This week we dive into the Hero’s Journey as a tool for evaluating a first draft.
This week we tackle the Archetypes and next week we will cover the Moments.
[0:00:00.3] TG: Hello and welcome to the Story Grid Podcast. This is a show dedicated to helping you become a better writer. I’m your host Tim Grahl and I am a struggling writer trying to figure out how to tell a story that works. Joining me shortly is Shawn Coyne, he is the creator of Story Grid, the author of the book Story Grid, and an editor with over 25 years’ experience.
In this episode, we dive into the hero’s journey. There’s all these different tools that we’re applying to the first draft to get it ready for the second draft. We’ve gone through the spreadsheet in foolscap and I talked a little bit about that in this episode. Then this one we dive into the different archetypes of the hero’s journey.
I think this is one — We’ve all heard of the hero’s journey, and if you look it up online, there’s lots of different takes on it, and so we’re going through it step-by-step through the archetypes, and I learned a ton in this one and I think you will too as a way to take the hero’s journey and look at your story and see if you’re hitting the right marks. Let’s jump in and get started.
Shawn, we’re in the middle of this transition of I have a working first draft and we’re trying to do the work so that I can write a second draft, which just like every part of the last two years, is way different that I assumed it would be. The first thing I thought was I was like, “Okay, I got to go in and fix the continuancy problems.
Up till now, the first thing you had me do was go through each scene and fill out the first, I think it was like half dozen columns of the Story Grid spreadsheet. At the same time generate a brainstorm/to-do-list; problems that need fixing and bigger ideas of how to make the book better. I did that for all the scenes, came up with about 160 to-do items and that was the micro view of looking at each individual scene. Then the next step was to zoom out to the foolscap which is where you put your whole book on one page. I tell you, that was last week was just really eye-opening to see to work through those value shifts. I’m not even sure if I had to do it again. I still totally have my head wrapped around it. It was neat to see so many of these ideas and practice in a way that you can read the book and you can look at the examples, but when you try to do it yourself, it’s hard to — You can see the holes in your knowledge. That was really cool.
It sounded like last week we have two or three more big steps, big Story Grid tools that we apply to kind of get our head around what needs to be fixed in the second draft, and the next one was looking at the hero’s journey. Is that right?
[0:03:12.5] SC: Yes, that’s true. Just recap, I think the big take away from last week on the foolscap was to look at the values in your story from the authors point of view. You want to look at the story, and I think where you got messed up was you were looking at the story from the point of view of your lead character instead of looking at it in terms of the steps and the obligatory scenes and the value shifts of your genre, you were looking at it in terms of what Jessie would think.
[0:03:54.4] TG: I’ve been trying to do that in the last week with any, like the book I’m reading. I’ve watched a couple movies, and I’m trying to catch those moments when — Because what I kept struggling with is when something was from the protagonist point of view was bad, but from the storyteller’s point of view was positive. I was trying to catch those while I was paying attention to that dynamic when looking at other stories, basically, since we did that episode.
[0:04:28.2] SC: Exactly. Those are important things to look out to make sure that your story is progressing along the genre’s requirements. The thriller genre usually ends externally positively, meaning the hero beats the villain. If your thriller doesn’t end that way, something like Seven, the movie Seven, where the villain actually wins at the end of Seven. That is a very very daring choice by the writer that could really not work in terms of commercial potential. The movie seven, I remember, because at the time I was at St. Martin’s Press, and I commissioned the novelization of Seven by a wonderful writer named Anthony Bruno. He and I talked about this when he was banging out the novel based on the screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker, I think wrote it.
Anyway, that thriller ends very negatively externally and internally. It ends on serious negatives. Because it was so ingeniously put together, it still satisfied a very large commercial market, and also the acting was phenomenal in it the direction — I think David Fincher directed it, and it really worked. But that’s an exception to the rule.
Usually, your thriller is going to end positively, and so your thriller ends positively, your hero wins, but she also unleashes an ironic ending at the end too which is perfectly reasonable and viable. In fact, you need that kind of ironic ending for a sequel.
Anyway, I’m talking about big picture again, and this episode of editing and this tool for editing is all about tracking the hero’s journey in the story. The reason why you want to track the hero’s journey is to really check to see that your lead character has an arc. You know everybody knows this, and these are one of those comments editors give writers all the time, that the writer doesn’t know what to do with it. That is, “I kind of like your book, but the character didn’t arc.”
What they’re meaning by that is that the character did not change. You’ve built-in an internal genre which is the maturation plot for Jessie and that’s all well and good, but if you don’t actually follow the monomyth of the hero’s journey also within the story, your reader could not pick up — Potentially, they would not pick up the actual movement of change of your internal genre. The thing that I always recommend as sort of the third checkpoint of your editing process on your first draft is to check the stages of the hero’s journey and find out if you have hit moments that are reflected in the hero’s journey. The hero’s journey that I use is the one from Christopher Vogler’s book, The Writer’s Journey.
Joseph Campbell has I think 19 or 18 stages of the hero’s journey and there are other people who also have their own sort of structure of the hero’s journey, but I like Vogler’s because it’s very practical and I think there are 12 points that you want to check in your story. Also, the other thing that he really brings to light here are the archetypes in the hero’s journey that you should really consider your secondary characters. Do you have a threshold guardian, for example, that is sort of the person that holds the character from moving from the ordinary world to the extraordinary world. Is there a character that plays that role, that archetype in your story? Because the closer you can mesh with the monomyth of the hero’s journey, the more familiar it’s going to be to a reader. They are going to lock-in and understand the trajectory of the story better if these sort of cast elements are within your story itself.
What I think we should do in this episode is what I’d like to first talk about are the archetypes of the characters that you and I will try to identify if they are actually in your story. Of course, the first one is the hero, and the hero is Jessie, and the hero is the character that has to change. She changes by coming to the understanding that it’s better to sacrifice oneself for the betterment of others than to selfishly hold on to your own no former worldview. If Jesse doesn’t mature in this story, a lot of people could get very hurt.
She is the hero of our story and she’s a very good strong hero. We’ve talked about hero victim and villain ad nauseam over the last 18 months, so it’s very clear that Jessie is the hero. So check. Let’s check that one off.
The next archetype that you really need in the hero’s journey is the mentor figure. Now, the mentor is the person like Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars or a series of people who teach the hero a new trick or war they give them information that they don’t know.
Let’s think about your story. Do we have clearly delineated mentors in your story and who are they?
[0:11:25.3] TG: The first one is 86, I think. I don’t know why I keep forgetting the number. The woman in charge of the numbered, because she shows her how to navigate the numbered world, so there would be one. Then towards the end she has her brother that placed the mentor role. I guess that starts in the middle. Then at the beginning of the middle build, Az is kind of the mentor for a couple scenes.
[0:12:00.8] SC: See, I would call him a threshold guardian more than a mentor.
[0:12:06.6] TG: Okay. Because when you said that, I don’t even know what that means, but we’ll get to that.
There is no character that I could look at and be like, “That is Gandalf,” or whatever. Is that a problem?
[0:12:23.8] SC: What do you think?
[0:12:26.4] TG: I would say if she needs a mentor through the book, to the end where they have to go on without the mentor, and that’s when the mentor usually dies in a lot of stories. There is no strong mentor in the middle build. Balem kind of is for one scene, but there is no strong mentor in the middle build.
[0:12:49.5] SC: Who is the mentor in Silence of the Lambs?
[0:12:52.5] TG: Oh, the main guy. Lecter.
[0:12:55.2] SC: Yes, Hannibal Lecter is the mentor. There’s another mentor too, it’s Jack Crawford, right?
[0:13:01.3] TG: Yeah, the FBI guy, right?
[0:13:03.9] SC: Right. Isn’t that interesting where you have two mentors in that story. One is good and one is bad. By the end of the story we discover that the bad guy was actually — The bad guy was actually, in terms of universal values, turned out to be — He’s the only one who doesn’t live, is Lecter. Crawford turns out to be not as great as we think he is at the beginning of the story.
One of the ways to deal with mentors in thrillers, and the reason why bring up Silence of the Lambs is because you’re writing a thriller, is the consider polar values of different characters. I think it’s 86 or 81 or 83. She, at the beginning of the story, takes on the role of the good mentor and the brother in the middle build sort of seems to be a good mentor too, and both of them turn out to be bad.
Balem is sort of a cipher at this point. Meaning we kind of had to drop him in to fix some story problems in the middle build. When we did do that, I said, “Let’s not forget about this guy because he could prove to be very valuable later on.”
In terms of mentors, I think you need to limit them. You have to really clearly define them and you need to have a very clear good mentor and a very clear bad mentor, and it doesn’t mean that they can’t shape shift, meaning — Like Crawford, we think he’s good at the beginning of Silence of the Lambs. He shifts into somebody that we’re suspicious of because he doesn’t deal with Starling when the investigation is going well. He only uses her when he needs to get to the Lecter.
Then at the very end after the death of his wife, Crawford shifts back to a good guy, because he’s the one who encourages her to go to Ohio to find Buffalo Bill. In fact, he gives her every last dollar in his pocket so that she can afford to go to Ohio.
That’s an interesting trajectory for that mentor character, is that he’s sort of like lying to Starling at the beginning, using her, and then he shifts after he has a very tragic loss to understand that he didn’t really treat her very well and that he needs actually be a good mentor at the end of the story, which he is.
If we think about 83 or 86 in that context, we could have her move from good mentor that we all sort of attach to at the beginning hook of the story, transitioning into a negative force who actually is cahoots with the ultimate villain of your story. Then perhaps at the very end of the story, she shift back and she has a moment where she realizes that she’s betrayed Jessie. Then she shifts into sacrificial character who does a solid favor for Jessie at the end and ends up suffering the consequences for that.
83 is certainly a mentor figure. The brother in the middle build introduces himself as a good figure. He turns bad. He’s going to survive. Balem, I think, should be a force that is not fully known in this first novel, but he appears relatively, like maybe three or four times, so that — He doesn’t physically appear. He virtually appears, so that you can use Balem — You’re basically setting up Balem as a larger figure in book 2 or book 3. You’re going to have two mentors in this one; the good force that turns dark and then turns good again. The dark force that seems good who turns seriously dark.
You have your mentors in here, you just need to think very clearly about how they’re progressing through this story and how you’re ultimately going to use them. You should put these in your notes and your to-do-list. Look at your mentors. Make sure that they’re very clear and make sure that there’s some dynamic relationships there that are going to make your story richer and in value.
Do you have any questions about mentors now?
[0:18:36.2] TG: No. I’m sure I will when I actually try to pull this off, but I think I understand what you’re saying.
[0:18:42.0] SC: Okay. The next one — And a lot of these now, these archetypes, are often momentary transitions in your story. They don’t necessarily have to be recurring characters that are constantly sort of in the Greek course of your cast, but we need to sort of feel these elements as we’re reading. There’s sort of almost subtext, but we need to recognize them.
The next one is the threshold Guardian, and this isn’t as complicated as it might seem. In Wizard of Oz, the movie and in the novel, the threshold Guardian is the green guy at the Emerald Palace, or the Emerald City’s. When Dorothy, the scarecrow, the lion, and the tin man, and they get to the end of the Yellow Brick Road, there is the Emerald City. They knock on the door, right? There’s some cranky guy who answers the door and he goes, “No. You can’t come in.” That’s literally the threshold guardian.
The threshold guardian, his or her purpose is to really sort of put a pin in the moments when your character moves from the ordinary world to the extraordinary world. Dorothy now, of course, at the very very very, the inciting incident of The Wizard of Oz is her being thrown out of the ordinary reality and stuck into the Land of Oz. That’s not the shift of ordinary to extraordinary. The shift from ordinary to extraordinary moves after she goes on the road trip and then hits the Emerald City, and then we see the threshold guardian.
When you’re talking about Az showing Jessie around, I see Az playing the role of the threshold guardian in that scene. You have abided the necessity of having a threshold guardian because Az is there to show her what this world is all about. The guardian doesn’t have to say, “No. You can’t come in.” He or she just has to explain the transitional moment, “Okay, you’re on the train. Now, you’re here, and now you’re in this extraordinary world.”
Your threshold guardian is absolutely in your story, and I think you’ve already made notes about sort of making that scene even more extraordinary where Jessie — Yeah, it’s going to be incredible.
[0:21:43.5] TG: Yeah, it’s more of making the world more extraordinary, so the shift is even more jarring than it currently is.
[0:21:54.9] SC: Rright, exactly. Az will be your vehicle to get that done.
[0:21:59.2] TG: You’ve brought up a lot about the first episode of Mad Men where the guy is trying to sleep with the girl and he shows her around. He would be the threshold guardian of that one?
[0:22:12.3] SC: Exactly. The great thing about Mad Men, not to go too deep into it, is that Matt Weiner, or Weiner, his lead character seems to be Don Draper, but Don Draper does not change in the entire trajectory of Man Men. We keep hoping he’ll change, but he never really does.
The person who does change is Peggy Olson, and so she’s the one who gets the threshold guardian tor, because she’s the actual character in that story, who she goes on a maturation plot. By the end of the series, she’s a hell of an advertising person. She’s well well —She’s very mature at that point. Yeah, that’s a really great example of a threshold guardian too.
The next one is The Herald. The Herald role is really just about having moments in your story where somebody kind of sums things up pretty quickly, meaning they kind of hammer home what your hero is facing. They bring up things that the reader needs to be reminded of.
For example, it’s not coming quickly to my mind, but when you have a character saying something like, “What do you mean you have to do that?” Don’t we have to do this, because this, that, and the other thing?” Do you know what I’m kind of sort of saying? I’m trying to think of an example. They sort of sum up the crisis or the moment in time — Like the lion in The Wizard of Oz. He’ll, in moments, when the things are getting really harry. He’ll go, “What? Are you crazy? I’m not going into that castle. I might get hurt by those monkeys and Dorothy will get killed.”
You kind of have the Herald role, it moves around depending upon the moment. You could have secondary character —
[0:24:29.7] TG: Would this be like movies that have like a narrator and voiceover that come in at different points? Would that be the Herald in some movies?
[0:24:41.4] SC: Yeah, that’s the way of cheating in a lot of ways.
[0:24:44.8] TG: But it’s anything that comes along and gives you information that you need to know for the story.
[0:24:51.3] SC: Yes, but they have to do it dramatically. Ideally, the problem with voiceover is that it’s so sort of heavy hands.
[0:25:00.4] TG: Okay. I think I got one. In the first Star Wars — Well, episode four, when they’re all in the room and they pull up the plans to the Death Start and somebody explains what they’re going to have to do to destroy the Death Star. The person that’s giving that information.
[0:25:17.0] SC: Exactly.
[0:25:18.4] TG: That means that they could be different people at different points in the story that are just giving — Yeah. Okay.
[0:25:27.5] SC: For example, in your novel, Ernst or Alex absolutely played the Herald role when they say things like, “Jessie, if you lose this severing, you know what’s going to happen, right? You know what happened —”
[0:25:41.8] TG: Yeah, that’s when they take her she sees Randy — Or not Randy. The other guy in the hospital. Now I understand. I’m only a couple months out from writing this book and I don’t remember it, and like with — I’ll just talk about having no memory of these books they’ve written. I understand tjat a little more.
Yeah, there’s that. There’s also the sergeant when he pulls everybody together and he tells them like, “The next severing is coming, and here’s what it’s going to be.” It gets in that information. Okay.
[0:26:18.7] SC: It’s perfectly reasonable. In fact, you need to have moments in your story that remind the reader about the consequences and the stakes that are at hand. The Herald is a technique in an archetype to have somebody in your story relate that to the audience again. That one is was pretty clear. You want to pick out moments usually right before the big moments. One of the great great big moments of your story is when Jesse, during the second severing, basically flips out and becomes impotent. She’s incapable of doing anything because she’s overwhelmed.
In order to set that reaction up, you might have an argument right before she goes in between Ernest and Alex, and the two of them are at each other, “Well, if she does this, that’s going to happen. If she does, that’s going to happen. What about this?”
They basically are the thinking of the reader explaining how big these stakes are in an argument right before the big moment. The time to do Herald moments is usually just prior to a major turning point in your story. Keep that in mind. You want to just drop them in willy-nilly reminding readers of stakes that really don’t matter all that much. You want to reserve the Herald moments for times that are very very intense.
Okay. Let’s move to the next one. The next archetype in the hero’s journey that’s always in there is the shape shifter, and the shape shifter is pretty easy to think about when you about it in these terms. It’s sort of — They are people who act one way and turn out to be another. A character like 83 or 86, or whatever her name is, she is a shape shifter, right? Because she moves from good mentor to allied with the dark mentor. She’s changed her sensibility to the reader. She’s shifted — She’s like the two-face person. There’s an entire genre of crime called — Oh my Gosh! Noir, where you have the femme fatale. In a noir crime, the femme fatale is usually the woman who comes to the private investigator’s office. She sayd, “I really need your help. Please, desperately, I need your help,” and she seems like a victim at the start of the story. By the end of the story, she’s gotten the hero, the investigator in such deep trouble that he ends up being thrown in prison or killed. That’s a noir story.
The femme fatale is a classic shape shifter. She pretends to be one thing and is really another. You need to have a shape shifting in your story or it read like, “This doesn’t seem quite right. I know plenty of people in the world who say one thing and do another.” You have to have shape shifters in your story.
Az is a shape shifter, right? Because we think he’s just this horrible, lousy person throughout the entire story until a climactic moment at the very end when he makes a sacrifice to save Jessie so that they can win the severing, correct?
[0:30:26.5] TG: Right.
[0:30:27.0] SC: Right. He plays the role shape shifter too. You need to have shifters in your story.
Okay, let’s move on to the next one. The next archetype is called the shadow, and the shadow, for lack of a better way of describing it, is essentially the opposite of your hero or your villain. It’s sort of your villain. The shadow character is the character that does all of the things that the hero won’t do. The hero has a certain code of ethics or morals that they won’t cross over, but the shadow will. The shadow is the villain.
The shadow forms the conflict with your hero. Not to get too psychological here, but the villain in a thriller is always the darkest, deepest elements of your hero.
[0:31:32.4] TG: It this like a yin and yang kind of thing where whatever the hero is, the villain should be the opposite?
[0:31:40.3] SC: Yes.
[0:31:43.0] TG: I’m thinking in the show, 24, Jack Bauer will do anything to save his country and the villain will do anything to destroy the country.
[0:31:55.0] SC: Right. In The Silence of the Lambs, Clarice Starling and Buffalo Bill actually have a lot in common. The reason why it’s so brilliantly created, is that Buffalo Bill is a serial killer who believes that he’s a woman. He is murdering women and basically filleting them, cutting their skin off so that he can build his own and make his own woman’s suit so that he can literally change himself from a man into a woman.
Now, you might say to yourself, “How is that any way related to Clarice Starling?” What Clarice Starling is doing in the story is she is trying to move away from her white trash West Virginia background into a new skin. She wants to be a very well-respected erudite FBI agent like Jack Crawford. The two of them want to shift their reality from one status point to another.
Now, Buffalo Bill will literally cut people’s skin off to do what is necessary to get what he wants. Starling would never do that. Starling is doing it — Internally, he’s doing it external. That’s a shadow.
[0:33:25.2] TG: This is kind of the whole cliché of like we’re not so different you and I.
[0:33:30.6] SC: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. A lot of villain speeches are exactly that, “Oh, come on now. You and I both know that people are stupid. I’m just trying to get some order in the universe, and you continue to defend the stupid.”
[0:33:53.6] TG: Do they often want the same thing, just they’re going about it different ways?
[0:33:58.6] SC: Yes. What Randy wants and what Jessie wants are very similar. What Jessie wants is freedom. She wants to be free of the shackles put on her in that very strange side that she lives in. She wants to be free to live within her family. She wants to go back in time to when things were good.
[0:34:26.8] TG: That’s what she’s doing, because when she gets caught stealing, that’s her doing those things.
[0:34:34.2] SC: Right. Randy, he wants freedom too. Randy wants to get out of prison that he’s in so that he can rule the world, rule the faction. What he wants is freedom in the future. What Jessie wants is freedom from the past. Randy doesn’t want to go back in time. Jessie wants to go back in time. Randy wants to go in the future. These are good shadow elements that we’ve constructed over the past 18 months that we didn’t sit down and go, “Let me think, she wants to be that way, he has to be that way.”
These are the good organic things that come from knowing structure or knowing craft. I remember telling you numbers of times that you are creating and abiding certain things without even knowing it. This idea of the shadow I think is strongly inside your story. The note to make yourself is are there opportunities in my story where I could even highlight the shadowiness — Like when you said, “You’re not so different, you and I.” That’s an effort to highlight the shadow element.
[0:35:59.1] TG: The process then from the beginning is to write the story then look for things that are in there that is like, “Oh, okay. I kind of subconsciously did this, but now with the second draft, I can consciously go back and turn that vibe into an eight and that seven into a 10.”
[0:36:21.1] SC: Exactly. You want to magnify the things that are already in there, and the way you do that is to identify the things that are in there based upon the hero’s journey’s elements and based upon micro and macro structural ideas.
Okay, so we’ve got shadow. The next archetype that you really want, and this is obvious, are allies. You need to have allies in your story. Obviously, Ernst and Alex are Jessie’s allies. Robin is Batman’s ally, and there’s a reason why superheroes end up in Leagues of Justice and all things like that, because you want people to have — You want your characters to have allies in the story so that community forms on the side of good and then if there’s more than one person on the side of good, the chances of them triumphing at the end are stronger than if it’s just Lone Wolf McQuade doing everything he can to outsmart the evil.
Even in those old Western movies with Clint Eastwood, that the man with no name who rides into town, he ends up getting some allies. If your story has not — Go ahead.
[0:37:49.2] TG: It also then creates — Aren’t they often, and they do in my story, used to create tension for the protagonist, because now they have somebody to care about.
[0:38:02.7] SC: Yes. You can also use the Judas element of an ally later on, like the betrayal like in the Matrix. The guy, that great actor. I forgot his name. He plays ally and then betrays everything. Joe Pantoliano, yeah. Yeah, Joe Pants. I remember, he did a book at — A friend of mine, I think, edited his book and he used to come in to the office all the time and people go, “Hello, Mr. Pantoliano.” He’d go, “No, just call me Joe Pants.” Anyway, there’s a little anecdote for you.
The last sort of archetype in the hero’s journey is the trickster, and the trickster is sort of the clown. It doesn’t have to be your single cast moment, but often it is. You would usually have — There were whole series of movies where you would have the trickster played by — I can’t even think of any. Like Tom — The guy who is married — Tom Arnold. Tom Arnold used to play like the trickster in movies like True Lies, the Arnold Schwarzenegger movie. He’s the guy who’d like, “Oh my God! What do we do?” He’s sort of the comic relief from the story. The one who screws something up and it ends up — Ending up for the better. The trickster is the one that sorts of brings down the drama in moments by messing something up or pointing out —
[0:39:49.6] TG: Like in The Lord of the Rings, it’s Mary and Pippen.
[0:39:56.0] SC: Right.
[0:39:58.7] TG: Okay. Now, are they —I would also classify them as allies in that too, and I would think that’s normal in what you just described. They’re like the sidekick kind of fuck up.
[0:40:11.8] SC: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
[0:40:14.5] TG: Okay. Now, that’s the only version I can see in my head. Are there other — Because to me, a trickster sounds bad. Are there versions of a trickster where like they’re actually have evil intent, or is it usually — Okay. Is there an example of that that comes to mind?
[0:40:34.9] SC: The famous trickster is Loki in the Norse Myths, and Loki is the one who betrays — He gets the hammer from Thor, or something. My Norse Myths aren’t, but they once were. Yes, you can have a trickster who’s sort of funny and people laugh about. Rasputin, that a trickster. That a trickster from history. Rasputin, during the Tsar reign in Russia. Some people would say Cromwell. I’m talking about real-life tricksters now. These are people who uses their popularity to sort of an alliance with a powerful figure and they have plans of their own later on to take advantage of it.
Yeah, tricksters can either be just sort of dimwitted and funny and make mistakes, or they could be — Often, people use tricksters, they drop them in the story and then the big turning point in the story is the trickster turns out to be the really evil one. Like in that Pixar movies, The Incredibles. The trickster in that movie is the man who’s the biggest fan of the hero. and he turns out to be the evil one.
Tsricksters can be converted into the villains too. All of these archetypes, you want — Go ahead.
[0:42:19.1] TG: Who’s the trickster in Silence of the Lambs? Is that Hannibal?
[0:42:21.8] SC: It’s Lecter. Yeah, it’s Lecter, because Lecter takes great satisfaction and enjoyment watching these little idiots run around. At the very start of the novel, we know that Lecter knows exactly where Buffalo Bill is. He’s in Belvedere, Ohio.
[0:42:41.8] TG: It’s not always a comic relief.
[0:42:44.5] SC: Right. It’s not always comic relief. It’s manipulative Machiavelli. Tricksters in Native American myths are — They do that sort of thing too. They’re not necessarily evil, but they enjoy watching the stupidity of humanity on full display, and Loki is like that too in the Norse Myths.
You know how we’re talking about myth now. it’s because Joseph Campbell —He looked at Native American myths and he looked at Norse myths, he looked at Asian myths and Indian myths, and all sorts of things, and he’d found these elements in all of these stories. These archetypes are universal. These are universal human archetypes. This isn’t just somebody who watched a bunch of movies, came up with these ideas. These are from all of time. If you don’t have these players in your story, then the universality is reduced.
Some of the great writers, their novels are translated all over the world and they’re bestsellers all over the world, and because they have these sorts of characters and archetypes in their stories. Somebody in Istanbul can enjoy Dan Brown as much as somebody in Illinois.
[0:44:16.9] TG: In my book, I don’t think I have a trickster, unless it’s Randy. Otherwise, there’s nobody that’s offering comic. There’s nobody that’s like playing everybody as a fool. Would you agree with that?
[0:44:35.1] SC: I would agree with that, and I think you should consider either converting one of the secondary characters into a trickster sort of character or to add one. Possibilities would be to make Ernst or Alex the trickster. For some reason, the distinction between Ernst and Alex to me is that Alex is powerful and strong, Ernst is intellectual and weak physical. That’s a little bit —It’s fine, but would it be more interesting to make one of the characters more trickster-like, kind of like the absent-minded professor kind of sensibility.
Let’s think about Harry Potter for a second. Who provides the majority of comic relief in Harry Potter? Is it Ron Weasley?
[0:45:37.1] TG: Yeah, he’s part of it. I would say the other one would be Neville, Neville Longbottom. Ron is screwing up — Like there’s the one book where his wand is broken the whole time, so he’s always like messing up his spells. I would say over the series of seven books, Neville would be the trickster because he’s the one that never can get it together and he ends up as a hero in the end.
[0:46:04.3] SC: Right. Also, I forgot, the girl, woman in — What’s her name again? Hermione. She’s the intellectual of the group. She’s a very strong, smart-presence, and Ron sort of plays the screw up sometimes. Instead of it just being Alex strong, Ernst weak, it might be interesting where you could kind of — Ernst could be the pragmatic intelligent one who’s not all that physically strong and Alice could play more of the bumbling-esque comic-reliefy trickster kind of element. Sort of like like the character in Guardians of the Galaxy, that the one who’s the tree, what’s his name? Root, or Woff —
[0:47:01.9] TG: Groot.
[0:47:02.3] SC: Groot. Right. Groot is sort of — He can’t saying anything but Groot, “I am Groot,” and he kind of has a detachment from the other ones. He’s more powerful than them all. He ends up saving them in the first one. The trickster turns into the — Or the other trickster is the — What is he? A fox, or a rabbit?
[0:47:28.9] TG: The raccoon.
[0:47:29.6] SC: Raccoon. You see what I mean? It doesn’t had to be one character. It’s spirit of the trickster has to be —
[0:47:38.6] TG: You would say — Tell me again what the spirit of the trickster is, because you’re describing both the bumbling sidekick and Hannibal Lecter as a trickster.
[0:47:50.5] SC: That’s true.
[0:47:50.5] TG: What makes them similar? Give me a definition that encapsulates both of them.
[0:47:59.2] SC: Okay, the trickster is sort of like they’re mischiefy. They enjoy doing things that get other people in trouble. You’re right, the sidekick who is always screwing up is not exactly the element of the trickster. The trickster enjoys mischief in order to change people’s world views in a way.
Lecter is a trickster because he’s enjoying the mischief of putting Clarice Starling in such deep jeopardy. He kind of enjoys mischief.
[0:48:39.0] TG: Because I was thinking maybe it could be the sergeant who loves to sadistically do things to keep all the recruits kind of appended, but it seems like the trickster never has real power. He uses his ticksterness to control people but he didn’t ever has the power in the story, because Lecter is locked up the whole time.
[0:49:07.0] SC: Yeah, but he is very powerful and he manipulates everybody to get his ultimate release.
[0:49:12.8] TG: Yeah. I guess I’m saying like he can’t make decisions in the story. Every trickster we’ve talked about is not physically in charge of anything.
Another trickster that comes to mind would be in Hogan’s Heroes. Remember that show? Hogan’s Heroes. Did you ever watch that?
[0:49:31.9] SC: Yeah.
[0:49:34.7] TG: It’s a comedy-base where these guys are in the concentration camp which does not sound like a comedy when you say it like that. There was that sergeant who was always like —
[0:49:44.4] SC: I see nothing.
[0:49:46.2] TG: Yeah. “I know nothing.”
[0:49:48.9] SC: Yeah, Sgt. Shcultz. Yeah.
[0:49:51.8] TG: Yeah. He would be —
[0:49:54.9] SC: It’s the spirit of mischief. It’s sort of like your friend when it’s really hot in the summer and you’re 12 years and they go, “Let’s go pool hopping.” Then you run around the neighborhood to find people who are away and you go swim in their pool knowing that you can get in deep trouble for. They want to create mischief to get things going.
[0:50:20.5] TG: Their role of the stories is to keep things off-balance.
[0:50:24.4] SC: Exactly, and they make mistakes that end up —The raccoon is a trickster in Guardians of the Galaxy. Groot is kind of — Groot is probably not as much of a trickster, but the lead character, the guy — What is his name? Peter something. He’s a trickster, right? He’s always dancing and goofing around and trying to goof around with people.
The Guardians of the Galaxy is one of those tongue-in-cheek superhero movies where there’s a lot — The spirit of the trickster is what drives the story. The other one is Deadpool. Deadpool is definitely a trickster.
[0:51:06.1] TG: Okay. Yeah, I think I’m getting it, because I’m thinking — Another one I like is in the last Mission Impossible movie. There’s like one of the guys, he’s constantly screwing up and getting Tom Cruise into like a worse situation that he’s now going to dig them both out of. To me, that’s the cross over. The bumbling guy and Hannibal Lecter are just constantly knocking things off kilter.
[0:51:33.4] SC: Yes.
[0:51:34.7] TG: Okay. It doesn’t have to have a negative or a positive motive. It’s the role of knocking things off kilter.
[0:51:44.9] SC: Yes. They want change. They want mischief. They want to knock people — They’re inciting characters. They incite a lot of things. They’re causal inciting things.
[0:52:01.2] TG: Okay. All right. I have to think about how to add that element in. We went through the hero, the mentor, the threshold guardian, Heralds, shape shifter, shadow, allies, and trickster. Those are the eight archetypes.
Next week will be part two of the hero’s journey and we’ll actually go through the moments in the story of the ordinary world crossing the threshold, the road back, that kind of stuff.
[0:52:34.7] SC: Yeah, exactly.
[0:52:36.2] TG: Okay. Sounds good.
[0:52:37.9] SC: Okay.
[END OF EPISODE]
[0:52:38.3] TG: Thanks for listening to this episode of The Story Grid Podcast. For everything Story Grid related, check out storygrid.com. Make sure you pick up a copy of the book and sign up for the newsletter so you don’t miss anything happening in the Story Grid universe. If you’d like to check out the show notes for this episode including the link to the Google Doc where you can see my scene-by-scene spreadsheet, my notes, the foolscap all in one place, you can get all of that and any past episode show notes at storygrid.com/podcast.
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