I’ve often been asked how I create the characters in my books and generally respond, “That’s a tough question.”
It’s tough, because a character will start as a tiny idea, then grow, and develop as I spend more time thinking about him or her. They sometimes develop because of the plot. Say my character is a marshal—this is probably a good time to mention I write mostly historicals. A marshal is brave, tough, not afraid to put his life on the line, so it’s safe to assume he’s probably an Alpha male. Tall, strong, self-reliant, and a protector of the innocent. Can you imagine a Beta male as a marshal? Think computer geek with a gun. It reminds me of that old Don Knotts’ movie called The Shakiest Gun in the West.
I’m not saying you couldn’t have a Beta male as a marshal, but that would be a whole different type of story, probably about a man learning to conquer his fears to protect the people he cares for.
Some writers use character sheets with long list of questions to develop their characters, while others use tests like the Myers-Briggs or The Four Temperaments. What I’ve found that works best for me is a book called The Complete Writers Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever, and Sue Viders.
Author Tami Cowden states, “These archetypes are not the inventions of my coauthors and me – they have existed for millennia. All we did was name and describe them, and then gather examples from an assortment of cultural media.
Heroes and Heroines describes 8 male and 8 female archetypes.
The Bad Boy
The Best Friend
The Lost Soul
The book gives a complete description of each archetype, including their strengths and weaknesses, which I’ve found extremely helpful in developing 3-D characters. The Warrior is an archetype I’ve used for several of my heroes, such as Luke Davis in The Anonymous Bride. Here’s a brief description of the Warrior archetype:
The WARRIOR: a noble champion, he acts with honor. This man is the reluctant rescuer or the knight in shining armor. He's noble, tenacious, relentless, and he always sticks up for the underdog. If you need a protector, he’s your guy. He doesn’t buckle under the rules and he doesn’t go along just to get along. Think Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, Russell Crowe in Gladiator, Mel Gibson in Braveheart.
You can see how this type of archetype would work well for a marshal, a determined rancher, or a detective.
The Spunky Kid
The Free Spirit
An archetype I often use for a heroine—think of Jack (Jacqueline) in The Anonymous Bride—is The Spunky Kid. (For those of you who’ve read my book and are saying, Jack’s not the heroine—just wait until the third book, Finally A Bride, comes out next April)
The SPUNKY KID: gutsy and true, she is loyal to the end. She is a favorite of many writers, and for good reason. You can’t help but root for her. She’s the girl with moxie. She’s not looking to be at the top of the heap; she just wants to be in her own little niche. She’s the team player, the one who is always ready to lend a hand. Think Meg Ryan in Sleepless in Seattle, Melanie Griffith in Working Girl, Mary Tyler Moore in The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Whoopi Goldberg in Sister Act, Fiona in Shrek.
So, after I’ve thought about my storyline and what my characters will be facing during the story, their character begins to take shape. I begin to see what kind of person they will be, and I determine which archetype they are.
Another aspect of Heroes and Heroines I love is that it shows you toward the end of the book how the different male and female archetypes will clash and mesh. This is fabulous info! Let me show you how I used this to plot a book I ‘m still writing called Gabriel’s Atonement.
Gabriel is a gambler, and he’s a Chief archetype. He’s knows what he wants and goes after it. He’s decisive and can read people well. On the negative side, he’s stubborn, usually unsympathetic, and has learned to get what he wants by using the System rather than being a rule-breaker. He is well-liked among his peers, but he doesn’t have a close friend. If challenged, he tends to be amused rather than angered.
Enter Leah, my heroine, who is—no surprise here—a Spunky Kid. She’s a single mother with a young child, a rebellious teen sister, and a grandfather who is ailing to care for. She is reliable and supportive of others and never looks for a handout. Her gutsy perseverance makes up for her lack of experience.
So…Gabriel accidently killed Leah’s husband. When he discovers the dead man has a wife and young son, he seeks to return the money he fairly won from the man, to ease his guilty conscience. Leah doesn’t believe her no-account husband had any money and refuses Gabe’s help. He’s determined to help her whether the stubborn woman whether she wants him to or not. Enter conflict.
He believes work (gambling) is important, where she believes in God and family. But, when the chips are down, The Chief and Spunky Kid are there for each other. He realizes she is someone he can depend on, while she discovers he’s a man who follows through when others don’t. A grudging respect develops. He learns she can’t be bullied into doing anything she doesn’t feel is right, while her positive outlook on life and her humor bring laughter into his world for the first time in a long while.
I could go on, but I hope you’ve caught a glimpse of how using archetypes can help you develop your characters. The key is knowing why your characters do what they do. What motivates them?
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Bio: Award-winning author Vickie McDonough has lived in Oklahoma all her life, except for a year when she and her husband lived on a kibbutz in Israel. Vickie has had 18 books and novellas published, and historical Christian romance is her favorite genre to read and write.
Vickie is currently the ACFW treasurer, and a founding member of WIN, an ACFW chapter in Tulsa, OK. She is a member of RWA, CAN, Women Writing the West, and OWFI.
She is a wife of thirty-four years, mother of four grown sons and grandma to a feisty four-year-old girl.
When she’s not writing, Vickie enjoys reading, gardening, watching movies, and traveling. To learn more about Vickie’s books, visit her website: http://www.vickiemcdonough.com/