha, jokes on you, it’s all fascinating to me) is the dichotomy that begins to emerge once you drop everything into their motivation quads (haha, jokes on you, I said we weren’t going deep, but now we’re lost in the motivation quads and you have to keep reading to get out of them).
Basically, once you’ve dropped your characters into their buckets, you have to put the buckets on the board. The Motivation Quad board. I am making that part up, but like, who is even reading at this point besides me? Anyway. What’s really interesting is that you start to see how the characters oppose each other once placed into this quad. The Protagonist obviously sits across from the Antagonist, but now we see the Contagonist sitting across from the Guardian. That puts their motivations and actions into direct opposition – a yin and yang, see saw, whatever you want to call it. The contagonist and the guardian work in tandem, tugging the protagonist either with temptation (contagonist) or with wisdom and understanding (guardian). When one succeeds, the other fails, and vice versa.
The same is true for the secondary characters, like the Sidekick and the Skeptic, the Emotion and the Reason. They work against each other directly like the primary quad of characters, but in the context of the protagonist’s efforts. The skeptic doubts while the sidekick believes. The emotion is feeling and uncontrolled, the reason finds logic and control.
Okay, so what?
What does this actually mean other than a fun thing to pin on your character profile, like her Myers-Briggs and zodiac? (I’m a INFJ Gemini skeptic, personally). It means, as I start working on my dreaded beat sheets, and I’m looking for opportunities to develop my characters, even my secondary ones, and find conflict, I can turn to this board of oppositions (kind of like Wheel of Fortune but some how still missing letters) and find moments to differentiate characters and drum up some friction.
So, for the book I’m working on, Space Races, my two secondary characters are too similar: Bex the best friend and Ogden the love interest. They’re fantastically supportive, loving, and helpful. BORING. So using the character archetypes, I can start to separate them. I can find breathing room between them, or better yet, conflict. Now, I have the Love Interest living in the Skeptic role, which introduces conflict with both my main character who wants support from him, and from the Sidekick character who doesn’t want to see the downside of the plan. Conflict!
I’m not completely reconstructing the character based on the archetype. I assigned Skeptic to Ogden because it was already there in his doubt and reluctance. I’m just going to use what’s already established and make it more. His doubt is now going to be the place his decisions come from, and his actions — whether he overcomes his doubt or succumbs to it. That’s now his conflict, internal and external.
Also, as I was thinking about the characters in this context, I realized that Bex actually isn’t the sidekick. GASP SHOCK WHAT. The best friend has always been the more steadfast supporter, the voice of confidence and advice, and therefore always had a much larger role than the love interest. So once I realized that Bex wasn’t the sidekick but actually the Guardian, it made sense, despite the fact that guardians are usually Obi-Wan wizard types. Bex is older, wiser, has advice to give that supports the main character, and more importantly, guides her towards the right answer for her quest. Bex is part of the main conflict, Ogden isn’t. (Oops. Spoiler.)
Now that I’ve organized and archetyped my characters, I feel like I have a deeper understanding of their motivation and purpose, which will make it easier to work on my beat sheet. Oh boy. I am nervous about this one. But, with my archetypes in their quads, I know what their choices will be, and what kind of conflict I can push them towards beyond the main plot. And you know what every story needs more of?
Wait, no. Conflict! All of this is in preparation of my beat sheets, which is next week’s problem. Haha, I said that last time. But for real. Move over, Shark Week. Beat Sheet Week is coming for ya.
In the meantime, I’m going to go antagonize some Chips Ahoy!s.