ARCHETYPES vs. STEREOTYPES
These are the notes from a presentation I’ll be giving over two days talking about Jungian Archetypes and how to keep yours fresh. It’s easy to write stereotypical Archetypes, in fact, the quintessential Archetype would be the stereotype.
You will see this document contains both weeks of the presentation. If you have any questions, please feel free to fire away. I am considering very strongly writing a book on Writing with Archetypes simply because, used properly, they bring with them so much power and there are hardly any books out there right now that explain how to use them properly.
Anyway, here goes…
Archetypes are so complex I will barely be able to touch on them in two days, so we’re breaking this into a two week topic chat. I’m still giving you the entire handout for all you keeners out there.
What is an Archetype?
An archetype is a primal pattern containing a set of skills which is imprinted on the subconscious mind. Carl Jung has done the most work on these “foundation representations of real life objects,” and as a result many refer to his work as Jungian archetypes. Jungian archetypes are generally named by what they do or their skill set. You will see such names as Mother, Queen, Trickster, Pirate, Gate Keeper, Herald, and many more. There are literally hundreds of thousands of different Jungian archetypes waiting to be used to breathe life into your stories.
Problem with Archetypes is that they are simply begging to be stereotypical. The stereotype is the quintessential Archetype. I’m hoping to show you how to avoid this problem completely, and it’s really by working backward.
I am going to borrow a term from Jennifer Van Bergen’s book, Archetypes for Writers to define the process of “doing” archetype work, and that word is arkhelogy. As Van Bergen says, “Arkhelogy focuses on the discovery and delineation of an imprint that is embodied or carried in a person we observe. This imprint is the archetype.”
Carl Jung believed the human mind was constructed of the conscious mind, the subconscious mind, the ego, the self (which is really the id), he shadow (which we’ll be talking about soon), and the collective consciousness. This collective consciousness is a consciousness shared across humanity and something that everyone possesses. It’s almost as though, as we are developing in the womb, our mind is filled with an encyclopedia that is virtually the same across the world. It tends to cross cultural as well as time boundaries. It is from this collective consciousness that archetypes spring.
Here is what Jung proposed the human mind looks like:
Everything above the horizontal line is in our conscious mind, which, as you can see, is the ego. The ego tries to find its own expression from the self which lies in the subconscious, although the ego has access to it. We are all driven by our egos in one way or another.
The shadow is a very interesting place in our mind. It lies in the bottom of our subconscious and is unknowable by the ego, therefore our conscious mind has no idea that it’s there or what’s stored inside it. Our self does. This is where repressed memories and things like that go. Sometimes, items from the shadow will come out in our dreams; this is why dream therapy can be so helpful.
The problem with repressing anything is that once you push something down under pressure, for instance like a balloon being pushed below the waves of a lake, sooner or later that thing you’ve pushed out of sight is going to pop back up again. In the case of the shadow, sometimes it resurfaces in strange ways that only hint at the original situation contained inside of it.
Again, therapy–hypnosis in particular–can be good at drawing out the shadow from the subconscious in a safe environment before it has a chance to manifest on its own into something much harsher.
While designing your characters, it’s important to remember that this is how their minds are assembled within their heads. Most of the time, the shadow consciousness stems from something that happened between birth and adolescence. It will often appear later in life and cause a discrepancy to occur in behavioral patterns. Someone you think you know really well–the nice lady who works at the bank and always has a box of chocolates by her desk and hands you one every time you come in and calls you by your first name because she’s taken the time to remember it will suddenly be caught embezzling. Or it could even be something worse.
And this behavior that is so out of sorts is caused by something that had been locked away in her shadow consciousness suddenly bubbling to the surface and being projected onto someone or something else. Because that’s what the mind is constantly doing. It’s projecting.
The mind constantly projects the ego, the self, and the shadow on almost everything it encounters: people, nature, animals.
Notice that in the diagram the ego is rectangular. That’s because it isn’t like nature. It tries to project things in its own rectangular ways. It tries to force things into a perspective they’re not meant to go into.
The Anima and the Animus
The terms Anima and Animus, like a lot of arkhelogy, came from Carl Jung. They describe the archetypal energies in male and female unconscious for their attraction to the opposite sex. The animus is Jung’s definition for the male attraction in the female unconscious and the anima is the definition for the female attraction in the male unconscious.
Jung goes on to say that people carry both qualities for both genders, which has caused a lot of problems. Many men try to desperately repress their female characteristics, just as many women try repress their male ones. This is more a problem in the west, where society has turned these factors into a problem.
Repression of anything is bad, as I’ve already stated. Anything repressed long enough will come up in some form or another. Repression of the Anima or Animus can result in emotional as well as physical problems.
No matter how hard one might try to “get rid of” these qualities, these energies will remain part of who we are. They will manifest in dreams and fantasies. Often, in dream therapy, the same sex anima or animus will occur again and again and it’s only through final acceptance that the patient is able to move through the almost split personality they’ve created for themselves and recombine into one healthy fully single person.
Like the rest of the subconscious and unconscious mind, the Anima and Animus will project itself onto people in public situations. These energies reflect our perfect image of who we think we should be with. It isn’t rare for us to see a resemblance to that person in real life and project onto some unsuspecting soul our Anima or Animus.
When this happens, we might wind up in long term relationships where, for the first while we are very happy and think we have found our soul mate. It’s not until the projection disconnects that we see them for who they really are and realize we’ve spent the last two months living with an entirely different person than we thought we had.
The first thing we need to do as Arkhelogists is mine our subconscious for archetypal information. Luckily, it’s full of it and we don’t have to go very far until we find some.
Names are powerful things. The moment you name your archetype, you automatically assign to him or her a number of things, including a certain status, a skillset, habits, expectations, a set of virtues and vices. It’s amazing, really, how much power names have.
Consider an archetype we’ll call Addict. Without any further
thought, what do you know about this archetype? Many things, no doubt. Remember, archetypes are the pattern for the real world version of what they represent, so the archetypal Addict would probably bring up an image of a character who would compromise their integrity, trust, and honesty quite easily in order to feed their addictive behavior. They would probably not be very spiritual, trading that life, instead, for a life of addiction to drugs or alcohol. If you’ve ever known a true addict then you know that whatever they are addicted to becomes their God. Or at least as or more important than there God.
Or perhaps you’d see this character a different way. Perhaps you know someone, maybe even yourself, who was once an addict and managed to pull yourself out of that life. In this case, you may see the Addict archetype as a Survivor and a Fighter. In this case he or she may be very spiritual, trading their addiction for a higher power.
Neither one of these definitions are right or wrong. They are both archetypal Addicts. It’s what’s important to you and your story that counts.
You can sit around and come up with names for archetypes all day long and create characters around those names. It’s fun and easy to do, but how beneficial is it to your story? Probably not much. What’s more beneficial is to work the process backward. Define the character you need and then, once you’re all done, give that character a name. But as you define your character, do it in a fashion that builds it archetypically. I’ll show you what I mean by that. And if you follow this process, you’ll be guaranteed to create believable, fallible, human characters (okay, or dwarfs and elves if you write that sort of thing) that will simply walk off the pages of your book and into the minds of your readers.
Defining Your Character
So you need a character. Most books on archetypes would ask you at this point what sort of character do you need? Is he a Mentor? A Trickster? A Herald?
I’m not going to do that, because to me that only opens the door for you to use stereotypical archetypes.
So, we’re going to define the character first and then create the archetype. And we’re going to do that by describing what the character is like.
Now, the way to do this is to not make any assumptions about the character. You define the character in the now. You may list actions the character has done, but not comment on what those actions mean. For instance, you might say, “He buys his mother roses every week. He loves his mother very much.”
The first sentence is fine. He buys his mother roses every week. But how do we know he loves his mother very much? This is an assumption being made from the fact that he buys her roses and doesn’t belong in this document.
So, let’s try out a test character. We’ll call her Elizabeth.
Comes home late from work every second night from work, having an affair.
Wife is going to leave him.
They have two children. One has overheard them arguing and knows they are breaking up. He’s gone into depression. His parents don’t know what’s wrong with him.
His company’s stock is going down every day, pretty soon they’ll be out of business, and David will be without a job.
David has no idea how he will be able to afford a divorce or pay alimony and child support.
Okay, this one is an example of how not to do this exercise. In the first sentence, we’ve made an assumption. He comes home late so he’s having an affair. How do we know he’s having an affair? Maybe he’s stopping for tacos. Maybe he’s working late. The assumption doesn’t belong here. Get rid of the part that says “having an affair.”
Wife is going to leave him is fine. It doesn’t come with any assumptions. She could be having an affair. She could be sick of being treated badly. He could beat her.
The next paragraph has one problem: He’s gone into depression. How do we know that? The parents don’t even know. Get rid of it. The rest is fine.
His company’s stock is going down works because it’s a fact, but how does he know pretty soon they’ll be out of business? He can’t know that. Nor can he know he’ll be without a job. Perhaps there will be a buyout or a merger.
The final paragraph is fine, because it makes no assumptions and sits in the now.
So once we’ve established just the facts, we have a workable character with a lot of dimensions to him. Shortly, I’ll show you how to derive your archetype from this character.
But first, let’s try another one:
Drives a Porsche 911 Boxter
Works as an assistant in a law firm.
Dates various guys, usually seeing at least two different ones each week. Added up, she probably has six main boyfriends she sees on a regular basis.
Doesn’t get along with the receptionist in her office.
Receptionist thinks she uses guys to get what she wants.
Receptionist saw her leaving with the head of the company one day and she called her friend and said it looked like they were going on a date.
Elizabeth got the Porsche a few days later.
Receptionist thinks she often smells liquor on Elizabeth’s breath, especially after lunch.
Elizabeth lives alone.
She has a one bedroom apartment in Manhattan.
She does not own a television.
Her bed is king-sized with bed posts that almost reach her ceiling.
She has four corsets in her wardrobe.
Nothing needs to be fixed here. We stuck only to the facts and made no assumptions based on them. Now, with all the different facts laid out, we can start making our assumptions. Let’s look at Elizabeth first.
She drives a Porsche 911 Boxer. Why? Is she independently wealthy? Was it bought for her? Did she get an inheritance and blow it all on a luxury car to impress her friends? Has she always wanted one, and this was her one big expenditure in life? Perhaps she inherited the car?
She works as an assistant in a law firm, so she makes fairly good money, but probably not enough to afford a Porsche lifestyle. So, we can probably get rid of the idea of her being independently wealthy.
The next line is eye-opening: Dates various guys, usually seeing at least two different ones each week. Added up, she probably has six main boyfriends she sees on a regular basis.
Ah, how many things can you read into this? Elizabeth may have dependency issues. She may need gratification. She may have suffered something in childhood that has affected the shadow part of her brain making her need the comfort of men. This could very well reinforce the idea that the Porsche was bought for her as a gift from a rich suitor.
She doesn’t get along with the receptionist in the office which fits in well with our hypothesis about Elizabeth having some sort of traumatic incident in childhood that makes her cling to men. Generally, women who look to men constantly for comfort do not get along with people of their same gender. In fact, these two are so catty, the receptionist thinks Elizabeth uses men and, from what we’re seeing, that may rightly be true.
The receptionist saw Elizabeth leave with the head of the company one day and told her friend it looked like they were going on a date. Elizabeth showed up driving the Porsche to work a few days later. Could it have been a gift from her boss? Surely he could afford it. Does Elizabeth have this kind of control over men? If so, she’s been controlling men a long time, probably her whole life, and this trauma we keep talking about runs pretty deep.
The receptionist also thinks she often smells liquor on Elizabeth’s breath, especially after lunch. Is she having dates at lunch? Liquid lunches with some of these guys she’s seeing? Maybe some of the guys from the office?
Elizabeth lives alone, which isn’t uncommon for people with traumatic pasts who need to prove they’re worth by “conquering” every male they come in contact with. Their home becomes like their spider’s web, where they bring the victim back to be consumed.
She must make pretty good money because she lives in Manhattan, even if it is in just a one bedroom apartment. She doesn’t own a television. Probably not because she can’t afford one, more likely it’s because she doesn’t have time to watch one or care about TV.
Her bed is king-sized with posts that almost reach her ceiling. In Elizabeth’s world, two things are important: her car and her bed. They both take her places and get her things. It is not surprising she has such a bed, nor would it be surprising to discover she had leather ties to go around those posts.
Finally, her wardrobe contains four corsets. These are the perfect addition to a clothing line for someone like Elizabeth. When she says she’s going to go slip into something more comfortable, she really means “less comfortable for her, sexier for whoever she’s entertaining.”
DEVELOPING THE ARCHETYPE
You’ve now developed an original archetype that is far from the standard “off the shelf” variety. By working backwards, you create Archetypes that are fresh and new and that people will remember. You will still have to have certain attributes for certain Archetypes (for instance, the mentor will usually aid the main character in some way) but he won’t be an off the shelf mentor like Gandalf. He’ll be more original like Woody Harrelson in Hunger Games.
I hope my rather fast touch on this complex subject gives you something to think about. The problem is, there’s just so much to know about Archetypes, it really deserves its own class (which I will probably give it–I’m writing a book on the subject right now).
Please feel free to email me any questions at email@example.com and if you have any questions.