Nancy's Notes From Florida

Archetypes

November 16, 2009

Archetypes are recurrent themes in literature and films. You can use these tropes to inspire your characters when writing a novel.

AMNESIA: Is he/she married, a parent, a missing bride/groom, presumed dead? Did she kill someone? Did someone try to kill her? Is she a witness to a violent crime? Is he an undercover agent who got hurt by the bad guys? American Dreamer, The Bourne Identity

BRIDES: marriage of convenience, fake fiancé, mail order bride, virgin bride, runaway brides/grooms, green-card, royal, shot gun, jilted, terms of the will, mismatch. Runaway Bride, Father of the Bride, Wedding Crashers, Sleepless in Seattle

CHILDREN: abandoned, lost, adopted, biological, inherited, stolen, secret baby, true identity unknown, switched-at-birth, kids playing matchmaker for single parents.

DISGUISE: secret identity, switching places: True Lies, The Prince and the Pauper, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Freaky Friday

FISH OUT OF WATER: Enchanted, City Slickers

MAKEOVER: The Ugly Duckling, The Princess Diaries, My Fair Lady

MISMATCHED COUPLES: Bad boy/Good girl, Cowboy/Lady, Pirate/Princess, Wanderer/Homemaker, May/December, Duke/Governess, mentor/protegé, opposing occupations, boss/employee. Romeo & Juliet, Beauty and the Beast, Six Days Seven Nights.

RAGS TO RICHES: Cinderella, Pretty Woman, Ever After

REUNION: former lovers, estranged spouses, lost love, thwarted romance, divorced but still in love. Sweet Home Alabama.

SINGLE PARENTS: struggling unwed mothers, clueless divorced dads, inexperienced surrogate. Three Men and a Baby, Baby Boom

TWINS: switched identities, mistaken identities, trading places to fool people and having the tables turned on them instead. Parent Trap, New York Minute

Think about the books on your shelves at home. Do you tend to repeatedly buy the same types of stories? Does this tell you something about the plot devices that appeal to you?

Try picking out a couple of your favorite archetypes and mix them to create a new story.

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Character Development

November 13, 2009

Creating characters for a novel can be torturous as well as stimulating. Initially, I decide who will be the victim in my mystery and then by association, the suspects pop up. I give each one a secret that could be a motive for murder. Next it’s time to pull out my character development sheets and label each one with the name of a player. Okay, how do I turn these pages into people? First I look in my photo files. In SHEAR MURDER, #10 in my Bad Hair Day mystery series, Jill’s Uncle Eddy is a shifty attorney. So I look through the pictures for someone who looks like him.

Nah, this guy is too young. Eddy is middle aged. Wait a minute. How is he related to Jill? I stop to devise Jill’s family tree. Now I know her grandparents had three children: Eddy, Sarah, and Luke. Cousin Kevin, another suspect, is the son of Luke, while Jill and her sister Torrie are offspring of Sarah’s. I may have to figure out their ages later, but for now, I know Eddy is middle-aged. Back to my files. Who looks like him?

Wait, this guy is perfect! He looks JUST LIKE UNCLE EDDY! And the woman in the photo with him is great for Eddy’s wife, Alexis. Oh, he’s married? Of course! And her manly features and his weaselly looks tell a lot about them. i.e. Torrie and Jill call his wife “Auntie Al” behind her back because of her throaty voice, big-boned frame and square jaw. So now I go down my Character Development Tool. This is a shortened version:

Name: Eddy Rhodes

Career: attorney.

Physical Features: florid complexion like he’s been running, deep-set eyes under prominent brows, thundercloud gray hair, double chin, wide forehead.

Favorite Speech Phrases: “Oh, come on.”

Lifestyle Preferences: Big tipper, big mouth, big smile, big house

Dark Secret: Accepts kickbacks and bribes

Ruling Passion: wine connoisseur–wine cellar, wine tours, wine clubs

Dominant Trait: Balding, obnoxious loudmouth

Short-Term Goal: make more money

Long-Term Goal: retire in style

Concrete Symbol: chateau-like house

Motivation: Teased as a child for being overweight, Eddy has to best everyone to prove his worth. Middle or younger child.

Internal Conflict: Need for praise

External Conflict: Inflation prevents retirement and so does a son with ongoing health problems

Strengths: Generous, likes to contribute to charities…but always needs money.

Flaws: Greedy, drinks too much, cowardly in confrontations.

Realization leading to change: not applicable. This may occur during the course of the story but it’s more a tool for the main characters.

Now what about Falcon Oakwood, the bigwig developer in the story? Hey, this picture is perfect. It even shows his wife Leanne. But who’s that older lady in the photo? Why, it’s his mama! So that’s why Leanne is having an affair with [other suspect]. She craves her husbands’s attention but Falcon considers his mother over his wife.

The process repeats with the other characters, until I’m ready to meet them on the page.  All of this info may not make it into the story, but it gives me a springboard to begin writing.

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