When cats go searching for their identity…archetypes and the hero’s journey

I’ve been missing in action, but hardly inactive.

When I first started writing, my research lead me to use the model of archetypes to develop my characters. Any intrepid Googler can find enough online info to understand this mythic structure. My delicious bookmarks attest to that and considering I knew nothing when I started out, I think I’ve come a ‘fur piece’ as they say.

I love the archetype model and do not find it limiting in any way. It provides a solid foundation for characters with the freedom to let your imagination fly to create an infinite variety of characters. Like snowflakes, no two are alike. But like snowflakes and  real people, we all share basic elements. Understanding archetypes help me better understand human nature. That troublesome person in my life might just be a Threshold Guardian, testing me in ways that will make me smarter and stronger. This perspective allows for a ‘step back’ from the usual close-up camera lens in which we view events or people that tangle up our emotions.

Now that I’ve started on the second book , I decided it was time to grow up, so rather than clicking through my conglomeration of delicious bookmarks, I ordered The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structures for Storytellers and Screenwriters. Christopher Vogler has managed to translate Joseph Campbell, as one critic, said ‘for dummies’. This is no book for dummies, but reading it whetted my appetite for more and so I could hardly wait to get my hands on Campbell’s Hero. Campbell, however, is going to take some time to absorb. Excellent book, but slow reading, because it’s so packed. I have to be in the right mood for Campbell, and I appreciate Vogler’s  book all the more for his beautiful simplicity in gleaning the essence of Campbell, making it accessible and practical.

The book is laid out in two main sections. The first section presents the main archetypes (Hero, Mentor, Threshold Guardian, Herald, Shapeshifter, Shadow and Trickster) with examples from film. The second section holds the signposts of the journey (Ordinary World, Call to Adventure, etc.) It is very easy to read through as well as use it as a reference when editing.

So I woke the cats and we plowed through their story along with Mr. Vogler’s guidebook. I was able to identify all of the archetypes, although some of them held more than one position and two characters hold the post of Threshold Guardian for different reasons. Knowing exactly who they are and their relationship to the Hero makes it easier to strengthen their role.

I also found one major flaw in my Hero’s journey that will require a more serious revision but I’m holding a brainstorming session with my characters to get their take on how to proceed with the changes.

If I could only keep one writing reference book on my desk, it would be The Writer’s Journey. What writer’s reference books speak to you?

11 thoughts on “When cats go searching for their identity…archetypes and the hero’s journey

  1. Strunk and White is foremost. A recent acquisition is Larry Beinhart’s “How to Write a Mystery”. His advice for story structure crosses genres. Just ordered “Self-Editing” by Browne & King (sorry, I won’t have it for tomorrow’s meeting). Annie Lamott’s “Bird by Bird” is great for reminding us that even good writers produce lousy first drafts.

    1. Yes, Strunk and White is standard on my desk as well. I hadn’t heard of Larry Beinhart’s book but I’ll look it up.

      As for lousy first drafts, what if your first draft is a distant memory, you’ve lost count of your revisions and discover your story is still flawed? 🙂

  2. I love building off archetypes and embrace the process as well. Excellent post. As for writing books, I mostly consult those that help me write the dreaded query and the sinister synopsis. ^_^

    1. What resources do you use for the dreaded query and synopsis? I’ve all but given up trying to get a good query. Every time I go back and read my attempts I feel like a failure as a writer. I’ve tried to look at the query like a challenge to be met, but lately…I don’t know.

      It sure takes all the fun out of this venture! I’m going back to work on my story now. 🙂

    1. Awwh. If you’re having fun doing what you love to do, then keep on keepin’ on. I think first and foremost writers should enjoy the process. You’re probably having more fun than me!

  3. First drafts are saved on my computer or printed out, so I can always refer back to them.
    Story still flawed? I’d ask for feedback from readers. Sometimes you’re so close to the story, you can’t see what’s missing.

    1. Thanks Kathryn for the advise. I could use a fresh reader. I fear that I’m wearing out my main source, but I’m also careful about who else I give it to. A good friend isn’t going to be honest enough usually and a stranger just seems too risky.

  4. Hey, Rahma.

    Nice to see you out and about again! I’m very familiar with the archetypes and Mr. C due to my psych classes. I’ve heard nothing but praise for the retelling of it in the Hero’s Journey, though I’ve not read the book myself.

    I don’t actually have a favorite reference book. Maybe I should find one so I can edit better!

    1. Hi catwoods! Thanks for stopping by. I’ve been absent on the blog tours lately, but I do take a peek at yours from time to time. I just can’t come up with pithy comments on short notice, so sometimes I just lurk. 🙂

      See you around!

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