The Fallen Support

Good or evil - what will you be? (c) Michael Coghlan (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Good or evil – what will you become? (c) Michael Coghlan (CC BY-SA 2.0)

You know that good boy or girl who rebelled and went to the dark side?  The one special person who used to shine like the sun… then their soul suddenly turned black and never returned to the light.  Do you remember how you felt when that happened?   I bet you fell into a pit of despair.  That change probably shook up your world.  You know what…?  That makes for an awesome story!

It is a spin on an alternate reality and it is best played with supporting characters.  Truth be told, the transition of a main character from the light side to the dark side (or vice versa) is pretty thrilling (Hello, Anakin Skywalker).  Yet, the shift with a main character is typically expected and has been done in many, many times.    A story revolves around the protagonist and antagonist, so we journey with them on their descent into the darkness or ascent into the light. 

When this alliance shift happens to a secondary character, who supports a main character (as a best friend, lover, parent, etc.), it is like a punch in the gut.  The transition is completely unexpected.  As a reader, in our minds we assume that a supporting character will always provide solace for a main character.  He or she will be there to help the main character get through the conflicts in a story, not stab them in the back.  When an author has a supporting character switch sides, turning against the main character, it is heart-stopping for the reader.  We want the main characters to be supported, to not be abandoned.  A secondary character’s fall from a protagonist’s or antagonist’s grace labels him / her as a traitor.

  1. The first key in transitioning a supporting character is to maintain trajectory:  straight descent from light to dark or ascent from dark to light.  A little waffling here and there is acceptable, but the ultimate goal is that at the very end of the supporting character’s part, he / she is on the exact opposite side in which they started. 
  2. The second key is to allow the main characters / readers believe that there could be a redemption for the supporting character, shifting him / her back to his / her  initial side.  The crux of the supporting character’s transition, the point at where they stay on the newly chosen side, will be completely shocking to all parties involved in the story.

From the eyes of the main character, the supporting character has fallen.  Fallen from the path that the protagonist or antagonist is following.  With this fall away from the protagonist or antagonist, the supporting character becomes the antagonist of that main character.  Confused yet?  Well, you are a writer.  You should be weaving webs like this.  Intricacy is what makes a story interesting.  By giving a secondary character a descent / ascent, you are creating a second story within your main story.  All the while making one freaking interesting character.

In the antiquity of literature, fallen supporting characters are not widely utilized.  In fact, it is difficult to list these characters who switched sides and stayed there for the remainder of a story.  So difficult that about a month ago, in preparation for this post, I spent an entire month combing through my library for some victims.  Sadly, I lost this list and spent the past 3 hours wracking my brain, trying to recreate it.  Now I have pulled poor, tired Michelle into this chasm and we are coming up with blanks.  Two literary bibliophiles are at a loss.  And we know there are several fallen supporting characters… we are just two very tired girls at the moment. 

The only character of this degree that popped into my head from the original list is Gage Creed from Stephen King’s Pet Semetery.

This adorable little character is a sweet and innocent toddler through much of the story.  He is a supporting character to his protagonist father, Louis.  Gage just adores his daddy, the light of his daddy’s life… until he runs out in front of a speeding dump truck and gets —

Well, for those of you who are anti “children-in-jeopardy”, I will save the details.   Let’s just say Gage dies, is buried, comes back to life, and goes on a murderous rampage against his mama.  Gage starts out in the light and descends into darkness.  King did not subtly hide Gage’s transformation.  The reader knows that Gage will reanimate a little skewed, a little darker  —  given the history of the burial ground.  However, the surprising factor was that he came back 100% evil.  There was no angelic quality left in this kid.  That was the ultimate shock factor that afflicted every reader who touched King’s masterpiece.

As mentioned earlier, the fallen supporting character archetype is not prevalent.  The spotlight is usually on the protagonists and antagonists for the 180-degree transition.  Supporting characters typically stay linear throughout a story or the slightly lean in the opposite direction only to return to their original state by the end.  I think it is time for you as a writer to shake things up a bit.  Think outside the box.

If you are writing a novel or multi-volume series, create a fallen supporting character.  This character will add a lot of depth to your plot and enhance the story.  I can guarantee, if you do this, you will have one memorable supporting character.

By the way, I know you are a good, angelic follower of The Sarcastic Muse.  But seriously, come on over to the dark side… we have the best cookies!

f you have enjoyed this topic, be sure to check out other posts in the Alternate Reality Archetype Series and the Archetype Series.

Darling Supporting Characters

On my very first archetype post, Amy, from the blog Inkcouragenent, asked if I could have a post about secondary characters.  I am ending the archetype series with this topic, because it is an archetype that is sometimes an afterthought in writing.  When plotting out your story and characters, do not forget about these secondary (or supporting characters, as I like to call them).  They are the backbone to your main character.

Supporting characters exist for one reason: to add depth to the protagonist.

The sole purpose for these characters is to interact with the protagonist and, to some extent, enable that character to grow.  The supporting characters do things within a story to affect the main character, leading to reader to see the different dimensions of the protagonist.  This character type may be multi-faceted and can temporarily redirect the plot to give him or herself more backstory, which feeds back into the protagonist’s character or story.

John Watson, of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed Sherlock Holmes mysteries, is an epic supporting character.  Watson gives Sherlock immeasurable depth.

“Watson also serves as the important function of catalyst for Holmes’ mental process.”  – William L. DeAndrea

The supporting role of Watson, who in a way is dubbed a sidekick and occasional flatmate, is Sherlock’s sounding board.  He helps the great detective’s mind to tick.  He is Holmes’ stimulation.

Not all secondary characters have to fall into the character archetype.  As with all archetypes, the list is innumerable.  So within this post, I will restrict the list to just a few.

The Villain / Nemesis:  This is a tough one to categorize, because in one aspect, the villain is typically the antagonist.  However, a story usually revolves around the protagonist.  Therefore, even if a Villain is the antagonist of the protagonist, that villain is also supporting the protagonist.  The villain is adding depth in some way or fashion to the main character by driving the character to be good (or evil, depending on how you look at the dichotomy between the two characters).   Examples: Moriarty (The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes), Voldemort (The Harry Potter series), Hannibal Lecter (Silence of the Lambs)

Send in the Clowns!  (c) GaborfromHungary

Send in the Clowns! (c) GaborfromHungary

The Lover: This character is one of the few that can bring the protagonist pure happiness or utter despair, for unrequited love is a major source for conflict.  The Lover character can possibly be the driving force for the main character, where all of his or her actions through out a story are based upon influences of The Lover.  Examples: Juliette (Romeo and Juliet), Mattie Silver (Ethan Frome), Annabel Lee

The Sidekick: This character stands by the character’s side through thick and thin. However, there will be an element of conflict that will arise between the two.  Depending on the grounds for the conflict, it may resolve peacefully or volatility.  The latter usually results in the supporting character becoming an antagonist or dying, but that is for a post on another day.  Examples:  Iago (Othello), Friday (Robinson Crusoe), Sancho Panza (Don Quixote)

The Mentor: This character gives guidance and passes on valuable information to the protagonist to assist the character on his or her journey.  In some situations where a protagonist may have been orphaned or have an abusive parent, the Mentor character may be viewed by the protagonist as a mother or father figure.  This provides the main character with an element of family.  Examples:  Merlin (King Arthur), Gandalf (Lord of the Rings), Van Helsing (Dracula)

The Clown / Fool:  This character may be the Sidekick or an entity upon his or her own.  The Clown provides comic relief and a conscience to the protagonist.  The Clown also give the main character an invitation to freedom.  Characteristics of this character are often portrayed with hilarity and jolly, however he or she can lie on the antagonistic side of the main character.  Typically if the character is treated well, as a best friend, he or she is a good character.  If the Clown is treated bad, especially by the villain, then he or she is often a bad character.  Examples: Bottom (Midsummer Nights Dream), The Mad Hatter / March Hare / Door Mouse (Alice in Wonderland), Haymitch (The Hunger Games series)

If you would like additional details on the archetypes listed here or to see a longer list of character archetypes, which contains additional characters that could fall under the supporting character archetype, refer to the 13 Characters post.

I hope you have enjoyed the Archetype Series that have graced the pages of The Sarcastic Muse over these past few weeks.  If there are any other archetypes that you wish to explore further, please comment below.  If you have missed any of the past Archetype Series posts and would like to refer to them, click here.

Don’t forget… it is okay to kill your Darlings (characters that is — not your living darlings.  The latter would not be cool).

If you have enjoyed this topic, be sure to check out other posts in The Archetype Series.


Life after Death

“Nature herself demands a death and rebirth.”  -C.G Jung

Death and Rebirth has to be one of my favorite plot and character archetypes.  I know what you are thinking, “Amanda, it is only your favorite because it deals with death.”  You would not be completely incorrect in that assumption, because I love me some dead things!  However, what really draws me to this archetype is the transition that occurs for a character who is placed with a Death / Rebirth situation.

This archetype is a clear cut and dry transition, where a character transform from one type of person into a completely different kind by the end of the story.  There is a hard, black line drawn in that transformation, differentiating the two ends.  That differs from many other archetypal transformation, because with those types, there is usually a gradual change from one end of the spectrum to the other.  Usually this results in a blending of the character from the beginning with the character at the end, where the final character exhibits traits of the old and new character.

When you see “Death and Rebirth” that does not necessarily mean that a character dies and is resurrected (though, that kind of scenario makes for fantastic horror stories).  You can have a character that transforms in a way he or she completely cuts out their old life and takes on a new life.  This can be a physical, mental, or emotional transformation.  The key is to have there be a clear definition of a past life as one character and a new life as another character.

Zombies: The ultimate Death and Rebirth Archetypal Character @Patryk Hejduk

Zombies: The ultimate Death and Rebirth Archetypal Character @Patryk Hejduk

There also has to be an event or some sort of episode that triggers this transformation.  A character cannot just haphazardly begin a transformation without a catalyst.  The forms that a catalyst can take on is innumerable. It can range anywhere from a character’s wife leaving him for another man or a character witnessing something so horrific, that her entire life is changed because of that event.  A perfect literary example that shows a blatant catalyst, which sends a character spinning into the transformation phase, can be found within H.P Lovecraft’s Dagon (If you have not read it, I suggest you do so… right now… or else).  Without giving away the story, because it is deliciously creepy, the narrator happens upon an “island” to where he uncovers cosmic horrors that end up scarring him for the rest of his life, so much so that when he returns to civilization, he is a completely different (and mad) man.  The catalyst of that story is the narrator stepping foot on the island.  That is where the line was drawn, his “death”, and the point of transformation  from his past life towards his future self.  The narrators rebirth occurs when he steps foot off the island, leaving the island as a completely different man.

The part that I love most about this archetype is that the outcome of the plot can be good or bad.  A character can come out of the transformation as good or evil.  There is no one set way that the Death / Rebirth archetype has to flow, except for remembering that there is a hard line in the transformation that the ending character / setting / etc.  has to be different from the beginning.

When you are working on your own material and if you think that you want to use the Death / Rebirth archetype, remember to play up the Symbolism.  Symbolism can be an intellectual piece utilized in portraying a Death / Rebirth plot.  Somes examples are: Morning and Spring usually represent birth or youth, while evening and Autumn can represent death or old age.  You can slip in Death / Rebirth nuances all through your story just by using symbolic references.  I have a habit of doing this with my stories all the time!

Have no fear over using this archetype because because it has “death” in its name.  It is okay to kill your character (ahem, Kirsten).  It is also perfectly acceptable to use this archetype and NOT kill your characters, though where is the fun in that?

If you have enjoyed this topic, be sure to check out other posts in The Archetype Series.

“So what’s the symbology there?”

In the famous words of Willem Dafoe’s character, Paul Smecker, in The Boondock Saints, “I’m sure the word you were looking for was symbolism.”

Well this image is just chalked full of symbolism (c) Andreco

This image is crammed full of symbolism! (c) Andreco

With this week’s post, I am wrapping up the major portion of my archetype series with Symbolic Archetypes.  In the coming weeks, Wednesday posts will focus on a specific archetype that highly influences my writing.  All in all, the archetype series will be wrapping up on October 8th.  However, if there is an archetype that you are keenly interested in knowing more about, comment below and I will extend the series to include your topic.

Symbolic archetypes have two facets:
1.  can drive conflict within a plot; or
2. can form an allegorical description (i.e.; colors, numbers, shapes, etc.)

Let us first focus on the symbolic archetypes that drive conflict (because who doesn’t like a good conflict in their story?):

1. Heaven vs. Hell: This archetype typically defines the battle between good vs. evil.  The archetype is also used to identify locations that are out of reach from “mortal” humans as well as characters that hail from these locations:

  • Skies, mountains, etc. = The Gods (good)
  • Caves, bowels of the Earth, etc. = Sinister forces (evil)

2. Light vs. Darkness: This archetype has a tight tie in with the “Heaven vs. Hell” archetype (good vs. evil), but this dichotomy can have different connotations of symbolism:

  • Light = Renewal, hope, intelligence
  • Dark = Despair, the unknown, ignorance

3. Fire vs. Ice: This archetype primarily is the conflict between hot vs. cold, but the symbolism can also be:

  • Fire = Life, rebirth, light, knowledge, strength
  • Ice = Death, darkness, sterility, ignorance, weakness

4. Water vs. Desert:  This archetype has a lot of the same symbolic connotations as “Fire vs. Ice”, just in reverse where the hot Desert is like Ice and the cool Water is like Fire:

  • Water = Life, rebirth, strength, flow / dynamic
  • Desert = Death, weakness, static

5. Wilderness vs. Sanctuary:  This archetype sharply contrasts safety and the aspect of “home”:

  • Wilderness = Unsafe, cold, alone, death
  • Sanctuary = Safe, warmth, family, life

6. The “God” Factor:  This archetype is a supreme archetype where there is no contrast or dichotomy.  It is pure god intervention where the god is strictly:

  • good or evil
  • with or against the protagonist
  • healer or the destroyer

Again, with all archetypes, the list is quite frankly endless.  I could spend my entire life spinning up new archetypes, but for the sake of your sanity I am going to end the conflict archetypes there.

For the allegorical symbolic archetypes, I am also going to keep this list short as it is infinite as well.  I will just give you enough information to get the hamster wheel spinning in your head…

3 – birth/life/death, Maid/Mother/Crone, Father/Son/Holy Ghost
4 – elements, seasons, mankind (4 limbs)
6 – evil, the devil
7 – stages of civilization, deadly sins, colors of the rainbow
13 – unlucky, puberty

Left Hand – receiving, deviousness
Right Hand – giving, rectitude
Feet – stability
Head – intelligence
Heart – love / emotion
Shadow – evil, dark side
Feather – light/lightness, speed
Skeleton – mortality
Hourglass – time
Masks – concealment
Bridge – transformation
Tree – life

Silver –  moon, wealth, indecision, sly, sharp-tongued
Violet –  memory, spirituality, nostalgia, psychic, mysticism
Black –  chaos, mystery, death, evil, the unknown, the unconscious
White –  peace, purity, morality, innocence, ascension
Blue –  water, sky, heaven, rebirth, devotion
Gold –  sun, wealth, truth, majestic, pure

Circle – infinity, oneness, sun, intellect, heaven
Spiral – growth, breath, water, universe’s evolution, deepening
Rectangle – rational, secure, safe, sanctuary
Triangle – fire, trinity, evolution, communication
Square – solid, earth, construction, pluralism
Cross – struggle, martyrdom, air, axis/tree of life

I hope that you have enjoyed the Archetypes in Literature series.  Again, this is not quite the conclusion of the series, but it is the end of the posts that break down the higher levels of the archetypes.  Join me next Wednesday as we take a look at ‘Death and Rebirth’.

If you have enjoyed this topic, be sure to check out other posts in The Archetype Series.

Location, Location, Location

(c) Leele

(c) Leele

There is a joke in the real estate industry:

In establishing the value of a house, what are the three most important factors?

Location, location, location

The location in which your story is set is an integral and key component to story crafting.  Without a setting, your story cannot be anchored, leaving your plot and characters to float unmoored in the vacuum of space — given your setting is not the actual vastness of space.  A setting is what gives your character depth and forces him or her to react to outliers that are not within his or her own development.  A setting can wreak havoc on a character’s growth or it can be that one aspect which enable his or her transformation.  Use your story’s setting to lead your characters on the path that you have laid out for them.

The following is a list of my 13 favorite setting archetypes.  Again, as with all of the other archetypes that we previously discussed, the list can be endless.

1. The Underworld: the location where the protagonist confronts fear and / or death

2. The Threshold: the location that begins the protagonist’s transformation and growth (see The Journey of the Hero)

3. The Castle: this location has several facets —

  • may hold a quest item, like a princess or treasure
  • may represent a place of safety
  • may serve as a place of bewitchment or enchantment

4. The Tower: this location may represent two different facets:

  • may be a place where evil or something sinister resides
  • may have the protagonist or another character locked away from society, where society can be viewed out a small, inescapable window

5. The River: the location defines and represents the flow of time

6. The Forest / Wilderness / Space: the location represents a place where rules do not apply and characters are free to run wild.

7. The Garden: this location represents a place of harmony with innocence, nature, imagination, and / or fertile growth

8. The Wastelands: this location represents discord, poison, loneliness, despair, and / or the lack of growth

9. The Labyrinth: the location may represent a point of great uncertainty or it may serve as a quest for the protagonist to find the “monster” within himself or herself

10. The Winding Stairs: this location may represent either a:

  • difficult and long descent into the dark unknown
  • treacherous ascent to paradise / heaven

11.The Crossroads: this location either:

  • defines suffering
  • forces a character to make a decision / identifies the needs for a decision

12. The Desert: this location represents “the lonely quest” or it may represent purity and solitude

13. The Sea: this location may represent:

  • good and evil at the same time, for the location can be filled with treasures and danger
  • infinity / eternity

Like sweeping unsightly dust bunnies under the rug, authors, especially those of short fiction, sometimes leave the details to be dwelled upon later.  Often times, the details of the setting are never returned to and are left lacking substantial substance within a story.  Always make sure to leverage the setting in any story, because the setting combined with other archetypes will make your story that much more memorable.

If you have enjoyed this topic, be sure to check out other posts in The Archetype Series.