When a writer and an illustrator go somewhere to talk and share a cuppa, where would they go but to a bookstore?
My daughter Rachel (she the illustrator) and I were hanging out at the local B&N, where she was perusing Character Design Studio by Chris Patton, a book about drawing for graphic novels. The approach was intriguing: semi-realistic musclemen to very stylized manga children and geometric cartoon animals illustrated archetypes: the hero, the mentor, the threshold guardian, the herald, the trickster, the shape-shifter, and the shadow.
I'm studying Joseph Campbell and Carl Jung in grad school, and I wouldn't have defined the archetypes as Patton did, but Patton's method of character building fascinated me. According to Patton, the average leotard-clad muscleman would only survive the costume because of the muscles, but a twist on the character makes him unique. The Caped Avenger is a doddering Granddad until disaster strikes—not the muscle-bound Kent Clark or even wimpy Peter Parker. Granddad's herald, the kid next door, is sure that the hero is his grandfather, adding a layer of conflict to the neighborhood drama.
Another hero is a punk beauty in a wheelchair, one lock of bright colored hair on the top of her shaved head. She manages to survive in her worst side of town because of martial arts done with sticks she carries, and because she is culturally "invisible" in her chair—apparently weak and no threat to anyone. She is a private detective.
For children, a hero can be a square-eyed four-year-old, wearing a large, pointed hat, reminiscent of Hogwart's Sorting Hat. The Hat and plays the girl's trickster/shadow, leading her into mischief. A waitress in a mundane town becomes a hero when she learns of her magical talents and carries a key to the mage world in a locket she wears over her 50's style shirtwaist and apron, bobby socks and loafers.
Finally, a struggling hero appears, a hulking man who might be mistaken for a villain with a scar that slits his forehead and cheek, just missing his eye. His struggle is to be a hero, to fight for the good side and to leave his past behind him—not a bit like A Warrior Princess. Each of these characters is described in fewer than 200 words, but there is just enough background to make me want to write about each of them.
Of course, in graphic novels, the appearance of the character replaces thousands of words of characterization, just as the backgrounds and sequence of the panels replace the exposition of the story, leaving space only for written dialog. The drawings show the action, but if you figure each picture at a thousand words, the graphic novel gets much more literary—8000 words per page???
The character must still become an individual with motivation, history, goals, weaknesses and strengths, all of which fit around the other types. I have looked through a number of books on drawing, and like many books on writing, the authors teach their own styles and processes, not a flexible idea such as this.
I begin to imagine drawing my characters, or at least, picking out actors to play them. Another author who has worked out characterization for writers based on archetypes is Victoria Lynn Schmidt in her book, 45 Master Characters. She uses the names of Greek gods and goddesses for her archetypes and their shadows: including Aphrodite the Seductive Muse/Femme Fatal, Hera the Matriarch/Scorned Woman, Hades the Recluse/Warlock, and Zeus the King/Dictator. She adds supporting characters: friends, rivals and symbols. She gives many examples from pop culture and literature, which suggests what is cliché and needs a good twist. At the end of the character designs, she adds two plot structures, the Hero Journey, similar to Campbell's, and a Heroine's Journey, which differs in several ways.
The hero struggles in a linear fashion against obstacles to prove himself to the group and find that he must let go of ego to experience his feelings and find his courage. On the other hand, the heroine travels a circular path to prove herself to herself, allowing the obstacles, awakening to claim her power when she realizes she has none thereby finding her courage. Schmidt explains each of these structures with examples from familiar books and movies, and with both male and female characters as heroes.
As part of my graduate work, I am studying mythology, and I am fascinated to find how much work uses Jung's archetypes and Campbell's monomyth. Every movie I see and every book I read falls into the structure they described. Now I want to see who that girl is who just came in from the airport and why there is blood dripping from the package she is clutching. Where's my sketchpad?