The Mythic Guide to Characters (Jul. 2013)

Mythic GuideThe Mythic Guide to Characters: Writing Characters who Enchant and Inspire

Synopsis: As a professor, writer, and philosopher, Dr. Antonio del Drago has immersed himself in the literary and mythological traditions of the world.

Applying this knowledge to the writing of characters, he has developed a systematic, layered approach to character development that is based on psychology and archetypes.

In this guide, you will discover:

  • The secret to writing multidimensional characters
  • How to develop your character’s unconscious motivations
  • Four ways in which characters interact with their worlds
  • Five formative relationships that shape your character
  • Nine mythic character archetypes and how to use them
  • The difference between proactive and reactive protagonists
  • Ways to define a character through dialogue and physicality

The guide also includes a detailed worksheet that walks you through the stages of character development.

This is more than a book on how to write characters. This guide offers a practical, step-by-step approach to character creation that is sure to take your writing to the next level.

Review:

The Mythic Guide to Characters is an easy-to-read, easy-to-implement guide to creating solid, well-rounded characters.

At under 200 pages, the author sails through three main steps or layers needed for creating fictional characters: 1) The Character Within, 2) The Character in his/her World, and 3) The Character in Your Story. These three layers are then broken down into explanations and processes which are relate-able and easy to implement.

In the first layer, we look at who the character is on a fundamental, subconscious layer. This layer explores the back story of your character and all the elements and experiences which make them who they are. The author uses the apt image of an iceberg. If the part of your character visible in the story constitutes the seen portion of the iceberg, then layer 1 is the 90% of the iceberg that is submerged and unseen.

To help the writer fill out this iceberg, as it were, the author presents the Enneagram as a tool which can be used to classify a person into nine categories based on their unconscious drives and motivations. Each type of personality comes with a short paragraph describing their basic elements. While this may seem to be a simplistic approach, the author is quick to point out that these personality types shouldn’t be used as labels, but rather as a kind of guidepost or foundation to build upon.

In the second layer, we branch out to exploring how the characters relate to each other and the world around them. The author uses two approaches to illustrate this point: 1) The Four Bartle Types, and 2) The Five Great Relationships (Confucius). These two philosophies can be useful in sparking the writer’s imagination by presenting different relationship dynamics you need to think of when populating your character’s world.

In the third and final layer, the author looks at Jung’s Archetypes in terms of which roles the characters will play in a story. Archetypes are ubiquitous and most people can name at least three or four off the top of their heads. They are the roles that spring out at us in movies and books: The Hero, The Villain, The Mentor, The Ally. Much has been written about these archetypes and the functions they serve in a story. The author presents eight archetypes in the book.

What I liked was that the author was quick to point out that rather than archetypes being stock characters, they’re more like masks that the characters put on, and ‘any one character can play multiple roles.’ I think that’s an important thing for a writer to remember as it can infuse unpredictability and originality in their story.

In the third layer, the author also explores The Soul Triptych which is something I’d never heard of before, but when you read what it is, you find it to be incredibly intuitive. The idea is basically that you have three characters in the story (usually the Hero and two Allies) who represent the three elements of being, i.e. body, mind, and spirit. The interaction and conflicts between these three characters can really drive the emotional center of your story in addition to triggering visceral responses in the reader. An obvious example of this, and one which the author points out, are the characters of Harry, Ron, and Hermione in the Harry Potter series. It immediately leaps out at you which element each of the three embodies.

One extremely helpful thing about this book is that the author applies each section to well-known books as a way of illustrating each layer. The main books used for illustrative purposes are the Harry Potter series, The Hobbit, and The Godfather. This gives the reader a way of quickly identifying each point so that it’s not so abstract.

After discussing these three layers of character building, the author provides further consideration as to other aspects of a character’s persona: whether they are proactive or reactive, their physical characteristics, and speech patterns.

The end of the book contains a downloadable worksheet which pulls all these elements together that the writer can use to implement the ideas explored in the book.

All in all, I found this to be an accessible and helpful book which I plan to use again and again when building my own characters. Highly recommended.

Disclaimer: A complementary copy of this book was provided to me by the author in exchange for an honest review.