Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines

The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines (Tami Cowden, Caro LaFever, Sue Viders, 2000) is a book of archetypes for writers and screenwriters. I like archetype-based approaches to plotting and characterization, e.g. The Hero’s Journey, because they don’t feel as paint-by-numbers as writing advice tends to be. And I definitely found food for thought in this one. It clarifies my thinking about one of the major characters in my WIP, for instance, to conceptualize him as a Swashbuckler evolving into a Chief by way of a Warrior.

That said, I didn’t particularly like the book’s approach to gender. The authors present parallel but separate archetypes for heroes and heroines. The male Chief’s counterpart is the female Boss, the Bad Boy is analogous to the Seductress, and so on. In several cases I felt like the male archetype was more positive and/or powerful. E.g. my associations with the word Chief are broadly positive. A Chief is a great leader who’s proven his worth, someone you’ll happily follow into battle or to the ballot box. A Boss? Well, that’s the person who signs your timesheets. Even if you have a good boss, you probably don’t think of him or her as inspiring. “Bossy” does not have positive connotations. And while a Professor and a Librarian are both good things to be, Professor implies higher rank.

Also, four of the eight male archetypes are at least partially fighters: the Chief, the Bad Boy, the Swashbuckler, and the Warrior. Women get exactly one fighting archetype: the Crusader (the equivalent of the Swashbuckler). I’ve already mentioned the Boss and the Seductress; the female counterpart to the Warrior is the Nurturer. Admittedly, as a woman currently writing a military historical, I probably care more about this one than the average reader…but you can’t cram every fighting woman into that Crusader archetype the way the authors seem to want to. F’rex, I wouldn’t call Buffy Summers a Crusader. At least by the end of the series, she’s a Chief. NOT a Boss. A Chief. And, staying in the Jossverse, how could you call Zoe on Firefly anything but a Warrior?

So. Useful book, though I wish the authors hadn’t split the genders. I think they could’ve just gone with eight archetypes and talked about the different ways they tend to appear in heroes vs. heroines.

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