Story Structure #13: The Writer’s Journey: The Archetypes and the Map

First off, we need to understand the language Christopher Vogler utilizes. His is the mythic story structure model, and as such, it employs mythic vocabulary. The whole thing is a giant metaphor that we will, should we choose to follow his advice, recreate within our own pages, with our own hero, our own quest, and our own voice. We’ll do well to start with some references for the hero’s journey.

We’ll start with an outline of the archetypes, and then we’ll take a peek at a brief outline of the journey; a map, if you will.

Vogler presents a series of archetypes that are most often present in epic tales. They are masks that our various characters will wear in order to advance the story. They are not the characters themselves, it is important to note, but only masks. They may be worn exclusively by one character, or by more than one. They may be worn for the full extent of the journey, or only for a short while. The important thing is to understand that these archetypes represent critical character components of a good story.

Often, by the end of the adventure, our hero has confronted all of the archetypes and either incorporated them into his own self, or rejected them. They can be thought of as facets our the hero’s potential personality. All the possibilities that the hero could become over the course of the adventure.

Every mask has a purpose. There are psychological functions – the things that are really happening deep down – the inner cogs and springs of the story. And there are the dramatic functions – the outer workings – what the character is doing to further the dramatic action of the story.

Without further ado, the main archetypes presented in The Writer’s Journey, along with a brief outline of their psychological and dramatic functions for our stories:

  • Hero – Self-sacrificing protagonist
    • Psych. Function – Hero incorporates all experiences into a complete, balanced entity
    • Dram. Function –
      • Identification – gives reader a window into the story, an entry where they can see themselves in the Hero’s shoes
      • Growth – change will occur by the end of the story
      • Action – reader follows our Hero through the adventure
      • Sacrifice – true Heroes are always sacrificing themselves for the greater good
      • Dealing with death (literal or symbolic)
      • Character Flaws – Starting point of imperfection, room for growth
  • Mentor – Enthused – en theos – god-inspired
    • Psych. Function – Mentors represent the god within us, our Hero’s highest aspirations
    • Dram. Function –
      • Teaching – and learning from students
      • Gift-giving – gifts are given when earned by learning, sacrifice or commitment
      • Hero’s Conscience – somebody has to be
      • Motivation – gives the little shoves needed to keep going
      • Planting – Mentors are good at dropping plants (info or props) that will be useful later on
  • Threshold Guardian – Obstacles along the way – not always villains, or even people – just obstacles (big ones) that challenge the hero’s advancement
    • Psych. Function – TGs are ordinary obstacles, but deeper (neuroses, scars, vices, dependencies…)
    • Dram. Function –
      • Testing the Hero; Hero must meet challenges: may run, deceive, attack head-on, bribe, or make an Ally of the Guardian (get under their skin, become the enemy, incorporate them in)
      • Resistance comes when we try to make a positive change in our lives
      • Signals of new power. Heroes might recognize Guardians as early indicators of future success
      • Heroes can use Guardians as sources of strength.
  • Herald – Person or force, active in Act I especially, who issues challenge, announces coming change, new energy that makes it impossible to ‘just get by’ any longer
    • Psych. Function – Announcing Call for change, Strike of bell inside
    • Dram. Function – Motivation, gets the story rolling, something is out of balance
  • Shapeshifter – Two (or more)-faced character, often of the opposite sex, ever-changing in hero’s eyes
    • Psych. Function –
      • Express Hero’s repressed unconscious – Hero projects their ideal, their inner perfection onto Shapeshifter, trying to make them match their ideal
      • Catalyst for change, symbolic of psychological urge to transform oneself
    • Dram. Function –
      • Brings doubt and suspicion into story (keeps reader guessing)
      • Can be anyone who assumes mask, even Hero himself
  • Shadow – Energy of the dark side – suppressed monsters of our inner world
    • Psych. Function – Power of repressed feelings, psychoses that threaten to destroy us
    • Dram. Function –
      • Change the hero and give her a worthy opponent in the struggle
        • Can be external (vanquish) or internal (bring to light, or even redeem, turn positive)
  • Trickster
    • Psych. Function –
      • Cuts big egos down to size
      • Brings Hero and readers down to earth (helps us realize our common bonds)
      • Points out our folly and hypocrisy
      • Brings about healthy change by drawing attention to imbalance or absurdity of a stagnant psychological situation
      • Natural enemies of status quo; brings perspective
    • Dram. Function –
      • Comic relief – relieve tension, revive interest
      • Balance
      • Often catalyst characters who affect lives of others but are unchanged themselves
  • Ally – Sidekick(s)
    • Psych. Function – might represent unexpressed or unused parts of the personality that must be brought into action to do their jobs
    • Dram. Function – alternate paths for problem solving, rounding out Hero’s personalities

There they are. There are more, of course, but these are the few archetypes that Vogler gives special attention to thanks to their relative importance and use in the writer’s toolkit.

And I promised a map of our story stages. This is a quickie; we’ll obviously delve quite a bit deeper into these stages, but it seems helpful to see the whole journey at a glance first. As far as relating the Acts to the Parts of the Story Engineering model, things are fairly staightforward. For whatever reason, Vogler doesn’t like nice even sections, so Act II is twice as long as Acts I and III. If we want to split it down the middle and call them IIa and IIb, things will line up quite nicely with SE’s Parts model. For the purposes of the rest of this series, however, we’ll stick to the original 3-Act Structure shown below:

Act I (The first 25%)

  1. Heroes are introduced in The Ordinary World, where
  2. they receive the Call to Adventure.
  3. They are Reluctant at first, or Refuse the Call, but
  4. are encouraged by a Mentor to
  5. Cross the First Threshold and enter the Special World, where

Act II (The middle 50%)

  1. they encounter Tests, Allies and Enemies.
  2. They Approach the Inmost Cave, crossing a second threshold, where
  3. they endure The Ordeal.
  4. They take possession of their Reward, and

Act III (The final 25%)

  1. are pursued on The Road Back to the Ordinary World.
  2. They cross the third threshold, experiencing Resurrection, and are transformed by the experience.
  3. They Return with the Elixer, a boon or treasure to benefit the Ordinary World.

Look at that – all packed up into 12 nice, neat stages. With cool names to boot. We’ll tackle them one by one over the next few weeks. Starting… tomorrow!

For now, here is a printable version of the Map and Archetypes, for your reference: Hero’s Journey: Map and Archetype Reference

To view a chronological listing of the posts in this series, continue below:

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