The Alchemist (Paolo Coelho)

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1. What is the genre?

Global—Worldview > Revelation

Secondary—Love, Status, Action

2. What are the conventions and obligatory scenes for the genre?

Conventions

Strong Mentor Figure. Santiago has two main mentors, first the King of Salem who teaches him about the Personal Legend. His second mentor is the Alchemist who encourages him to continue his journey even if it means leaving his love, Fatima, temporarily. The Alchemist teaches him to listen to his heart and teaches him about the Soul of the World that connects us all.

Big Social Problem as subtext. Clear divide of class. Santiago is often dismissed because of his poor status. The Englishman is a good example of someone who looks down on the shepherd as being unintelligent.

Shapeshifters as Hypocrites. The only real shapeshifter is the Moroccan boy who speaks Spanish, who Santiago encounters when he first sets off. Santiago trusts him over the Arabic barman due to prejudice and this ends up hurting him.

A cause and effect trajectory: Santiago wants to find the treasure and each step he takes him closer to his goal, although he is often thwarted and stalled through lack of money or the danger of war in the desert.

Ironic win-but-lose, lose-but win ending. At home, he finds the treasure, and while he’s initially annoyed at how much time he lost, and being apart from Fatima, he realises that he would never have accomplished his personal legend, nor would he have seen the world and broadened his understanding of the world.

Escalating danger:

  • Santiago is safe at home in his village
  • On his travels, his money is stolen
  • He faces the threat of tribal war in the desert
  • His life is threatened by the chiefs in the Oasis
  • His life is threatened again by another group of tribesmen
  • He is beaten up and robbed once more at the pyramid.

The protagonist sees the world not as it is but as they believe it to be: Santiago is restless and sees riches and adventures as being the solution to his restlessness. His desire for the treasure forces him to travel the world, and discover that home is where he belonged and that the truth can only be found if he follows his heart.

The Protagonist is forced to change in order to get what they need: Santiago must change into the wind. If he doesn’t change into the wind, the tribesmen will kill them. He is forced to let go, to trust his instinct and let go of his fear of failure. His self-actualization manifests in him directing the wind to whip up a sandstorm.

Character development is accelerated: Santiago has moved from a naive shepherd to a man who has fallen in love and in touch with the Soul of the World. He has shown himself capable of travelling across the desert, earning money and more importantly, he has a deeper understanding of the meaning of life and his role in it.

Obligatory Scenes

Inciting opportunity or challenge: Santiagohas a recurrent dream of a treasure by the pyramids.

Protagonist sidesteps responsibility to respond to the opportunity or challenge: Santiago goes to a fortune teller to interpret the dream but dismisses her advice to go seek the treasure.

Forced to respond, the protagonist lashes out. On his journey, he decides to abandon the call to adventure and his heart’s desire to go to the pyramid. Then he sees the old man’s stones and realises he can always go back to being a shepherd but now is the time to follow his dream.

Protagonist learns what their external Antagonist’s Object of Desire is. Fear is the antagonist and it wants to stop us from realising our personal legends. We see this in the tea-seller who dreams of going to Mecca but would rather hold it as a distant dream.

Protagonist’s initial strategy to out maneuver Antagonist fails. He gets stuck in the tea shop and delays going to Egypt.

During an All is Lost moment, Protagonist realizes they must change their black/white view of the world to allow for life’s irony. Santiago stands on the top of a sand dune convinced he cannot direct the wind, and thus save their lives. But at that moment he finally understands what the Alchemist was trying to tell him. His understanding is manifested through his connection with the Soul of the World.

The action moment is when the Protagonist’s gifts are expressed as acceptance of an imperfect world. Santiago is on top of the pyramid and he is robbed. Moreover, there is no treasure. But he can see past the robbery to understand that while he was robbed he was given something more valuable – the location of his treasure. He is overjoyed even though he has been robbed.

The protagonist’s loss of innocence is rewarded with a deeper understanding of the universe. He now understands the universe well enough to be able to pick up on clues from the Soul of the World.

There is a clear “point of no return,” the moment when the Protagonist knows they can never go back to the way things used to be. There must be a precise moment when the protagonist’s worldview is knocked out of alignment: Although Santiago wants to stay in the oasis with his love Fatima, he realises that he must follow his personal legend. He realises that he must always move forward. He must fulfil his quest.

Learn more about obligatory scenes and conventions.

3. What is the point of view?

Third-person omniscient with focus on Santiago

Learn more about point of view.

4. What are the objects of desire?

External/Conscious: To find treasure, to explore the world

Internal/Subconscious: to find meaning in life, and understand his role in the world

Learn more about objects of desire.

5. What is the controlling idea / theme?

True happiness can only be found when we understand the truth about life and our connection to the Soul of the World

Learn more about controlling ideas.

6. What is the beginning hook, middle build and ending payoff?

Beginning Hook – Santiago, a humble Shepherd boy has a recurring dream about a treasure. A gypsy fortune teller tells him it’s a sign he should go find the treasure, but he refuses the call until an old man tells him that he must seek his personal legend. He’s also enamoured with a local girl. Should he go and risk giving up everything he knows for the unknown? He decides to set forth.

Middle Build – Santiago is robbed shortly into his journey and eventually manages to get a job at a tea-seller. He does well but is now moving away from his personal legend. Finally a year later, he sets off and goes into the desert as part of a Caravan group. At an oasis, he foresees an attack on the tribe and warns the chieftains who tell him that if he’s wrong, they will kill him. He is right, is rewarded and meets the Alchemist who promises to take him to the Pyramid. By now he is in love with Fatima and wants to stay. The Alchemist makes him realise that his personal legend will be lost if he stays. He decides to go to the pyramid.

Ending Payoff – They are robbed on the route, and the Alchemist offers Santiago as a bargaining chip telling the tribe that Santiago can turn into the wind. The tribe will spare their lives if he can prove it. He’s sure he can’t until he realises the only limitation is himself and he calls on the wind. He can now make his way to the pyramids. At the pyramids, he is robbed but realises that the treasure was at home all along. At home, he realises that he needed to make the journey and now has a deeper knowledge of the world. He’s back where he started but he is a changed man. He sets off to find his love, Fatima.

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About the Author

Parul Bavishi started her publishing career in the editorial teams at Quercus and Random House and was later a Literary Scout for Eccles Fisher. She now edits Thriller  (Young Adult & Adult) and Non-Fiction books through Publishing Uncovered and co-hosts the London Writers' Salon, a creative writing hub in London where she runs events such as the Pitch an Agent Masterclass. At the Salon, she has interviewed award-winning writers, including poet Amal El-Mohtar, and the journalist and writer Luke Jennings, creator of the Killing Eve series. She believes in the long-game approach to creating work that matters and taking time to hone your craft. She has helped many writers create their best work and would love to help you.
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