I was watching the DVD for one of my favourite Canadian Shows last night and decided to listen to the commentary while watching a particular episode. In the commentary, the creator of the series mentioned one reason the show has been so successful is because the characters are archtypes and viewers can easily identify with them.
This got me thinking. We often get little threads going about stereotypes and clichés. But at what point is something an archetype but not yet a stereotype? Do you use archetypes when creating characters? Is archetype basically a fancy/less offensive way of saying stereotype?
In the sense you are looking it it they mean the same thing. :a perfect example of a type.
When I create main characters, I start with the qualities I need for the story then create a person with a history to tell me why they are the person with the qualities I need.
When I create supporting characters I use 1)characters from other stories who can add to the story or 2) use archetypes then chip a bit off of it to make it imperfect.
My villians are usually more archetypical than my good guys. I don't really want to let people understand the bad guy well enough to sympathize with them so I use a silhouette of an archetypical bad guy motivated by greed for money or power or revenge. (Not that my good guys are never out for revenge)
But I try to keep my good guys rough enough that if someone didn't see their motivations, perhaps they wouldn't all be good guys.
I've never considered it before today, but it's fun to brainstorm anyway.
Based on the definitions, an archetype touches on subconcious thoughts and feelings, while sterotypes are shallow and oversimplified. The reader might not know or care that the character is an archetype, but they'll spot a sterotype from a mile away.
The classic fantasy example, The Grim Reaper. Tolkien mined this into the Nazgul. However, Robert Jordan based his Fades and Halfmen on the Nazgul rather than the Grim Reaper. Therefore Tolkien tapped an archetype, Jordan ripped it off and made it a cliche.
[This message has been edited by ChrisOwens (edited November 16, 2005).]
We have a principle that stereotypes are Bad. It's the wrong principle . . . at least for minor characters.
Minor characters should be fairly normal, so they won't detract from the main action. If they become deep, we'll want to see more of them rather than the major characters (or, really, they'll *become* the major characters).
Stereotypes are great shorthand. OSC says in his writing class, consider this remark.
"Fred is taking Betty to the dance. You *knoooow* (wink wink) why *he's* taking *her*."
Why's he taking her?
It's ok to use stereotypes. But if a story were nothing but stereotypes, it might get boring.
[This message has been edited by wbriggs (edited November 16, 2005).]
Yay! I can finally quote from OSC' Character and Viewpoint. Well, not literally quote, but he said we absolutely use stereotypes in characterization. If we have a character departing from their stereotype, then we have to mention that departure in particular.
As to the difference between archetype and stereotype... I don't know. Maybe a woman is a steretypical mother if she does what she does in order to be like the others. The archetypical mother does what she does to show the other mothers how to be?
I think Buffy has it right. Also archetypes are often thought of as being fluid or as 'masks' that a character puts on and changes though out the story. The hero at the beginning of the story may at one point become the fool and by the end become the mentor. Sterotypes tend to not change. They are predictable.
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Archetypes tend to be broad categories, stereotypes are specific ones. Archetypes are like the original and stereotype is like the photocopy; each successive generation exaggerating or obliterating one aspect or another until a hundred generations later you have something that is very different from the original but still carries its basic form.
An archetype can spawn a swarm of stereotypes.
IMO: Archetypes are like a base set of characters common to all cultures; trickster, mentor, hag, maiden or whatever. Over time and retelling, stereotypes emerge with characteristics exaggerated or obliterated in culturally relevent ways. Despite all these permutations however, the archetype at the stereotype's heart still performs its original function.
Its like saying wagon is the Archetype — a vehicle used to carry passengers and cargo — but the 1968 Plymouth Sport Suburban Station Wagon is the culturally specific stereotype. It is iconic, very different from the original, culturally specific but still performs the function of the archetype.
A brave warrior femmebot who hangs out at the mall in the daylight and fights evil vampires at night may be a culturally specific manifestation of a universal archetype, The virgin. Regardless of whether the characteristics present in the original have been exaggerated or obliterated over time and through cultural filters, the archetype still performs its elemental function of introducing the idea of sacrifice leading to virtuous loneliness.
Another thought: If it were possible to create or identify 'new' archetypes, would it be possible to create or identify 'new' plot types?
Edit to include: I would love to see a thoruogh list and description of archetypes. Can anyone offer any help there?
[This message has been edited by hoptoad (edited November 16, 2005).]
After reading 4 volumes of the unabridged version I think Joseph Campbell could have said it in fewer words.
This is going to be hard to to explain, but archetypes are what we each either strive to become or flee from becoming at a root level in our souls. But a stereotye is something that appears when writers are 'cheating' and trying to write something which sells. If you write from the soul it is more likely to touch the archtypal but if you write by a formula it is sterotypal.