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TranscendenceNot too long ago, I saw Johnny Depp’s movie, “Transcendence,” in the theater. I tried to think of a joke using the title that would describe how I felt while in the audience. Nap-tendence-y? I’m still working on it. I did catch myself squirming in my seat multiple times, longing for the movie to end. It was easy to pin why: I never cared. Not one bit. Who ARE these confusing and confused intellectuals explaining quantum computing and their love to us with equal raised eyebrow-time? The story structure didn’t invest in exposing the tender underbellies of the protagonists in an ordinarily human way for us to care about what happened to them during the subsequent and oh-so-long remainder of the film.

I went to the theater without reading any reviews, but reading them afterward, they echoed my experience. We love Depp. We love his movies. We all struggled to understand this movie because we wanted to love Depp in this one, too. But as the lights went up, a young man sitting in my aisle turned to his friend, his face aghast, and said, “So…the end of all technology is supposed to be some kind of ‘happy ending’!!?” (That’s not a spoiler. It’s where the film opens). Actually, I suppose the best thing you could say about the film is that the story structure follows a classic full circle: where it starts is where it ends, but in this case, that’s not an emotionally satisfying or even very clear beginning.

Besides registering as emotionally vapid, the story offered no unique message. “Beware of technology,” it seemed to say. Well, okay. How long have we been hearing that one? Since Charlie Chaplan’s “Modern Times?” The movie did not offer any solid emotional connections whatsoever: watch the girl scientist stumble-run down Kubrick-meets-Fellini-like hallways (repeatedly) as her dead husband’s projected yet self-aware cyber-image follows and watches her, wherever she goes…a love story!? Even the leading lady thought her cyber-love was creepy. How are WE supposed to feel any different? Over the whole of it, the movie was either emotionally confusing, barren, or skirting on repugnant. Give me a break. How the heck are we supposed to care against all that? There was too much emotional distance and muddy fields for an audience to overcome.

How important is it to get an audience invested in your characters? How important is eliciting an emotional response from an audience? How important is it to dig around so you can tell an emotionally honest story that others can feel? Evoking emotion in your audience, however you do it, is more important than any other single element in storytelling, whether you’re writing a novel or a screenplay, or even writing a damn TV commercial.

Here’s a very real-world example of why I believe this holds true, and not just for me:

Many years ago, I was invited to guest-judge adult fiction entries for the Kay Snow Award, given yearly by the Willamette Writers Group, based in Portland, Oregon. WW, as the members like to call it, is the largest and oldest writer’s group in the United States, which seems natural given that it was founded in a city containing a street hosting more published-author’s residences than any other street in our country. In addition to its plethora of traditionally published authors, Portland is a city populated by avid, cultivated and educated readers. Do a book signing event in Portland, and you best be ready for a crowd asking relevant questions about nuances you wrote deep in subtext that you thought only you noticed. So, being invited to judge adult fiction entries for this particular contest in this particular city was an honor, like receiving a seal of approval on one’s perspectives from a long-established, respected, and focused institution.

It was the first time I had been invited to judge any kind of writing contest, and I anticipated stumbling across great, undiscovered talent, of being humbled in the face of what would surely be impressive submissions to such an esteemed competition. 75-manuscripts (20-pages each) were handed to me at the WW Office, along with a printed page of judging guidelines, and a twinkle from the eye of WW’s mascot, office manager, and skilled author in his own right, Bill Johnson, who invited me to help with judging after reading some of my short stories.

He loosed the heavy box of submissions into my arms, stepped back, and nudged his aviator frame glasses back up the bridge of his nose. “You’ll need to decide on first, second and third places from these entries,” he said. “No pressure.” He chuckled. “There are other adult fiction judges, so all submissions are read by more than one judge, to keep things fair. It’s all anonymous. Nobody knows who else is judging, and there are no names on the manuscripts, just numbers for tracking. You’ve got two months. Most find that’s plenty of time.”

Once home, I dug in, unconvinced by Bill’s declaration that two months was long enough to contemplate and judge all 75-entries entrusted to me. What happened next stunned me. I reduced the pile of 75 to only 20 in about one hour! Entry after entry stumbled and bumbled so poorly across their first 3-pages that I read no further. It was painfully obvious that these quick eliminations could not hope to contend against even a dry yet skillfully written submission. The most common mistakes of the unpublished were presented like a tic list in bold letters. Next!

Judging the remaining twenty entries was where volunteering became work. It took another two weeks to cut those twenty to twelve, with many quiet, coffee-fueled reveries on each one. This is where the mountain got steep. All remaining entries were diverse in genre, all had strong merits. Unknown to me at the time, some remaining entries were already sold to publishing houses, such was the quality of the survivors, but eventually, I had to offer my opinion on which three stories should win and place, and back my decisions with a written explanation. My decisions would be hedged by those of the other two judges reading the same entries as I, but knowing that didn’t lessen my sense of determination to offer the most honest and professional assessment possible, no matter how green I was to this judging process.

After much deliberation, twelve became six. Now I was comparing tales with conscious applications of deep craft, all worthy of going to print just as they were, except for one humble story that gained entry to the pile of contenders in a manner vastly different, so different that no other remaining entry was in the same class. I had mysteries, check. A few of those. Crime thrillers, yes. All very well-crafted. Some brilliant short stories. One exploring modern concepts of fidelity that was very strong, acerbic and clever. So what was this little, bedraggled, grammar-challenged story that would not let me toss it aside for its petty sins? How could this piece that needed line-editing and polishing still be in the running with all these other stories that were honed to perfection, especially now, with the criteria so narrow and refined?

In the end, the bedraggled little story won. I had to do it. It was a brutally honest, gut-wrenching, gut-driven share, completely absent of false notes. This author was not trying to imitate the voice of any known, successful author. This author was not imitating any formulaic structure. No, this author shared a story based on a childhood memory, told by a damaged and authentic voice, with a decision to be made left hanging and unknown for an ending. The brave refusal of the author to offer any trite and easy answers was perfect, appropriate, and thought-provoking. Sure, it had grammar issues, but the story itself hit me hard emotionally and stuck with me emotionally, and it was the only story to do so with such quiet intensity and authenticity. In this sense, of the 75 contestants, it was unique.

After deliberating over the second and third places and finally choosing those, I submitted my findings to WW, and spoke with Bill about my experience. I shared my surprise that so many entries were just bad writing, easily eliminated from the list of contenders, and how I had expected better from this competition.

“I’ve been told by agents that the mix of writing skill one tends to see in competitions closely reflects the mix of quality in what they see submitted to them as literary agents,” he shared.

Really!? That single fact should give hope to anyone reading this who has worked on their craft. You’re already above the fray. Strike an emotional chord that can resonate with most readers, and you’ll be miles above the rest.

After all the judges’ votes were tallied, I had yet another surprise: the entries I chose to win and place in adult fiction were the entries that won those spots. Apparently, the other judges were as smitten by the honesty and fragility of the childhood memory piece as I had been. Like me, they decided the emotional impact of the story was more important than the occasional mistake in grammar, and therein is the moral of this story: whomever strikes a resounding emotional chord, wins.

Make Your Audience Care (dammit).

Easily typed, not easily done, I know. But this is the one single thing you can strive to accomplish in your storytelling that will help your work rise above the rest, whether submitting manuscripts or screenplays, to anyone, anywhere. If accomplished, this single feat will more than compensate for other errors your story might contain. Errors can be fixed and whining darlings slain. That’s why we need editors and other eyes on our work. But evoking emotion? That’s the job that only the author can wrest from their heart or their gut, and it’s where the magic lies, where your success resides, and where the keys to the kingdom are hidden.

You must, must, must make your readers care about your characters in order for your story to succeed. It’s up to you to figure out how to do that. Exposing a character’s vulnerabilities – the earlier in your story, the better – is a popular method. Exposing their vulnerabilities allows for natural human feelings of compassion and/or sympathy with your character. But if you don’t create a distinct and solid emotional connection between your protagonist/s and your audience early in your story, it doesn’t matter what calamities they must overcome, because nobody cares. Go ahead. Drop a bus on ’em. But really, we so want to care. Heck, we paid for the experience! But the author/screenwriter must TAKE us there and MAKE us care about the characters they torture for our entertainment.

All this said, there are a few fiction elements and structures I can think of that tend to inherently create emotional distance. Not what you want, these are elements best left in deft and proven hands. In other words, if you are not thoroughly seasoned, critiqued and found adept, don’t try this in your own document.

Emotional Killers:

Heavy Dialogue. Talking head type of heavy dialogue is a killer for so many reasons. I got started on this topic after watching Depp’s “Transcendence.” Science fiction is often plagued with this problem due to the need to explain alien worlds with which readers are unfamiliar. Dialogue that explains is referred to as ‘exposition,’ and this is frowned upon for good reason. There are better ways to bring the audience into your worlds, and techniques that apply to film as well as fiction, such as ‘show, don’t tell.’ But heavy dialogue stories are also capable of delivering clever intimacy, such as what was achieved in “My Dinner with Andre.” Many films by Richard Linklater, for example, also skirt that razor edge of too-much dialogue in such a way that he exposes common frustrations and creates dramatic tension! Heavy dialogue requires fabulous actors with a great director to pull off in a film, as well, and I’m not sure any novelist can fill tens of pages with dialogue without losing tens of reams of readers. Best to avoid creating manuscripts of soliloquies. Even Tarantino went too far with his diatribes in “Kill Bill.” If he can’t do it…you know…so tighten your dialogue as much as you can stand, cut and cut, and let your deepest philosophies pump up the volume from deep within your subtext and plot. When it comes to dialogue, less is most definitely more. A grimace of pain from our hero makes us feel more sympathy for him than we would feel if he bitched about it for two minutes.

Inciting Incident and Action – Too Early.  Here again is where I think “Transcendence” failed. We are hit with a dreadful scenario immediately in the movie opening, and informed that, somehow, our leading couple, our protagonists whom we have yet to meet, are responsible for it all. Yikes! Emotionally, in the audience, our leading characters get a minus 10-points before we meet. The world is completely trashed now, so they must be jerks in some way, right? Then the story flashes back in time (the whole movie is a flashback), and we see the supposedly ‘loving couple’ cuddling in their lush garden that we already know is now vacant, dead, and in ruins like every other garden for a thousand miles. Pushing the protagonists even further from our emotional grasp, their ‘love’ reads as cool and intellectual, not flesh and blood (a lack of chemistry, perhaps?), and we know that our ‘creepy couple’ ruin the whole damn world in the end (since that’s how the story begins). The rest of the film shows us what happened, but we never really find a reason to like the scientist couple who destroy the world over their oh-so-special-but-we-don’t-get-why love, so we don’t have the means to care. While the subject matter of the movie asked the audience to contemplate the nature of life and consciousness, and the changes that new technology might mean in the near future, the story failed to engage because it failed to connect.

Action movies also tend to hurl us into the plot before letting us in on and close to the protagonist. I suppose if you can get away with a lack of emotional connection, it might be in an action movie, but if you look at the best pure action movies, ones with real heart like “Die Hard,” which is as much of a love story as an action story, you can easily see the difference that an emotional connection can make.

Regardless of our styles of word crafting and story structure, regardless of the genre in which we revel, in order for our audience to remain open to the spells we weave, we must connect them EMOTIONALLY with our characters before we hurl them all into hell. No modern storyteller can hope to pierce the toughened hide of a modern audience without FIRST evoking a sense of compassion and sympathy for their characters. Only then will audiences sit still and give a damn as we proclaim and illuminate some human truth through our characters’ struggles, choices, and metaphor-laden fates.

Strike an emotional chord in your writing like your career depends on it, because in many ways, for fiction writers and screenwriters, it actually does.

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Why? Because we all do.

Everybody lies at some point in their life. So should your characters.

Maybe you have a character who lies all the time and doesn’t even know they’re doing it, like one of the world’s great pathological liars, Blanche DuBois, of Tennessee Williams‘, A Streetcar Named Desire. She’s desperately tortured and flawed, and there is no richer loam for creating life-like beings who tantalize us and endure, to say nothing of making for classic roles pursued by the best actors.

There are also levels of using lying as well as types of liars. Some characters might do nothing but lie to advance a specific goal, something you usually find in plot-driven genres such as Thrillers and Mysteries. Lies can drive a plot or can be used for creating a second act reversal in a screenplay or plot twist in a novel.

Some characters lie on the deepest levels – to themselves – which initiates painful inner dissonance and thereby creates the inner drama that great writing requires. I’m thinking more literary fiction and scripted dramas here, which certainly includes our dear Blanche. Literary fiction also loans itself to the flip side of the lie, when a character is challenged by what they feel is true and it is the world that lies to them, such as Carissa Dalloway in Virginia Woolf‘s Mrs. Dalloway.

See where I’m going with this? Knowing what kind of liar your protagonist is and their relationship to falsehoods spun adds muscle and connective tissue to the skeleton of your character.

Some characters might lie for intellectual speculation and entertainment, such as the billionaire manipulator, Maurice Conchis, in The Magus by John Fowles. That character went to great lengths to sustain a string of lies; no illusion too costly or elaborate, and for no reason other than to satisfy his insatiable curiosity about human behavior. The lies of Conchis become a frustrating maze for the narrator/protagonist whose adult life has been shaped by a deep and persistent pattern of lying to himself. In The Magus,  lies reflect character motive and arc while driving the plot entirely. This method of weaving a tale made the truth revealed at the end all the more dramatic.

Maybe you have a character who is like most of us: not above bending the truth to save someone’s feelings, avoid judgment or to elude anticipated punishment should the truth be revealed, yet who essentially believes in candor and strives for honesty with others. In this case, can a white lie lead to real trouble?

Conversely, a character may set high stock on always being honest, wherein the act of lying has a deeper trigger and meaning and must be foresworn, even at great cost. In this sense, there is opportunity to put that character into a situation where they MUST lie, for whatever loaded reason, or suffer unbearable consequences. For a resolutely honest character, a lie can be an arc, inciting incident and/or plot twist.

So, the next time you’re building a character, doing back story to help you know them better, ask yourself:  what kind of liar is this character? Is it a big deal if they lie? Or does it roll out of them second nature, like a con artist? Are they emotionally invested in their lies? Do they consciously choose to lie, or is it pathological? What are they protecting or advancing when they lie? Are they good or bad at it? Will their lies backfire? How do their lies affect the secondary characters? And so on. This is a revealing thread to pull…

If your story is populated with mostly honest people but you want to write gripping dialogue (and who doesn’t?), ask yourself what each character really wants during the scene, and how they will lie or withhold information about that to the other/s. This will help you avoid any “on the nose” dialogue (where people say exactly what they want and mean), which can come across as wooden and (ironically) false.

I’m not saying that you need to create an entire premise based on lies alone, although playwright David Mamet would say it’s been done, as would author John Le Carre and screenwriter/director Chris McQuarrie, to name only a few.

Defining how your characters’ lies shape them and how you can use the act of lying to develop your plot might seem counter-intuitive, given how we seek to strike notes of honesty, to write from our guts, but this exercise will open entirely new perspectives AND DEPTH in your work.

Would I lie to you?  😉



From the movie: Winter's Bone

Pamela Gray (credits as long as your arm with “twenty good scripts gathering dust in my garage,”) was honest and hilarious about writing stories told from a woman’s point of view, as well as seeing them through production. A bit of horror from the trenches launched the room into bursts of laughter over the difficulty in getting a female orgasm shown on the screen – if she’s over 40. Doesn’t matter if that’s the spine. But you had to be there. She shared keen insights on female mythology differing a bit within the classic Hero’s Journey.

Elizabeth Hunter (as in Director of Development for Universal-Apollo 13-Clockers-Crooklyn-Twelve MonkeysJumping The Broom and so very much more) was an elegant foil, with a lot on structure, plus lifting the skirt on writing and producing stories from the ethnic woman’s point of view.

Wish you were there for this powerful duo. Really. Hunter and Gray could take it on the road.

Pamela Gray

  •  The good news is, in 2008, four women were nominated for an Oscar for their original screenplays. That was big news for women. And it’s good to remind yourself of the positives. As often as possible.
  •  Forget all the reasons not to, and write female characters that the best actresses will want to play. (Jim Uhls also advised creating actor-attracting characters as a means to break into Hollywood. We see a pattern, here).

Elizabeth Hunter

  •  Everything starts with structure and story. If you don’t nail that, you’ll be called on it.
  • What stories should you tell? Pay attention to the stories you tell yourself over and over. Those are probably the stories you should tell. Just write the stories that you want to “tell to the world.” Movies told from a female perspectives are all “a story about a woman who…”

Conversation between Hunter & Gray

  • Unfortunate fact, but make sure your female protag, no matter what she’s dealing with or initiating, has a core that’s likable, as in a bad woman but a good mom. Both said if you don’t, you’ll get lots of notes to make your tortured fem “redeemable” and that as within a narrow confine of what execs might see as acceptable. (I guess that’s why, if she’s bad, she better be a hottie – if you want your film to be made).
  • TELEPLAY WRITERS: Take note. Television is friendlier towards a wider variety of interesting, female-driven stories than Hollywood is for film. (Note: If you’ve only written screenplays, you might want to do some reading on the 7-act structures required for accommodating the ad placements in network television. Grittier material would gravitate toward the cable market, without ads, so same 3-act structure as film applies for cable without ads).
  • Both panelists said they often return to reading favorite classic and contemporary feminine-perspective stories as those written by: Georgia Elliot, Emily Bronte, Jane Austin and Toni Morrison. (This is just what I wrote down, and does not reflect the full scope of all they cited as favorite authors).
  •  Structure holds everything together. Both panelists recommended “Writing Screenplays that Sell,” by Hal Ackerman, with Gray swearing by Ackerman’s Scene-o-gram for ensuring structure.

Pamela Gray

For those familiar with the archetypes in storytelling, understand that the Female Protagonist’s classic Hero’s Journey is a bit different than it is when using the same story arc for a male protagonist.

  •  In many aspects, the world itself is more repressing for a woman than it is for a man, so environment is often at least one of the female protag’s Antagonists or Threshold Guardians.
  • In the Call to Adventure, the female protag often says no to “the call” more than once before she finally succumbs and goes on her Journey. Her extra hesitation reads natural. The female protag is often more heavily invested in community and family than the male protag, so she has more at stake in leaving all that behind to pursue her Adventure.
  • The Mentor or Ally is different for women. Often more intimate and unexpected. It can be a friend who, without a clue, chirps in with bulls-eye honest insights. And who is capable of delivering the Betrayal 2nd Act Reversal from the Ally and/or Mentor, which occurs in both the classic Hero’s Journey story arc and in most good screenplay structure. (For the male protag, an example of that moment of betrayal/reversal might be “Obi Wan Kanobi dies without giving Luke the further training and help that he feels he desperately needs).
  • Threshold Guardian (can be antagonist): In a woman’s story, this can also come from intimate sources. It can often be her spouse who challenges her level of commitment (think Norma Rae). You rarely if ever find the spouse playing this role in the male Hero’s Journey.
  • Returning with The Prize and Sharing that with Community. This is the returning home conclusion in the Hero’s Journey story arc. A return home to share what she has learned and won is a very natural action for the Heroine’s Journey protagonist to take. It’s nearly a foregone conclusion.

The panel included an excited announcement about Hunter and Gray ganging up to offer a one-hour long series online entitled: Pitching: Making it Happen. Time on that TBD.

We wait with baited breath, and will share as soon as we know. Until then, may your female protagonists continue to push the envelope on what we expect from a buncha women.


Of all the sessions I attended during the conference, I have to say that the Creative Roundtables were the most rewarding. Attendees can only sign up for one roundtable, where about twelve panelists sit at various six-chaired tables, speak to conference attendees and answer questions. Time is short, and you change tables three times during the session. Who you sit with is by chance more than choice. I was most fortunate to sit with only five other attendees at a table with Jim Uhls (Fight Club), and Pen Densham (Moll Flanders).

PEN DENSHAM: Founder and Co-Chairman of Trilogy Entertainment Group. Film credits include Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, Moll Flanders and Houdini. TV Credits include resurrecting Outer Limits and The Twilight Zone. Author of “Riding the Alligator” – on writing screenplays and strategies for a career in Hollywood.

A delightfully humble and helpful panelist, Pen shared his early start, from dropping out of high school in the U.K. and moving to Canada where his career start was funded in part by a government program. He also shared his early lack of confidence in his skills, which he eventually overcame. He advised us to write for ourselves; to write the stories we want to tell because, even if they don’t sell, this form of writing nurtures the writer’s creative spirit, and that approach constantly builds the writer’s confidence and skill. He repeatedly reminded us that he only knew his own story, that each writer must find their own path and methods for understanding what works, but he offered what I thought was a sound strategy for approaching the many drafts needed to complete a screenplay:

FIRST DRAFT: “Write crap.” He said the first draft is about exploration. Let yourself off your self-critical hook and just explore your story, whatever comes. The first draft is not about anything but letting the story unfold until you reach Fade Out. Allowing yourself total freedom is critical, according to Pen. Don’t worry about how “good” it is, rather, have fun and play with the possibilities.

SECOND DRAFT: Check for clear “sign posts.” Pen described this as each element logically leading and building to the next in your story. Are the scenes well chosen to move your story forward? Is your story clear? Do all your scenes make sense within the context of the whole story?

THIRD DRAFT: Cut words. Screenplays are what Pen described as “emotional poetry,” which is what all great screenplays must strive to be. Stories that elicit emotion is something I heard again and again at the conference. Must be something to that, huh?

FOURTH DRAFT: Dialogue. Quicken and tighten. Although soliloquies are occasionally found in the movies we love, most dialogue should be honed with an eye toward how it sounds when spoken. Is it natural? Is it abbreviated, like it is when we speak to each other in real life? Is it relevant? Is it “on the nose,” i.e., revealing too much of what the character really wants? Or does it skirt the issue a bit, like most humans do, reluctant to give away everything they are after?

FIFTH DRAFT: Check your descriptions. Pen said our descriptions should never read like laundry lists, but should imply emotion and conjure the readers imagination. Cut the fluff, and “challenge the reader to pay attention.” I thought that was great advice.

One of my favorite panelists at the conference, I’ll be buying Pen’s book and advise all aspiring screenwriters who want to tell powerful, heart-felt stories to do the same.

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JIM UHLS: Screenwriter (adaptation) Fight Club.

For most film aficionados, the movie Fight Club needs no introduction. In my opinion, it is one of the more important films in recent years, both artistically and socially. The level of craft embodied in the writing, acting and direction (from the Godlike David Fincher) is about as good as Hollywood gets. If you really want to hunker down with this film as a study piece (highly advisable), be sure to watch it with all the fabulous commentary tracks, from which you will learn a great deal.

Jim Uhls spoke at length about writing in general. The one question I wanted answered and asked was: how did you get the job of writing the adaptation of Chuck Palahniuk’s controversial and ground-breaking novel? His answer was surprising, and one I found most helpful to all aspiring screenwriters.

He said he wrote a spec script that, though never sold, was well-received because it demonstrated his ability to create gritty characters capable of attracting the best actors. According to Uhls,writing a spec script full of characters that actors will fight to play, rather than one geared for more commercial appeal, is one of the best tactics for an unknown writer to get their foot in Hollywood’s proverbial door.

Prior to writing the Fight Club script, Jim had never sold a screenplay. How’s that for hitting a career bulls-eye right out of the gate? I am Jack’s bloated envy…


Image by Chris Miles

None of us is all good or all bad. If your goal is to craft believable characters in your stories, then none of them should be, either.

When dipping into the vast and brilliant reservoir of material on “The Hero’s Journey” and basic archetypes as a storytelling model with which to create your stellar beings, remember to give them more than one Internal Archetype to wrestle with. Layer the archetypal qualities in your characters as a means to develop and understand their unique perspectives and likely choices.

(No Spoilers): For an example, let’s look at the protagonist in the recent film (2010) “The Warriors Way,” (which became a guilty pleasure): The protagonist is both “Warrior” and “Priest,” quite literal expressions of the archetypes in most martial arts films. Tones of the “Artisan” gave the protag sensitivity (poetic, deep emotion) reflected in the stylistic look/shot choices of the film, and in his storyline choices (respect for purity – save the condemned baby – turn his back on a horrible “blood feud” tradition).

Our Hero takes the higher yet more difficult path and gives up everything in order to try to save The Child (Innocence, Potential, Seed, the Future, Continuation, Hope). As as a Warrior Monk, he is self-sacrificing and highly disciplined, and in the highest expression of that archetype, cannot turn a back to Innocence. We delight as his embodiment of the “Warrior” (Action/Courage in service to some kind of authority, be it King or Clan or an inner sense of morality), moves him forward on his chosen path (character goal/plot line).

The use of the archetypes Priest, Warrior and Artisan for creating the protagonist’s skeleton and flesh, if you will, gives us a character with depth whose choices we subconsciously accept as making sense for who he is in that story. But a key component to this character really working comes from the Artisan, because that element created a character capable of inspiring compassion in us for someone we care about and relate to on some level, no matter how tenuous. The Artisan makes him vulnerable, human and accessible to us after an intense embodiment and expression of the Warrior/Priest, who is not very emotionally approachable. (Imagine a warm conversation with Ripley from the Alien movies). Most people can relate on some level to the messy Artisan who takes leaps based on intuitive hunches and indefinable reasons, the Divine Fool, impossible to control or predict but willing to open their hearts. We relate because we all either embody the willingness to leap ourselves – or we long for the faith and confidence it takes to do so.

I know that some storytellers have intentionally created unsympathetic characters, and I can understand that choice when it comes to purely artistic exploration, or when writing something based on actual events, but personally, the stories I enjoy the most are the ones where I have the means to root for the bad guys on some level, or feel sympathy when they lose, or at least get a sense of understanding why they’re crazy or mean. And I like to see the good guys hesitate with self-doubt during critical moments. Even the good guys have cracks in their armor, and I want to see them because it makes me root for their moments of courage all the more.

Bottom line: Please, don’t create flat characters by modeling them after one archetype. Audiences want flat characters to go away and don’t care how as long as it’s soon. When a fiction writer creates characters that nobody cares about, they’ve got a story nobody wants to hear.

By layering multiple archetypes, you have the potential to create a character capable of inspiring enough mystery and depth to convince us that we will never fully know that character, just as we are limited in our complete understanding and knowledge of each other. This is just one foundational approach for the proper use of multiple archetypes for creating characters whom we want more of once the story is over, characters who arouse our sense of curiosity. There should always be the sense that there is much more to be explored in your major characters long after “The End” and/or “Fade Out” appears.

Too often, we see movies or read manuscript and screenplay material wherein the characters are transparent in how they’ve been modeled after one archetype rather than revealing a deeper understanding and use of this storytelling model by layering multiple archetypes within each character. You can apply a simple, 2-or-3 archetype layering approach right down to the third spear carrier on the left, if you want. When you know each character at least on an Archetypal model level your spontaneous creative choices when blocking out scenes and writing your narrative and dialogue will all be truer to the characters and therefore more believable and emotionally powerful.

**7 Basic Archetypes

I primarily use the following seven archetypes for delineating fundamental characterization, as I find that most other archetypes are subtle variations that exist within each of these basic seven themes, depending on how the inherent energies are expressed:

King: Commander, guiding/providing for/affecting many others, yet seeking/needing to learn self-mastery (leaders, business owners, politicians, military commanders, role models)

Warrior: Action oriented, the “doers” of the world devoted to serving/upholding existing systems and/or powers (business people, soldiers, institutional workers, police, martial artists)

Artisan/Craftsman: Acutely aware of and affected by harmony in spatial and human relationships, and seeking to creatively express their observations (actors, builders, entertainers, designers, architects, photographers, artists, musicians, filmmakers)

Sage/Counselor: Agents of reflection, communication and change (writers, visionaries, entertainers, comics, musicians, filmmakers, spin doctors, artists, mentors, all trail-blazers)

Server/Healer: Compassionately aware of and seeking to tend to the needs of others (nurses, doctors, all healing arts, educators, social workers, therapists, religious workers)

Priest/Priestess: Primarily concerned with the spiritual welfare of others (all religious and spiritual fields, especially those who are actively guiding/teaching others)

Scholar/Scientist: Wants knowledge above all else; life-long careers of study and gathering information (workers in research oriented fields of science and other fields of specialized expertise and understanding)

Of course, the understanding of archetypes in human consciousness and in our storytelling is abundantly available through many authors better than I, and is a specialized field of understanding unto itself. You can delve as deep as you like through reading the works of Karl Jung and Joseph Campbell, to name just a few.

Everybody has a sad story, with the scars to prove it, so I also decide what sort of scar/s each of my characters carries, and how they acquired them. (Gotta love back-story). From deciding where each character is at with dealing (or not) with those scars when my story opens, I can determine the state of the character’s Inner Child (another archetype), which comes into play with the character’s sense of confidence, spontaneity and rebelliousness – and that affects how they experience and interact with their entire world.

Armed with this basic information, a writer can move forward secure in the faith that both the character/s and the story will fight them relentlessly (a good thing in this case) if they move their characters away from the natural choices and reactions those characters would normally have, given what the writer knows about them. This is just one way to develop a deeper connection to and keener intuitive understanding of your characters, which thereby allows you to keep them sharply in focus throughout their mis/adventures. In this manner, no matter what you throw at them or how quirky their choices might seem, your characters will sound like real, multi-faceted people and will stay true to the qualities you want them to embody.

**Archetypes taken from the Michael Teachings, as the information has been written and shared through multiple authors and channels, i.e, “The Michael Teachings” by Jose Stevens.

December 2017
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Brooke Monfort - Find me on Bloggers.com