Tag Archives: The Hero with a Thousand Faces

Character Development: The Trickster #amwriting

In previous posts, I have discussed the hero and his/her journey in detail. Their arc is critical, but the hero must have friends and enemies, people who help or hinder him. Each of them has an arc, some large, and some small.

My lead characters always have companions. I am a great fan of both Joseph Campbell and Christopher Vogler, and the hero’s journey is central to much of my work. In his book, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Campbell discusses his theory of the journey of the archetypal hero found in world mythologies. Quote from Wikipedia, the fount of all knowledge:

In his 1949 work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Campbell described the basic narrative pattern as follows:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered, and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Even better for our purposes, in his 2007 book, The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, Christopher Vogler takes Campbell’s concept of the monomyth and applies it to storytelling.  His book offers insights into character development and takes the mythical aspects of the hero’s journey and places it into pop culture, from movies to television, to books. I am on my third copy of this book.

It occurred to me that the father of one of my main characters is the archetype known as “the Trickster.” This is the wise friend who can sometimes work against you, but whose presence adds an important layer to the narrative.

Tricksters:

  • Cross Boundaries
  • Break rules
  • Disrupt ordinary life
  • Charm us with their wit and charisma

Wikipedia also tells us:

All cultures have tales of the trickster, a crafty creature who uses cunning to get food, steal precious possessions, or simply cause mischief. In some Greek myths, Hermes plays the trickster. He is the patron of thieves and the inventor of lying, a gift he passed on to Autolycus, who in turn passed it on to Odysseus. In Slavic folktales, the trickster and the culture hero are often combined.

Often in mythology, the bending/breaking of rules takes the form of tricks or thievery.  When I need a thief, I automatically think of Loki—the consummate trickster of Norse mythology. Loki sometimes helps the gods and other times behaves in a malevolent manner towards them. He is also a shapeshifter and can change gender at will.

When I realized the trickster was emerging in the character of Elgar, I was thrilled. He is a good father, a widower. The son of the shaman, Elgar would be the first to tell you he isn’t fit for that task. His younger son has been chosen instead, and this book revolves around his son’s vision quest and his path to becoming his clan’s next shaman.

Elgar is a bit of a player in some ways, yet he has scruples. He takes chances but has great personal charm, so he is the clan’s speaker. His greatest weakness is that he gets bored easily, and trouble always ensues.

What I love about having the trickster emerging in this tale is the way he livens things up. He is the ray of sunshine in what could be an unremitting tale of gloom and doom.

The following is the list of character archetypes as described by Vogler:

  • Hero: someone who is willing to sacrifice his own needs on behalf of others

  • Mentor: all the characters who teach and protect heroes and give them gifts

  • Threshold Guardian: a menacing face to the hero, but if understood, they can be overcome

  • Herald: a force that brings a new challenge to the hero

  • Shapeshifter: characters who constantly change from the hero’s point of view

  • Shadow: character who represents the energy of the dark side

  • Ally: someone who travels with the hero through the journey, serving variety of functions

  • Trickster: embodies the energies of mischief and desire for change

I think the rogue is an important component of any epic tale. He lends a touch of fallible humanity to the cast that can be otherwise too perfect. His influence on the hero also offers us moments of hilarity and pathos.

When I recognized my trickster, I began looking at my other characters, to see what role they represent in this cast. This gave me a reason to go back to The Writer’s Journey, and look again at my other characters and their archetypes to make sure I am using them to their best advantage.

I highly recommend The Writer’s Journey, Mythic Structure for Writers, by Christopher Vogler. It is one of the foundation books in my reference library, and I refer back to it often, especially in the early stages of a manuscript, when I am trying to decide how to maximize a side character’s potential.

 


Credits and Attributions:

Renard the Fox, drawn by Ernest Griset, from a children’s book published in 1869 PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons.

Wikipedia contributors, “The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=The_Writer%27s_Journey:_Mythic_Structure_for_Writers&oldid=804454608 (accessed December 5, 2017).

Wikipedia contributors, “Trickster,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Trickster&oldid=811022016 (accessed December 5, 2017).

By scan from an unknown publication by an anonymous poster, in a thread, gave permission to use it. Re-drawn by User:Slashme [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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What are you #writing: Identifying your theme

herowithathousandfacescd2000When I read a book, I connect to the sense of wonder that each event or plot twist in a story evokes for the protagonists.  I am extremely partial to those books in in which the protagonist faces his/her own demons and finds a hero within themselves, a person who faces the unknown and finds the courage to do what he/she believes is morally right.

Consider J.R.R. Tolkien’s  LOTR series. He clearly knew that personal growth and the many forms that heroism can take are central themes of his stories, and while there are many side-quests taking the different characters away from the physical journey of the One Ring, Tolkien never strayed from the concept of the hero’s journey.

What is the “hero’s journey”?  The concept of the heroic journey was first introduced by the American mythologist, writer and lecturer, Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces (published in 1949). In this ground-breaking work, he discusses the monomyth, or the hero’s journey. He describes how this motif is the common template of a broad category of tales that involve

  1. a hero going on an adventure,
  2. and who, in a decisive crisis, wins a victory,
  3. and who then returns to his home changed or transformed.

Take Tolkien’s masterpiece, The Hobbit: When Bilbo Baggins faces the giant spiders he also faces his own cowardice, and he is filled with amazement that he could do such a thing. This is the first step in his realization that he has courage apart from the invisibility conferred on him by the ring he found earlier. He has courage, and yes, he is afraid, but he is not afraid to be courageous. This is a core concept of this book, and of the entire Lord of the Rings series, set in Middle Earth.

398px-Heroes journey by Christopher Vogler

The diagram is loosely based on Campbell (1949) and (more directly?) on Christopher Vogler, “A Practical Guide to Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces” (seven-page-memo 1985). Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In my own work, personal growth and the hero’s journey are often the central themes. This is because those are the stories that intrigued me most as a young reader, and they intrigue me now as an adult.

What is the central theme of your work? Here are a few themes commonly found in popular genre fiction, besides the Hero’s Journey:

Dial-a-Plot

Every one of these themes will force the protagonist to grow and change in some way. Every one of them will challenge his ideas of morality and push him to act in ways that force him to evolve. That kind of growth is what makes characters intriguing and memorable.

When we are constantly prodded to make our work focus on action instead of introspection, it becomes easy to wander way off track. Ask yourself if the action has been inserted for the sake of the shock value, or if this scene is necessary to force change and growth on the protagonist. How will her fundamental ethics and ideals be challenged by this event? If there is no personal cost, there is no need for that scene.

Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818 PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons

Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, 1818 PD|100 via Wikimedia Commons

Writing these blind alleys is not a waste of time.

You never know when you will need those ideas, so never just throw them away–always keep the things you cut in a separate file. Remember, just because that idea doesn’t work for this book, doesn’t mean it won’t work in another book.

I label that file “outtakes,” and believe me, it has come in handy when I need an idea to jump-start a new story.

Keeping in mind the underlying theme of your story while you are laying down the first draft is important. If your inspiration seems to faint somewhere along the middle, it may be that you have lost track of what you originally imagined your story was about and your characters no longer know what they are fighting for. Was it love? Was it destiny? Was it the death of hope?

Sometimes we are so busy setting traps and roadblocks for our protagonist and his nemesis that the action takes over and becomes the theme. The action is there to force the character to grow, not simply for the sake of action. When we are deep in the creative process, it’s easy to forget that characters must evolve.

Remember, there was a fundamental theme in your mind when you first imagined you had a story to write, and once you identify that core concept, you may find you are no longer stuck.

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