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For the Western reader, characters based on mythic models have the ring of psychological truth.

These characters are the internally determined “roles” or archetypes (Carl Jung). They are familiar because from childhood, we have encountered them again and again in ancient myths and fairytales. Most of us are aware of such character roles only on a subconscious level. As writers, we must study these roles and archetypes and be able to use them.

These stock characters, the hero, the mentor, the allies, the herald, the shadow (opponent/nemesis/villain) and attendant threshold guardians, plus the shapeshifter and trickster, satisfy our dramatic and psychological needs whether we are reading a story or telling one.

We want someone to identify with, to worry about, to root for. This is our hero.

We are glad the hero has a circle of friends, including a mentor–comrade, teacher, gift-giver–and other allies. We are empowered (feel safe) when this hero of ours has such strong confederates on h/her side.

A story isn’t a story unless there is a conflict. This conflict is personified and acted out by a circle of enemies. These are shadow characters and threshold guardians who stand in the hero’s way.

As writers, we must carefully construct a character or event that represents the herald, the force of change that presents a new challenge or call to adventure. Heralds always announce a significant change in the life of our hero.

The shapeshifter may be someone who changes from the hero’s POV. This person (character) isn’t who our hero first thought h/she was. Heroes may wear the mask of a shapeshifter as a disguise for the dramatic purposes of the story.

The shapeshifter archetype functions most often in male-female relationships. In a romance, where the first level of sell is the heroine winning a worthy hero, the male alpha-type hero may display several harsh characteristics and engage in suspicious behavior. Our female lead will suffer doubt, distrust, and angst. But in the end, this shapeshifter is stripped of his dark but attractive mask and absolved of all his misunderstood deeds. Thus he is blameless and deserving of love.

Another purpose of the elusive shapeshifter might embody the aspects of what Carl Jung termed the animus and anima. The animus (according to Jung) is the element of masculinity in a woman’s unconscious; the anima is the feminine element hidden deeply in men. Thus we have the pop-psy admonition to “Get in touch with your feminine side,”–this to a man. A woman is rarely if ever advised to get in touch with her male side. Our society wants even a strong woman to clearly manifest her feminine aspect and charm.

Using a trickster character can be an author’s way of forcing perspective on a reader. Psychologically, tricksters are off the wall characters who serve to balance the reader’s perception of the real and the absurd. Trickster heroes have agendas of their own. They like to cause trouble and most often play comic relief. Catalyst tricksters bring change. Trickster heroes like Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, the Roadrunner and Tweety Bird always win, against seemingly impossible odds. The weak, the underdogs, the puny against the powerful: That is a scenario that appeals to us all.#

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