Sunday, February 02, 2014

Archetypes: A Hero's Journey Part 1

Only last year, I discovered something that blew my mind. If you haven’t guessed already from the title, that thing is archetypes. Maybe you're thinking that I should have known this before I turned sixteen. But before I was sixteen, I didn't care enough to go out searching for this type of information. 

The term 'archetype' was placed on literature by Carl Jung who recognized that there are universal patterns in all stories regardless of culture or time period. He guessed that every human mind thought in a similar way when creating stories. 

So he’s basically saying that even if you never read a book in your life and decided to write one, certain elements (archetypes) would show up in your novel that are similar to many others. Mind blown yet? No? Maybe this will do it: as I got further into reading about archetypes, I pinpointed more than several patterns that I'm using in my science fiction novel. I never even knew about archetypes until I was a good 30K words into my story! 
The thing with archetypes is that they happen whether you want them to or not. It's kinda cool, really. 

FUN FACT: George Lucas wrote the Star Wars saga based off of archetypes.

So you may start reading these archetypes and say, “But Cassia, that’s a cliche isn’t it?”

No, actually it’s not. Archetypes are pretty broad. Even if some may be more common than others, there’s definite ways to manipulate them to make them your own. For example, an archetypal setting is the end of the world. How many books have you read or heard of that are set in a post apocalyptic society? Lots, right? Most authors seem to be able make their setting unique, right? There’s everything from zombies taking over the planet (Warm Bodies) to infections destroying the human race (The Maze Runner) to people being forced to kill each other for national entertainment (The Hunger Games). So really, archetypes aren’t as much a cliche as they are a pattern. Make sense?
Great, let’s move on to the fun stuff!

Today I will be discussing the journeys that a character can travel.

There are 11 types of journeys that a character can go on, archetypally speaking of course. I'm going to cover the first five in this post. As you read this, if you’re a writer, think of what category your work fits under and if you’re just a reader, think of your favourite book and try to pinpoint the journey that the hero/heroine goes on.

Some of my examples are movies, not books but they still are a story. 

1. The quest for identity.

Jason Bourne in the Bourne Identity Movie

This is an extremely popular quest used. Even if it’s not the main journey that the character goes on, it’s usually a side journey. I think the reason why it’s so popular is because it’s so relatable. In life, everyone wants to discover who they are, what makes them, them. This journey makes a character seems real. My list of examples could go on forever but I decided to shorten it to two.
ex. The Bourne IdentityDivergent

2. The epic journey to find the Promised Land or to build a good/beautiful city.

In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy needs to find the Emerald City in order to make it back home. Her journey revolves around getting to this ‘promised land’ so that she can get back to Aunt Em. You could even argue that The Hobbit falls under this archetype. While the Dwarves already know where their land is, it's not good and beautiful anymore. They need to rebuild it. But first, they need to rid the mountain of danger; that's another archetype in part two.
ex. The Wizard of Oz, Animal Farm
A screenshot from The Count of Monte Cristo movie

3. The quest to get revenge.

I personally think that this quest has so much depth and many possibilities. There’s a million reasons why someone would want revenge on another person and even more ways that they could go about getting revenge. Authors can show so much of their character this way. It's a tricky one though especially since it can become cookie cutter. The examples I chose are very unique compared to other revenge stories I've read.
ex. The Count of Monte Cristo, Code Geass

4. The warrior’s quest to save the people.

I personally love this one...a lot. In fact I love it so much that my current WIP, Crec, follows this quest. One of my favorite science fiction novels has this quest embedding in it. I Am Number Four and the books that follow it, tracks a group of aliens (Loric) who look human and come to earth after their planet was destroyed. Another alien race (Mogadorians) have also come to earth with plans to destroy it and inhabit it. The Loric are the only ones who can stop them from wiping out the human race but they don’t want to let the people of earth know they exist. A challenge nonetheless. To make things even more difficult, the Mogadorians want to get rid of them so that they can take over the planet. You can see the problems and battles that this would create.
A lot of superhero movies follow this journey as well. Usually they aren't trying to save themselves, they're trying to save the city which is under the control of the villain. 
ex. I Am Number Four, The Dark Knight Rises

Romeo and Juliet as portrayed in
the 1996 film adaptation
5. The search for love. 
This can also include rescuing the princess or damsel in distress. Romance writers, this is probably gonna be your main character’s primary journey. The main character here can either be looking for love in a way where they go out looking for the one or it they can just feel unloved and try to find someone, anyone who will accept them. It doesn't necessarily have to be romantic love that they're looking for. 
ex. The Vow, Romeo and Juliet

So there you have it. The first five out of eleven archetypes.

If you're writing, does your character's quest fall under any of these? If you don't write, how about your favorite book that you're reading? 


  1. If it's any consolation, I didn't know what the term "archetypes" meant until I read this, and I'll be seventeen on Wednesday. However, I have thought about the idea behind archetypes because I've seen it in my own writing. It's so cool, isn't it?
    Your blog looks awesome. I found you through Go Teen Writers (I love that place).
    So yay! You have a new follower! :p
    <3 Bekah Joan

    1. Oh good, I'm not the only one then! XD Happy Birthday by the way!
      Yeah it seriously is so cool. The human mind is absolutely fascinating that way.
      Thank you for following! I love GTW too ^ ^

  2. I think that my writing has archetypes 1 and 5 in it mostly.

  3. Hmm ... I think mine mostly revolve around 1, 2 and 4. ;)

    Stori Tori's Blog