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Screenwriting For Authors - Use Archetypes For Compelling Stories

By Author: Phillip Alexander
Total Articles: 34

In your screenwriting efforts, be sure to make use of Archetypes. They are not to be confused with Stereotypes, which are one-dimensional characters we've seen in too many movies.
Archetypes represent elements of our personalities on a primordial level -- the mother, father, teacher, artist, king, etc. They've appeared in countless stories for thousands of years. They reach us on a subconscious level, which is perhaps why they have endured and still have the power to touch our emotions.
The archetype can be the skeleton upon which you build a compelling three-dimensional character that audiences will love. Some of the common archetypes in movies and literature are: the mentor, the villain, the shape-changer, the fool, the wise old man or woman and the hero, to name a few.
Make sure you avoid the temptation to turn an archetype into a stereotype by giving them only one, very obvious, personality trait. For example, the mentor is often portrayed as a wiser, older person, such as Gandalf, in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
But a mentor can also be an older sibling who teaches a brother or sister how to tie their shoes, a boss on the job, a superior officer in the military or police force, a young boy on a tropical island who teaches the newcomer where to find the best fruit trees in the jungle or the customs of his people, and so on.
You can make your archetypal character richer by mixing personality traits that can seem contrary to their main role in your story or the society they live in. Shakespeare often used a Fool character for social or historical commentary, making them wiser, on that level, than the characters who believe themselves smarter than the Fool.
The Wise Old Man or Woman archetype could have a great sense of humor and tell bawdy jokes. Perhaps he or she could be a practical joker, dispensing sage advice with some exploding cigars.
For even greater depth and increased options in story telling, you might mix and match archetypes. One of the archetypes described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces is the Herald, who brings news or information that the Hero needs at just the right moment. The Herald might also offer portents of things to come. What if you mixed the Herald with a joke-telling Fool? How might that affect your story? Would it make the Hero discount the information? Or still act on it, but with wariness?
The choices you make are up to you. Use Archetypes wisely and they will enrich your screenwriting.

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