‘An archetype is a universally understood symbol, term, statement, or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated.’ – Wikipedia. Or, in layman’s terms, an archetype is the identifiable form of a character that can be recognized any story. Some archetypes are the willing hero (think Hercules), the unwilling hero (that’s Bilbo Baggins), and the loner hero (Indiana Jones). Granted, those are just different archetypes of heroes. I love watching a movie or reading a book and trying to place archetypes. One of my favorite archetypes, that I have seen in a movie recently, is the threshold guardian archetype. The threshold guardian is ‘a character who poses an obstacle to the hero at a transitional point in the story (such as a gatekeeper). In classic myths, the guardian often required the Hero to answer a riddle, or even to fight the guardian before proceeding on his journey. When the Hero passes the Guardian and crosses the threshold, he’s achieved a significant point of growth.’ In the movie Star Dust, there is a wall separating two lands (magic and non-magic), and there is a break in that wall, which is guarded by an old man to make sure no one crosses. Of course, the protagonist crosses the wall, but only after encountering the guard, and at one point even having to fight him. A classic archetype! I love it! Many authors will try to stay away from archetypes, not wanting to have die-cut characters. Archetypes go beyond just that, and if you look, you will find archetypes everywhere.
Here is another quote from Steven Moffat that goes a bit more in depth: ‘I can’t see what’s wrong about assuming intelligence in your audience and what’s bad news about being rewarded for assuming that.’ – Steven Moffat. Have you ever been reading a book where the writer goes into such painstaking detail to describe what is going on or the emotions of the character, and you’re left going, ‘Please, I’m not an idiot! I get what’s going on!’ Yep. That’s what Steven Moffat warns against. As a writer, it can be easy to forget the reader is smarter than you might think. It takes so much time and energy to come up with a scene, we want to share with the reader everything we see and feel and came up with. But they don’t need all that information, because they will figure it out. So no more scene like ‘She rolled her eyes, “Oh? Really? I never would have guessed…” she said sarcastically.’ Yep, nope, that doesn’t work. So repeat this mantra, ‘The reader is smart. The reader will figure it out. The reader is smart. The reader will figure it out.’ Be like Moffat, assume your reader is smart, because you want smart readers, don’t you?
The study of words and their meanings is called etymology. Not to be confused with entomology, the study of insects (a mistake I have made several times.) Names and their meanings are critically important to any story; they bring life, profound meanings, and can make it memorable. There is a plethora of books ready to lend aid, not to mention websites. Working on names in my stories is one of my favorite aspects of writing. I could name a beautiful mermaid Genevieve, which means ‘White Wave’. There could be a dark, mysterious prince named Donald, which means ‘Dark Stranger.’ The names of people and the names of places can be so pivotal to a story, so don not take them too lightly! The intricate detail of meaning names add to your characters and places will brighten your story.