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mythic journeys, from 45 master characters June 28, 2006

Posted by jeanne in Author's Note, Characters, construction news, Creative Writing, Plotting.

In researching my characters, I came across a book about classical, mythical archetypes. there is a discussion of the mythic journeys of both male and female hero characters, and I have summarized them below.

This material comes from chapters 24 and 25 of:

45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, 2001 Writers Digest Books

Female Journey

Act 1: Containment

1. The illusion of a perfect world

A world she’s spent years setting up. Creativity used to make do with situation and avoid truth that the world she’s in works against her growth. False sense of security, hope everyone will like her if she keeps it up. Repetition brings illusion of security. Living naively in denial or playing martyr. Can’t imagine risking everything to rescue herself, doesn’t know there are better worlds. What she cares about is holding her there, excuses to remain passive, refuses to see opportunities.

5 coping strategies

Naive: other women get hurt, but not me.

Cinderella: men will support me and save me

Exceptional: other women can’t do it but I’m the exception, one of the boys

Pleasing: as long as others are happy, she’s happy. Validation comes from others

Disappointed: angry and depressed but doesn’t act to change it.

2. Betrayal or realization

Everything important is taken away and she is forced to choose between going out to face her fears or staying where she is and being a passive victim. Realization that she wants more out of life. Provides hero with motivation to change her world. Asks herself what is life all about. Betrayer has a good reason for doing what he’s doing to her, self justified as good.

Coping strategy falls apart

Naive: woman is hurt or abused, someone close to her dies, a major crisis

Cinderella: left without male protection

Exceptional: passed over, betrayed by male peers proving she isn’t as good

Pleasing: trampled on, taken advantage of, put down as being ‘only’ a woman

Disappointed: pushed too far, unable to avoid attack or humiliation that’s coming.

3. Awakening, preparing for the journey

Passive reactions: blame others, blame herself, be victim – why me, avoid situation by busyness, commit suicide.

Active reactions: betrayal is a lesson, an invitation to freedom and change, a challenge to go after what she wants

This is when many other characters tell her she can’t accomplish her goal, she needs help, or she’s crazy. Force of betrayal pushes her to overcome negativity. Coping strategy is abandoned, moves into her archetype. Coping strategy kept her from seeing betrayal.

Preparation for journey. Gathers tools she thinks will help her, makes a list of people she thinks will help her if she needs it. Problem is that she’s looking for things outside herself to help her. she feels safe, but there’s nothing outside to help her. Mentors show up, but doesn’t have all the information she needs. Self doubt, wasted time, male hero saves the day and prevents her from growth. Man who would understand pretends to understand what she’s going thru but then stop supporting her when going gets rough. Rules are changed on her. fear of hurting others may stop her.

Act 2: Transformation

4. Descent, passing gates of judgment

Show of inner turmoil and conflict. time to face consequences of deciding to change, to face society assumptions about women. Faces one of her fears, tries to use weapons (manipulation, blackmail, sexuality, wounds) but they don’t work. One by one she faces a fear and loses a weapon, stripped of all external devices. Precursor of death.

7 issues (chakras, rainbow colors, demons). Ultimately hero must give up all control and surrender herself on the descent. With no coping mechanisms she must confront demons. Must learn to trust instincts. For first time comes face to face with villain and barely survives, want to go back to safe world but must realize it’s a bad place. 

Facing fear, surviving, finding safety and security.

Facing guilt, expressing sexuality and emotions, knowing her desires

Facing shame, defining power and will, gaining own identity

Facing grief, giving/receiving love, being in relationships, accepting herself

Facing lies and communicating and expressing herself

Facing illusion, honoring intuition and imagination

Facing attachment and finding self awareness

5. Eye of the storm

After facing fears and villain, comes to terms with what happened, feels she handled everything well. False sense of security. Still has to actively reach for her goal. This small taste of success later fuels her motive to succeed again. She relaxes a bit and takes a chance she shouldn’t, while villain watches. Supporting characters try to keep her in the mold. She may find someone in a similar situation and watch her go thru it, thinking she won’t have to.

6. Death, all is lost

Outer circumstances of plot. Villain comes back, everything is reversed, dark moment when all seems lost. A woman pushed down is expected to remain down so others can feel good about rescuing her, not supported when she tries to stand on her own. Villain feels threatened by her and means to destroy her. He sees that inner turmoil is doing his job for him. All he needs is to give her a push, throws an additional betrayal at her. She’s confused about turn of events and can’t understand where everything went wrong, can’t see gifts waiting on other side. great place to add supporting character to make situation even worse. Many novels end here, because no way to flaunt society


Act 3. Emergence

7. Support

Hero goes thru own awakening and comes out willing to accept help from others. can’t be betrayed again because has her own strength and self-realization. Needs to prove herself to herself and then share knowledge with group. Rather than trying to become a man in a man’s world, she defines her own world. Lets someone else help her, and in turn exposes them to benefits of inner journey, so it’s not a handout she’s given but an example she’s giving.

8. Rebirth, moment of truth

Grabs new powers and confronts villain, realizes she created her own fear. Courage, brains, heart. Consciousness, connectedness and responsibility for her own actions. Acting from place of calmness like samurai instead of reactive rage. Not reacting out of fear but acting out of power and truth. She embodies the opposite of her former coping strategy.

9.  Full circle, return to perfect world

Returns home to see how far she’s come, attained her goal, but can she face the perfect world without being pulled back into old role. Smaller climax, returns and sees it for what it is. Thru her experience others are changed. The person she was closest to before awakening will be one most influenced. She picks someone to make journey and continue the cycle.

Masculine Journey

Act 1: Challenge

1. Perfect world

World filled with opportunities, he follows society’s lead. Not willing to examine himself and face inner demons, walks past stage of descent and focuses on outward goal only. Seems to have everything, lots of friends, told he’s the best, wonderful career ahead of him, most attractive man. Hints at missing elements, wild man lurking within. Isn’t in touch with greater whole, connection and relatedness.

3 expectations. Unconsciously motivate hero and keep him from seeing and exploring other directions. Tunnel vision as he pursues ideal that’s been laid out in front of him. Greatest fear is that if he loses or lets go of external forms (house, wife, rules, job, status) he will fall into terrifying emptiness.

Performing: real man concerned with career accomplishments or performs hard labor. Accomplishments = success and manhood. Being a team player, further suppressing true desires.

Providing: real man makes lots of money and provides for family. How he gets money isn’t the issue. Okay for women not to work, but not men.

Protecting: real man protects weak, seeks revenge and doesn’t show emotions. This obsession deprives him from living free life.

2. Friends and enemies

Hero is pushed by friend/enemy to accept coming call. Pulls together a team to set out on journey. Can be switched with 3. hero shines when interacts with these characters, bring out archetypal personality by pushing buttons or making him comfortable and confiding.

3. Call

Hears call from villain or call of own ego, and sets out to attain goal. Not in touch with heart, doesn’t know what’s really important or what he really wants. Calls serve several purposes: foreshadowing, achieving small goal similar to larger main goal; waking up hero, faces first obstacle but loses the villain; plot twist, her doesn’t understand what’s going on and how things have changed, not sure who the good guys are. Support characters tell him he can’t do it, wrong, not good enough. Everything hero cares about is put in jeopardy when he decides to go for the goal.

Challenge: villain draws hero into open and exposes his strengths and weaknesses. Hero can’t resist

Surprise: waiting for a change to go after goal but never expected it to come. Villain surprised because he didn’t know about hero, upping stakes for villain

Hero’s desire or ego: creates his own call. Feeling pressure to fulfill duty, or be totally self-involved and want to help himself

Red herring: gets caught up in wrong idea, path, or goal. Supporting character leads him astray, or entire plot based on false belief another character supplies

Order: it’s his job to answer his call

Act 2: Obstacles

4. Small success

Adds fuel to desire to reach larger goal. How does success affect supporting characters? Has ignored warnings and succeeded in spite of them, feels he’s invincible, ego boost, pushing him further from his center and self-awareness. Failure would make him reexamine and teach him humility. Hero wants more success. Hasn’t faced any major fears.

5. Invitations

Unique stage. He is invited on feminine journey. Is shown his flaws and asked if this current goal is true goal, given opportunity to drop outward goal and go thru inner transformation. Most heroes walk away from this. Sets up transformation or rebellion at the end.

Preparing for journey. Now he’s chosen outer journey he’ll have trials and obstacles which he’ll meet with resistance and the hope of winning. Gathers tools, feels confident, faith in abilities. Mentor may show up but hero must find own way. Has a list of people he feels he can rely on. Or may be forced to work with other characters.

6. Trials

Faces more obstacles. May think he’s overcoming all of them with ease, but it won’t stop him from facing worst fear in next stage. Another taste of success.

Obstacles may be: internal struggles and moral issues, external struggles that leave him exhausted, mind games by the villain, support character who messes things up, red herrings, villain who changes all rules on him, new villain, thing he cares most about in jeopardy.

Awakening: defenses start to break down, world falls apart. Whatever his weaknesses he is forced to face them.

Rebellion: tries to beef up failing defenses, more rageful and unstable. Nobody can change his mind, takes risks he shouldn’t

Warnings and prophecies: foreshadows impending doom

Act 3: Transformation

7. Death, fork in the road

Faces death and destruction, can either face death and continue on path to awakening and victory, or can rage against death and take path toward rebellion and failure

Awakening and growth: facing mortality, fears and shortcomings with grace and honor, humility as he takes female path of descent. Experience dark night of soul, face villain in challenge that leaves him defeated but finds courage inside. Tools fail, strategy falls apart, at villains mercy. Humiliation. Has to stop resisting and controlling events. Has shown courage, needs to use brains and find heart. Seven issues to face inner demon

Rebellion and stagnation. Raging against death is raging against own transformation. Tries to become vengeful therefore proving himself superior to death. Not humbled by experience. Builds up own ego to prove he’s more than human, demand to fight villain along, one man show of crazed masculinity, won’t face what villain is showing him, won’t look inside self to find what he really wants. Supporting characters push him to seek revenge, keep him from making right choice.

8. Awaken or rebel. Decision declares his fate

Awakening: learns from experience, faces flaws and fears, realizes what true purpose is. active creator of what he truly wants. Sees beyond illusion of what everyone is telling him to do, has soul searching to do. no longer in revenge mode.

Rebellion: becomes more like a villain, doesn’t learn from experience, doesn’t face flaws or admit fears, doesn’t look back on all he’s done. Blinded by fear of death and failure. goal may change to include some way to prove superiority over life and death, will give up original goal to get this. Remains the same throughout the story even tho reaches goal in the end.

9. Victory or failure

If awaken, then victory because he knows who he is and why he’s striving, with whole group behind him. Not ruled by ego, will admit defeat to win.

If rebel, then failure. Won’t give up ego or sacrifice self for greater good. How he looks to others is more important. Path of no return. Blindness keeps him from truth about what’s important, from facing fears and overcoming fears. May realize he has failed and find redemption in defeat. Sees mistakes now but it’s too late. May be stuck in rage and denial until death, accusing others. 



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