I recently read Victoria Lynn Schmidt‘s 45 Master Characters, a book which provides templates for archetypal characters that can be adapted to any story setting. I found it interesting, and this week I applied it for the first time.
Schmidt’s book contains what it says on the tin – 45 character archetypes. Those for heroes and villains are described in some depth, showing how they connect to a mythological figure, describing their fears, motivations and things they care about. For example the mystic – characters such as Willow in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Phoebe in Friends – cares about simplicity and taking her time and is sensitive to others’ emotions. Shmidt isn’t trying to say that all characters fit these templates, but instead providing strong foundations from which to build characters.
I used it backwards.
I had a story I was working on, based on Jonathan Taylor’s comments on my diversity in steampunk post. But when I gave it to Mrs K to read, she found that the characters were weak and didn’t draw her in. Looking for a way to fix this, I looked at how they compared with Schmidt’s archetypes. I re-planned the characters around a couple of archetypes, then rewrote their dialogue and behaviour. And you know what? They’re a lot better.
I’m not saying it’s the solution to all the shallow characters in the world, or even in my writing. But it’s helped me create more nuanced characters for a couple of stories since that one, and I’m now waiting on readers to see whether they like the results.
Speaking of which, I should go write a story.