Margie's How-to Author Series Features:
Tami Cowden -- the coauthor of
The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes & Heroines:
Sixteen Master Archetypes
Award winning author Tami Cowden has presented programs at numerous writing conferences and retreats across the country, and has taught online writing classes. Her first novel, Cruising for Love, winner of RWA’s Golden Heart, was released by Avalon Books in 2005.
Tami is an appellate lawyer with the Las Vegas firm Kummer Kaempfer Bonner Renshaw & Ferrario. In addition to her fiction writing, she also writes a blog devoted to Nevada legal issues, and occasionally featuring other lawyers who write.
The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes & Heroines:
"An invaluable resource for writers working any genre. This excellent book provides profound and provocative insights into the nature of the human condition.”
--- Prof. Richard Walters, Screenwriting Chairman, UCLA Dept. of Film and Television.
ML: 1. What motivated you and your co-authors to write THE COMPLETE WRITER’S GUIDE TO HEROES & HEROINES?
TC: The three of us were in a critique group, and one member of the group was struggling with her characters behaving in ways that seemed inconsistent. We asked why, and her response was “I don’t know why my charact ers do things.” That got us thinking about “why” in general. We talked about how different types of characters would have different reasons for doing the things they do. Somehow, that led to making lists of the characters we could think of and comparing them.
We noticed they fell into different categories or patterns, with strong and consistent similarities within groups. Even those characte rs within a patterns could be very different from each other, yet there were also strong connections that made them instantly recognizable as belonging in the same group. A good example – Encyclopedia Brown, Mr. Spock and Sherlock Holmes – all members of the same archetypal family (Professor), yet hardly so similar as to be stereotypes.
Genre didn’t matter. The patterns existed in every type of fiction, since the dawn of myths. We like to say that we knew were on to something when we discovered that these patterns existed in Shakespeare’s characters. But just between us, the real truth is that I was most convinced when we found the patterns in the comic strips.
ML: 2. The introduction to this how-to book for writers is so rich, I wish I could share every word here. I’ll include some gems from the introduction—then my request for Tami.
Since those primitive times to the present day, writers have woven tales about heroes and heroines, spun webs and built mazes through which protagonists must find their way to truth and happiness, and to their destiny. Sometimes these fictional men and women have been larger than life, but they also have been regular people who became heroic when faced with adversity. But high or low, brilliant or average, characters whose stories survive through the ages are those heroes and heroines that ring true to the human spirit. Their personalities, tragedies and triumphs, their decisions made in the heat of battle—strike a chord of recognition in all who hear the tale.
Why does this happen? Why do some characters reach into the collective heart and pluck the heartstrings of every reader, while others are immediately discarded into the dustbin of memory?
Blog Guests: The intro explains Carl Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious, shared memories of experiences that culminate in concepts of heroes and heroines. Here’s one more paragraph from the intro.
Characters who fall within these archetypes have starred in story after story, entertaining and informing the human experience for millennia. A review of myths, legnds, fairy tales, epic poems, novels and film reveals that the protagonists who recur in these stories fall into sixteen distinctive categories, eight each for the heroes and heroines. These are the sixteen heroic archetypes.
Tami – Could you take it from here, and share how Sections 1, 2, 3, and 4 explore the sixteen archetypes?
TC: Sections 1 and 2 list the 16 hero and heroine archetypes. For each archetype, we give a brief description, then discuss some of their qualities, including both virtues and flaws. We note the two styles the archetype generally presents in, and finally, note some occupations especially well suited to that particular archetype. Throughout, there are examples, mostly from film, but also from literature.
In Section 3, we discuss creating characters using archetypes. Here are three ways archetypes are found.
First, there are core archetypes, in which the character remains in a single archetypal family throughout the story. The growth of the character focuses on developing virtues and/or toning down flaws. Most of the examples in the book are of core archetypes.
Next, there are layered archetypes. In this form, the character has the motivational outlook of more than one archetype. Again the growth is focused on developing virtues and/or toning down flaws, or perhaps on emphasizing one archetypal side. The danger here with writers is assuming that because they want the character to do something in particularly, they must add elements of a specific archetype. That results in a character who is so muddy in motivation, that s/he seems unrealistic. Truly memorable layered archetypes are rare. One example – MacGyver, who mixes the world views of both a PROFESSOR and a WARRIOR.
Finally, there are evolving archetypes. The character begins the story as one archetype and ends as another. This is a transformation story, where the character’s growth involves emerging from the world view that was keeping him or her from realization of his/her dreams. The important thing to remember here is that change is hard, and must be very well-motivated. It takes a truly life-wrenching series of events to evolve into another archetype. Example – Rose, from Titanic, who evolves from a WAIF into a SPUNKY KID.
In Section 4, we discuss how archetypes interact with each other. We pair up each possible male/female combination, and discuss how they mesh and clash, giving a film example for each. We also give some examples of buddy films and ensemble casts. Watching ensemble pieces, by the way, is a great way to study the different archetypes.
ML: 3. Some of our blog guests may not be familiar with the format and depth of THE COMPLETE WRITER’S GUIDE TO HEROES & HEROINES. Could you take the Spunky Kid archetype (one of my favorites) and share some of the qualities, virtues, flaws, background, styles, and occupations? I promise, my other questions will not make you work so hard. ;-))
TC: The SPUNKY KID is a favorite across the genres. And it figures. The SPUNKY KID has moxie. She sometimes hides behind her sarcastic tongue, and her lack of confidence may make her play down her best attributes, but she's spirited, cheerful and the most loyal of friends.
She is the heroine underdog – Ms. Everywoman. You can’t help but empathize with her. The chips may be stacked against her, but she doesn’t give in and she doesn’t give up. Audiences root for her happy ending. Odds are, no childhood trauma wrecked her life. The SPUNKY KID was probably the apple of her parents’ eyes. Adored and wanted, her family tends to offer strong support and approval. Maybe a little too much approval. She probably didn’t get a lot of pushes to excel, because her family was happy with her the way she was. Other children shone, other children made their parents weep. The SPUNKY KID never gave her parents any grief, but never reached for the stars either.
She was the girl who shared her toys and played well with others. She never lacked for friends among her schoolmates. Playing dolls with the girls, and tossing baseballs with the boys had equal appeal. She might have been the neighborhood tomboy, but what she liked best was spending time with her friends.
One problem she had was figuring out a way to be romantic with a guy. The other boys saw her as a pal, not a girlfriend. She was more likely to end up pitching baseballs in the backyard instead of swirling around the prom dance floor. A sunny optimist, this SPUNKY KID is perky, upbeat and fun to be around. She's the efficient co-worker, the right-hand gal or the manager of the coffee shop on the corner. Up and coming in her career, she's capable of contributing to any project needing a moderating voice and enthusiasm. First and foremost, she's a team player.
Examples of SPUNKY KIDS: Every TV show about a single woman making it on her own! When I was a kid, there was “That Girl” and then “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Later, the entire Chicklit genre was built around SPUNKY Kids. And today, we have examples like Liz on 30 Rock, and Christine, in The New Adventures of Old Christine.
ML: 4. What does a writer gain by employing core archetypes in his/her writing?
TC: Well, this is a matter of personal preference. I will admit that I am not a tremendous fan of layered archetypes. Writers often feel that layering results in a more textured, complex character, but it is not necessary to layer to obtain that texture. And too often, the reason for layering is because the writer wants the character to “do” certain things. But any archetype can do anything. The reason to do merely has to fit into the archetype’s world view. We all know that a Warrior can kill. Best Friend can kill – the reason he would do so would be because his family/community were threatened. A WAIF could end up as a doctor, if she became one in order to please her loved ones.
To me, a core archetype has the richest characterization. Think of Monk. He is I think of characters like Gil Grissom from CSI (PROFESSOR), or Sean from Psych (CHARMER, Bret Maverick, or Spiderman, or Batman
ML: 5. If you decided to update your how-to book, what would you change or add?
TC: Several things. First, I would emphasis the important of motivation. As I said in response to the previous question, if readers understand the character’s world view and attitudes, they “get” the character – and that means they believe in and emphasize with the character. And it needs to be made very clear that why character do things is much more important than what they do.
Another thing I would do is add discussion of the villains archetypes. That is a frequent request!
And, of course, in the ten years since we published the book, many additional examples have developed. I would add in more recent examples.
ML: 6. Please fill us in on your fiction and nonfiction!
TC: Well, since economic realities (husband laid off at age of 52, daughter in college) required me to return to the practice of law fulltime, my writing career has taken a back seat. Clients must come first. But I have done some non-legal writing as well.
In terms of fiction, I am polishing a romance manuscript about a pair of lawyers who engage in a battle of seduction, and hope to be submitting it soon. I’ve plotted a follow up book featuring the partner of the hero, and have a few chapters of that one started.
Also, I have nearly completed a mystery novel. The working title is “My Dog Carries a Knife.”
It is set in my new home town of Las Vegas, and features a divorce lawyer who inherits a wedding chapel when her aunt is murdered. The dog who carries a knife is a basset hound named Columbo – a composite of my own three beloved bassets. I anticipate turning this into a series.
NOTE FROM MARGIE:
I had to ask Tami to send me pictures of her basset hounds. :-)
The one in the reading glasses is Buffy.
This one is Spike. Cool dogs!
Also, I am an occasional contributor to Living-Las-Vegas.com, a great source of information about Sin City. Check it out if you are wondering about what it is like to live in Vegas.
And thank you very much for having me. I would be happy to answer questions.
ML: TAMI -- I enjoyed your interview, and appreciate your in-depth responses. Thank you for being here today. I'm intrigued by your fiction projects. Fun set-ups. I love the working title of your mystery! What's your working title for your romance?
The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes & Heroines is one of my favorite how-to books. It's a strong resource for writers of all levels of experience. And it's written so well, it's compelling reading too. :-)
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