I am currently in the throes of rewriting my mystery novel and doing some deep character work on my hero. A couple of Sundays ago, Jim mentioned Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s 45 Master Characters in a reply to a comment by me. Years earlier I had tried reading the first edition of her book, but it hadn’t clicked. This was back when I tried learning craft by osmosis, rather than by application and practice. After Jim’s mention, I decided to give 45 Master Characters another try and picked up a copy of the revised edition.
This time, it’s resonating deeply with me. Her take on mythic character archetypes, as well as the heroine and hero’s journeys, is brilliant, and I’ve been using the book to get a better handle on my sleuth and the supporting cast.
That got me thinking about today’s TKZ Words of Wisdom, and I dove into the archives to look for posts on character archetypes. So, the first excerpt today is from a post by Jordan Dane describing twelve character archetypes, providing a goal and a fear for each. The second excerpt is from Joe Hartlaub and deals with unmasking a previously hidden villain at the end of a book–the Scooby Doo reveal. The third, by Clare Langley-Hawthorne, discusses the final editing pass of your novel. As always, each excerpt is date linked to the original post. Please jump in with your thoughts on any or all of these.
Let’s take a closer look at character archetypes. In researching this post, I found a more comprehensive list of 99 Archetypes & Stock Characters that Screen Writers Can Mold that screenwriters might utilize in their craft. Archetypes are broader as a foundation to build on. Experienced editors and industry professionals can hear your book pitch and see the archetypes in their mind’s eye. From years of experience, it helps them see how your project might fit in their line or on a book shelf.
But to simplify this post and give it focus, I’ll narrow these character types down to Swiss Psychiatrist Carl Jung‘s 12-Archetypes. Listed below, Jung developed his 12-archetypes, as well as their potential goals and what they might fear. Goals and fears can be expanded, but think of this as a springboard to trigger ideas.
- GOAL – Happiness
- FEAR – Punishment
- GOAL – Belonging
- FEAR – Exclusion
- GOAL – Change World
- FEAR – Weakness
- GOAL – Help Others
- FEAR – Selfishness
- GOAL – Freedom
- FEAR – Entrapment
- GOAL – Revolution
- FEAR – No Power
- GOAL – Connection
- FEAR – Isolation
- GOAL – Realize Vision
- FEAR – Mediocrity
- GOAL – Levity & Fun
- FEAR – Boredom
- GOAL – Knowledge
- FEAR – Deception
- GOAL – Alter Reality
- FEAR – Unintended Results
- GOAL – Prosperity
- FEAR – Overthrown
Jordan Dane—April 4, 2019
Scooby Doo is firmly ensconced in the American culture. The plot of each cartoon episode is very similar, with a crime occurring, Scooby and his pals investigating, and the villain of the piece being unmasked, literally, at the end. I think that I first heard this type of climax referenced as a “Scooby Doo” ending during the second of the three climaxes to the film Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. It has been a vehicle used in mystery novels long before that. There’s nothing wrong with it at all, except that 1) it sometimes doesn’t work and 2) sometimes it needs a little work. I ran across an example of the former several months ago while reading a thriller that was one of the many nephews to The Da Vinci Code wherein the protagonist’s adversary was running around killing people while wearing a tribal mask and attempting to obtain an instrument of antiquity which would permit him to destroy the universe. The protagonist got the mask off of the evildoer near the end and the book ended. “Rut row!” The book was okay, but the ending was a total disappointment.
That brings us to a book I read this week in which the author uses the Scooby Doo ending to great effect by taking the story a step or two beyond it. The author is the morbidly underappreciated Brian Freeman and the book is Season of Fear, the second and latest of the Cab Bolton novels. (Please note: it’s not quite a spoiler, but there’s a general revelation ahead. Read the book regardless). The premise is fairly straightforward. Ten years ago a Florida gubernatorial candidate was assassinated by a masked gunman, throwing the election into chaos. A suspect was identified, tried, convicted, and jailed. In the present, the candidate’s widow is running for the same seat when she receives a threatening note which purports to be from the same assassin. Indeed, he eventually turns up, and his identity is ultimately revealed in a grand unmasking. But wait. Freeman, after giving the reader enough action to fill two books and expertly presenting a complex but easy to follow plot, gives the reader more to chew on. Things don’t end with the revelation of the identity of the doer; instead, Freeman moves us a couple of more steps forward, revealing a potential unexpected mover and shaker who was a couple of steps ahead of everyone, including Bolton. This has the double-barreled effect of making the climax much more interesting and setting up a potential adversarial setting for Cab Bolton in a future novel. Nice work.
Again, Scooby Doo endings are okay. They’re fine. But if your particular novel in waiting has one, and seems to lack pizazz, don’t just take the doer’s mask off, or reveal their identity, or whatever. Take things a step further just as the curtain is going down, and reveal who is pulling the cord, and perhaps yanking the chain. It may be a character that was present throughout your book, or someone entirely new, or…well, you might even want to create a character and work your way backwards with them. But stay with the mask, and go beyond it.
Joe Hartlaub—March 14, 2015
I’m on the final round of revisions to my current manuscript and considering a new editing process. In the past I have always tended to bite off more than I can chew when revising – trying to look for plot inconsistencies, character missteps (blue eyes one chapter, brown the next), typos, repetition, dull dialogue, boring exposition and errors all at once. What I’ve found is that about midway through the process, I get completely mired in the editing process and start dismantling what is essentially the final version of the novel, as I lose confidence in both the story and myself (you know, the usual author angst!). This time, however, while I am waiting for beta reader feedback, I am looking at adopting an alternative approach and would love some advice.
My current system involves editing throughout the writing process – from editing the first draft (which pretty much equals rewriting) to doing a final line edit on the completed manuscript before I turn it in to my agent. It’s what happens in these later stages that I need to refine. What I am considering is parsing the final editing into multiple discrete re-reads looking for:
- Plot/timeline issues alone – checking for holes, inconsistencies, and errors.
- Character issues alone – checking for inconsistencies, misdescriptions etc.
- Stylistic issues – repetition, boring/dull descriptions etc.
- Final line-edit – looking for grammatical and spelling errors and typos.
Although I’ve looked at all these areas already (multiple times!) while editing previous drafts, with the final version, it’s time to have one more look as invariably I still find errors. My concern is that trying to re-read the final manuscript multiple times to look for these discrete set of issues will be time-consuming and slow (and may possibly drive me demented!).
What I’d love is feedback/comments on what final editing process has worked for you.
- Do you try and do everything all at once?
- Do you reread with specific areas in mind?
- Do you get others to do a final line-edit?
- How do you balance the need for one last look at all the critical areas in a manuscript against being driven crazy after the 50th reread?
Clare Langley-Hawthorne–January 12, 2012
So, there you have it. Jungian archetypes, Scooby Doo-style reveals, and the final editing pass.
- Have you ever created or revised your characters through the frame of archetypes?
- Have you ever done a Scooby Doo style reveal of a villain in one of your novels?
- How do you handle your final editing pass?
Rowwrr! Good morning, Dale! Thanks for including me in such august company. Rutrow! Have a great weekend.
Thanks for writing such a fun and insightful post, Joe! I watched Scooby Doo as a kid and loved reading your advice on how to set up the unmasking. Have a wonderful weekend, too.
I have not used the archetypes before but I’m at a good place to try that with the current protag I’m working with.
Joe’s advice is very timely: “don’t just take the doer’s mask off, or reveal their identity, or whatever. Take things a step further just as the curtain is going down, and reveal who is pulling the cord, and perhaps yanking the chain.” I’m blundering through writing my first mystery, and had the antagonist all picked out—but in the process of thinking it through I realized they couldn’t be the solo doer of the misdeeds. Like Joe said, I realized there had to be someone behind the curtains. I’m still working it all out, writing backwards from the end.
As to final editing process, I’ve far from developed a good system yet. I can’t edit for everything at once (my brain can’t handle the overload) but neither do I want to read the manuscript too many times. Trying to find a happy middle ground in a couple of passes, one for the larger story elements (plot, character, etc) and one for the minutiae.
Thanks for your comments, BK. Hope the archetypes helps with your current protagonist. Finding out that there’s someone hidden who is pulling the strings is such an exciting feeling, isn’t it? Another one for me, is realizing that there is another criminal doing something nefarious, connected to the murder, but which creates a big red herring for the hero to chase. Your point about finding a happy middle ground in your editing process is a good one. Have a great weekend.
Dale, excellent gold nuggets from the past. Thanks!
1. I remember Jordan’s great archetype post but haven’t been as conscious of the types recently, perhaps b/c the major characters in my series are well-established after seven books. However, the villain in my WIP has been slippery and unclear. I plan to reexamine him through the archetype lens and I bet that will snap his character into place.
2. I missed out on Scooby Doo, a gap in my cultural education.
3. B/c I do rolling edits as I draft, the ms. is pretty clean when it goes to beta readers. They catch plot holes and parts that need plumping up. They also raise questions I hadn’t considered. After those are fixed, a second round of different betas checks for continuity, pacing, and overall readability. Then I reformat in a larger different font that fools the eye and brain into thinking it’s a fresh ms. That sweeps up most errors and repetitions.
Thanks, Debbie! Hope the reexamination of your villain through the archetype lens will help focus his character. I’d like to do a rolling edit without getting bogged down. Beta readers are also an invaluable part of my writing process. Reformatting in a larger, as well as different font, is a great idea. Hope you have a wonderful weekend!
Great post, Dale. Wonderful choices for excerpts from the archives.
1. I have not used archetypes in developing new characters, but I will start using their descriptions to see what goals and fears fit together in the same character.
2. Joe’s post on Scooby Doo reveals/endings was excellent. I have used this type of ending, but I didn’t know it was a “Scooby Doo” ending. His ideas for taking it a step further are definitely going to be something I’ll think about the next time.
3. Clare’s ideas on editing are worth our consideration as we develop our editing process. I make notes when I discover an “issue” like Clare’s list #1 and #2. I then have a list and go searching for each issue one at a time. I look for help from my betas for #1 – #3. Especially #3. What’s boring to the reader may not be boring to me. And for #4, I run my manuscript through Word, then use text-to-speech to listen.
Thanks, Dale, for a great and helpful post today.
Thanks, Steve! Glad you found the excerpts useful. There’s so much gold in the archives. Thanks for sharing your editing process, too. I like your emphasis on how boring for the reader might not be boring for the writer–I couldn’t agree more. Hope you have a fine weekend!
I do consider mythic archetypes when building my cast. I’m especially drawn to the mentor, the trickster, the shapeshifter, and the threshold guardian.
As for the double reveal ending (“twist in the tail”), it’s great when it works. You can pre-plan it (my prference, as it offers red herrings and plot twists), or create a new character later, and do what Joe suggests, go back and work the character in.
I edit my previous day’s work, complete a first draft and set it aside for a couple of weeks. I then read it in hard copy, taking minimal notes, getting the big picture. I revise as necessary and give it to my wife, and take her notes and incorporate them into another draft. Then it goes to beta readers and a proofreader. Final fixes. A day later it’s for sale.
Thanks again for mentioning 45 Master Characters, Jim. It’s made a big difference in my writing already. Turns out I’m a fan of the shapeshifter as well, since I tend to use that archetype regularly in my fiction.
I’m big on pre-planning as well for such a “twist in the tail” (great term) reveal.
You have a well-honed editing process. I love the ability we indie authors have to release a book as soon as it’s ready to go.
Thanks for commenting. Have a wonderful weekend!
The show SUPERNATURAL did a lovely dive into SCOOBY DOO’s silliness and heart in an episode called “Scoobynatural” where the human heroes are transported into the cartoon show by a magical artifact. After helping the Scooby gang solve the crime, they return to the real world and discover that it is, indeed, the land developer who is the bad guy in this story.
Archetypes aren’t just character schematics, they are archetypal stories like fairy tales, or the fast track images to the reader’s fears and emotions. If you are interested in a more in depth dive into the subject, here it is.
I haven’t seen any “Supernatural” (yet)–that episode sounds right up my alley, Marilynn. I really like your observation that archetypes aren’t just character schematics but are actually archetypical stories. Reading Schmidt’s book in earnest this time has shown me how the archetypes contain their own character arcs. Thanks for the link–that’s a very insightful post–and thanks for commenting. Hope you have a fine weekend.
Dale, like you, I picked up 45 archetypes years ago. It looked fascinating, but when I read it, I couldn’t figure out how to use any of it. It was fun looking at the greek character names, and the examples, but beyond that… nothing. Maybe I’ll take another look.
Thanks for comment, Azali. What made the difference for me this time around is realizing, like Marilynn pointed out above, that the archetypes aren’t just static character schematics, but rather, dynamic, and represent archetypical story types. Moreover, each has it’s own character arc, so, for instance, a King archetype could begin your novel needing to grow into that role. Hope this proves helpful. Have a great weekend!
Wonderful selections from the TKZ Words of Wisdom files, Dale!
1. I haven’t used archetypes for the basis of my characters before, but it sounds like something I should try. I need to spend some time coming up to speed.
2. In each of my novels, the villain is unmasked in the climactic scene, but I like the idea of adding complexity the way Joe describes it. Lots of food for thought.
3. I’m getting ready to send the first draft of my WIP to my editor. I’m editing it on every level possible 🙂 , knowing I’ll get lots of comments back and I’ll have another go at the second draft.
Thanks, Kay! I’m definitely doing a crash course in archetypes myself. Modern mysteries generally seem to do the unmasking at the climax, at least the standard whodunit. Congrats on getting your first draft ready to send to your editor! Hope you have a wonderful weekend.
Sorry I’m late, Dale! Family flew in from California.
I didn’t start by creating an archetype, but some of villains could fall into hero, creator, and caregiver.
Like Debbie, I do rolling edits, reading the previous day’s work before continuing on. I also run the manuscript through Pro Writing Aid (Premium) to catch awkward sentences or confusing word choices. Then read the ms out loud. The last step before submitting to my publisher is running the ms through Grammarly to catch typos and missing/needed commas. Both programs I use on a periphery level. Otherwise, they’ll strip the voice right out of the story.
Thanks for weighing in, Sue! It’s never too late to comment. Very interesting that you can archetype some of your villains. I think the shadow versions of the archetypes can be really powerful antagonists for the hero.
Thanks for mentioning the rolling edit. That’s something I’m going to try going forward. I also use Pro Writing Aid (Premium) and find it very handy. I haven’t used Grammarly in a while. There’s definitely a risk of losing the voice in the service of the software’s grammar and “style” focus, so I try to be careful.
Hope you are having a nice time with family this weekend.