Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Heroes and Heroines

Just in time for NaNoWriMo: How well do you know your characters? By now you might be familiar with their physical features, their taste in evening clothes, and what they like to eat for breakfast, but what about their personality quirks and motivations?

One of my favorite writing how-to books to help uncover more about my characters' inner worlds and psyches is one by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders:

Originally written for screenwriters, The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines, Sixteen Master Archetypes is a great tool for all writers, poets too, I can imagine! Based on the idea that there are 16 character "types" common to all fiction and mythology, the book is a great one to read just for fun as well as for research.

The other day I thought it would be interesting to re-examine where and how the three heroines from my published novels fit into the various categories. I also used the templates to evaluate the Pinterest boards I had created for these books: What kind of pins could I add to each? I started with:

The Great Scarab Scam

See The Great Scarab Scam Pinterest Board!

The Great Scarab Scam is my Egyptian mystery for young readers 8-12 years, so obviously there isn't the conventional male-female interaction you might find in a book for older readers. However, my main character, eleven-year-old Lydia Hartley, definitely falls into the category of "The Spunky Kid," and not just because of her age. Her other traits and story difficulties include:
  • She's stuck between two brothers--one a little bit older and one quite a bit younger.  Although neither of her brothers are particularly "heroic." 
  • She's a reader--and even enjoys doing homework!
  • She's fiercely loyal to her father, a university professor and archaeologist.
  • Loves history, especially ancient Egyptian history.
  • She's curious about the world around her, but can be shy in social situations.
  • She's brave, but a little reckless too.
  • And she's very motivated when it comes to helping others. 

Better Than Perfect

See the Better Than Perfect Pinterest Board!

My Young Adult novel set in New Zealand, Better Than Perfect, follows fourteen-year-old Elizabeth Haddon when she is sent from London to live with her wealthy relatives in Auckland. Elizabeth falls into "The Waif" category.  She's:
  • Lonely.
  • Unwanted.
  • The "poor relation."
  • Insecure.
  • Smart, but without direction.
  • Prone to envy, especially when she continually has to make do with second best.
  • And she has a serious crush on an unconventional "bad boy."
And although Elizabeth does manage to find her true north and come to grips with real life in the course of the story, she does so with all the handicaps of a victim and lost child.


See the Overtaken Pinterest Board!

Written for an adult audience, Overtaken includes some of my most complex characters, especially my heroine of Sara Bergsen.  I had a bit of trouble discerning exactly which archetype she truly was, but in the end I decided she was "The Librarian."
  • She's essentially a loner.
  • Her chosen career as a portrait artist reflects her powers of observation and love of order. Abstract painting doesn't interest her in the least.
  • Her wardrobe, at least in the beginning of the book, consists of practical pieces in black and gray--great for work!
  • And this girl does love work. She's disciplined and dedicated to deadlines.
  • At the same time she takes risks because she is confident in her own ability to succeed.
  • She's a reader--which has also led her to believe in the possibility of a happy ending.
One of Sara's main challenges is to confront and understand the three men in her life: a Warrior, a Lost Soul, and a Charmer.

Tip of the Day: The Complete Guide to Heroes and Heroines is an excellent reference for any stage of your manuscript, even your published stories. For your WIP's see where your characters match up to the suggested archetypes, and pay particular attention to the sections on how they all work (or don't work) together. For your published manuscripts, you can still use the book to help describe your characters in your marketing material. You may be surprised at what you find!

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