Thursday, January 29, 2009

Book Review: The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes & Heroines

While reading a story, have you ever wondered why some characters clash, while others mesh?

If you're writing a story, are you stuck trying to figure out how your protagonist will interact with those around him?

This book, The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes & Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes, can help you sort out complex human interaction.

The trio of authors, Tami D. Cowden, Caro La Fever and Sue Viders; draw heavily on the work of psychiatrist Carl Jung. Based on his theories, the authors and developed 16 archetype personalities--8 male and 8 female--that have showed up repeatedly in stories throughout the ages.

How do they define heroes? A hero may be: a Chief, a Bad Boy, a Best Friend, a Lost Soul, a Charmer, a Professor, a Swashbuckler or a Warrior.

Meanwhile heroines are defined as: a Boss, a Seductress, a Spunky Kid, a Free Spirit, a Librarian, a Waif, a Crusader or a Nurturer.

Each archetype attribute is examined in detail: Their qualities, virtues, flaws, possible backgrounds, their usual style of interaction and the occupations most likely suited for them.

However not every character in fiction fits neatly into these pigeon holes. Some characters remain the same throughout a story (Core Archetype), while others change (Evolving Archetype), or are multi-faceted (Layered Archetype).

Finally these archetypes don't operate in isolation. They interact with other archetypes throughout a story--often generating sparks along the way. The authors compiled an extensive matrix on how these characters view each other; and how they clash, mesh and possibly change their outlook.

The authors provide plenty of examples of each character from film, television and literature. There are side bar notes and examples throughout the book for quick referencing. A dozen films or television programs provides the reader with identifying archetypes, their interactions and how they move the story forward.

I found this book to be very helpful and enjoyed reading the colorful examples of each archetype and their various interactions. This book can provide a solid framework for an author to build complex and compelling characters to populate the pages of their books or screenplays.

According to's Customer Review Section: There are 21 reviews of this book. Of which, there are 18 x 5-star ratings, 2 x 4 star ratings and 1x 3-star rating. The 3-star rater felt the book was too "Jungian." Since I never took a psychology class this was fine by me. And while the 4-star raters liked the book they felt the archetypes were either too obvious or merely "stock characters."

The only pet-peeve I had was the introduction to each chapter is "redundantly academic." That is, each intro is populated with phrases like "First we'll discuss...then we'll discuss...and finally we'll..." A reader can skip such textbook-style wordage and dive right in to the archetype descriptions.

Otherwise, the authors did a fantastic job developing a useful tool to assist other writers hone their craft. I'm glad to have this book in my "Writer's Library" and I give it a full 5-star rating.

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