Friday, July 14, 2006

Hadwired for Heroes

First of all I want to apologize in advance if I don’t get anything posted on the next couple of Fridays. I’m going to in Atlanta without a laptop, and I don’t know if I’ll have the time or the ability to use a hotel business center to use a computer.

The reasons I’m going to be in Atlanta is what put me in mind of today’s subject. One of the things I’m doing in Atlanta is attending a conference called Writercon. One of the panels I’m on is about writing archetypes. Thinking about this panel led me to a conversation with a friend. You see, I’m not terribly good at working off written down, prepared notes when I do the public speaking thing, but I do like to think things over before I start spouting opinions.

My friend is currently working on a wonderful science fiction romance (you can find it for free over at, it’s called RESPECT BETWEEN ENEMIES. It is based in the universe of the anime series Gundam Seed but the characters are original and I don’t think anyone not familiar with the universe would have any trouble following the setting or plot. Give it a try.) and we started pulling up archetype characters from her story without having to give it very much thought. Because she is doing it right – she’s telling a classical story about love and war and what they do to people.

Her characters are not stereotypes, but archetypes. An archetype doesn’t have to be stereotypical, though frequently they are. What is an archetype character? Archetypes are the recognizable kinds of people that have shown up in every story ever told. The Hero, of course, is the most obvious archetype (not being gender specific here – the hero is the one who takes The Journey, because every story is a journey in some sense or another). Followed by The Villain. There’s The Trickster, The Gatekeeper, and all the other recognizable types. Every writer does them, and if we’re doing our job right we don’t notice we’re creating them out of the collective unconscious until we look at the book objectively and go, “Oh, the old shaman on page 446 is a gatekeeper archetype. How ‘bout that?”

You see, there’s only so many types of characters to go around. And only so many types of stories. These are the stories that we’ve been passing around forever, and always about the same people. Those people are us. And I think these are the stories that we are hardwired for– that we need—to hear. We want love, we want struggle, we want adventure, we want monsters vanquished, we want wizards, we want warriors, we want good to triumph and evil to perish.

We have told the same stories from time immemorial, and we use the same types of characters. Times and settings change, but the human condition remains. Gilgamesh and Star Wars come from the same need to hear of heroes. They are different, and they are the same, and that’s the way we need it to be.

Susan Sizemore

alien romances

1 comment:

  1. Oops, that title is supposed to be HARDWIRED FOR HEROES.