Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Approach to the Inmost Cave

DIVERGENT

This is Part 6 of my series on the hero’s journey, or monomyth.

1. This stage of the journey is when the story begins to coalesce around a major confrontation with the antagonist.

The part of the journey that falls under “Tests, Allies and Enemies” can take up quite a bit of the story after the hero crosses over into the world of the adventure. But now everything has to begin to come together and focus on the main battle against the forces of antagonism.

It’s at this point where the main task in The Wizard of Oz changes from “off to see the Wizard” to “acquire the Wicked Witch’s broom and bring it back to the Wizard.” The Scarecrow says, “But we’d have to kill her to get it!” It’s when the Ghostbusters realize there’s more going on than just random ghost sightings, and that an ancient Babylonian god is returning to destroy humanity.

In other words, this is when sh*t starts to get real for your hero.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Approach to the Inmost Cave”

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Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Crossing the First Threshold

This is Part 4 of my series on monomyth, or the hero’s journey.

1. Crossing the first threshold is the transition from Act 1 to Act 2 of your story.

Up to this point, your hero is still connected to her ordinary world. In many models of mythic structure, the first part of the story is referred to as “separation,” the second “initiation” and the third “return.” Crossing the threshold is the final separation from everything that is familiar to the hero and begins her initiation into a new world–the world of the adventure.

Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: Crossing the First Threshold”

Thoughts on Mythic Structure: The Meeting with the Mentor

aryasyrio

This is Part 3 in my series on mythic structure, or the hero’s journey.

1. Even though this stage of the journey is positioned after The Call to Adventure and The Refusal of the Call, the Meeting with the Mentor can happen at any point in the story.

It is common for the hero to meet their mentor figure at some point during the first act (first third or so of the story) but there is no restriction on when the hero can meet her mentor for the first time. Dorothy doesn’t meet Glinda until after she crosses the first threshold (enters Oz). Arya Stark in Game of Thrones, on the other hand, meets swordmaster Syrio Forel before she crosses her first threshold (escapes King’s Landing in the guise of a boy). Continue reading “Thoughts on Mythic Structure: The Meeting with the Mentor”

Writers, Know Your Archetypes: The Hero

dorothy1939

1. Heroes often have an unusual origin story.

In spite of some people nowadays groaning at the origin stories in superhero comics and movies, they have a mythological basis. In folk lore and mythology, heroes may have an unusual conception. (Zeus was always turning himself into various animals so he could get it on with mortal women; several heroes in mythology were conceived this way.)

Or, they may be related to royalty, but for some reason are separated from their family. For instance, Perseus and his mother Danae are tossed into the sea by her father the king, because he was told by a seer that his grandson would one day kill him. Percy Jackson is a modern interpretation of Perseus, with a similar origin story (though his father is Poseidon, not Zeus). Continue reading “Writers, Know Your Archetypes: The Hero”

The Great Villain Blogathon: Waldo Lydecker, Laura, 1944

waldo1

This post is part of the Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Ruth of Silver Screenings, Karen of Shadows & Satin, and Kristina of Speakeasy  — see all the movie baddies at any of these three blogs.

YES, there will be SPOILERS.

“I don’t use a pen. I write with a goose quill dipped in venom.” – Waldo Lydecker

When it comes to film noir, the 1944 film Laura is a bit of an odd duck. Most detective noirs widen their scope to the lower echelons of society, including the underworld of organized crime. Rich characters may be revealed as slumming among the lower dregs of society, as drug addicts or other kinds of addicts (i.e. The Big Sleep). The crime may have international and/or political implications (i.e. The Maltese Falcon and Chinatown).

Laura never leaves the upper crust world of its handful of characters. It’s structured more like an English cozy mystery. Instead of a matronly busybody, a professional detective investigates the crime.

The film opens after Laura Hunt’s (Gene Tierney) murder has occurred and is narrated by Waldo Lydecker (Clifton Webb). He is a newspaper columnist and radio commentator who was her friend and mentor. Police detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) questions him. He also interviews her fiancé, Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) and aunt, Anne Treadwell (Judith Anderson). Continue reading “The Great Villain Blogathon: Waldo Lydecker, Laura, 1944”

Writers, Know Your Archetypes: The Shadow

ClariceLecter

I will be participating in The Great Villain Blogathon next week, so what better way to set the tone than a post about the shadow archetype?

1. I’ve already done a post with tips for creating a great antagonist, but shadow characters don’t necessarily have to be antagonists or villains.

As I will demonstrate with examples, it’s perfectly possible for shadow characters to have functions in a story other than that of the antagonist.

2. That said, shadow characters make fantastic antagonists.
Continue reading “Writers, Know Your Archetypes: The Shadow”

Writers, Know Your Archetypes: The Shapeshifter

ben-lost

In Part 6 of my series about archetypes, I will examine the Shapeshifter:

1. As the name implies, a shapeshifter is a character who is not what he or she appears to be, either to the hero, the reader, or both.

2. Shapeshifting may be a literal part of the character. Obvious examples would be vampires, werewolves, magicians and wizards. The Harry Potter universe has several shapeshifting characters, including Professor McGonagall, Remus Lupin, and Sirius Black. Dr. Jekyll from Robert Louis Stevenson’s story The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde changes himself into a psychopath by taking a potion he invented.

Continue reading “Writers, Know Your Archetypes: The Shapeshifter”

Writers, Know Your Archetypes: The Threshold Guardian

inigofezzikvizzini

In part 5 of my series on archetypes, I will examine the role of the Threshold Guardian:

1. Traditionally, the threshold guardian was a person or thing that stood in the hero’s way just as he or she enters the “new world” of the adventure. This was nearly always the first event that happened at the transition point between Act 1 and Act 2 of a story, and again between Act 2 and Act 3. An example from mythology would be Cerberus, the three-headed dog that protects the entrance to the underworld. When Orpheus travels to the underworld to retrieve his dead love, he must get past Cerberus. (A modern variation of Cerberus is Fluffy, the three-headed dog that guarded the Sorcerer’s Stone in the first Harry Potter book.)

Continue reading “Writers, Know Your Archetypes: The Threshold Guardian”

Writers, Know Your Archetypes: The Fool

guygalaxyquest

This is Part 4 of my series about archetypes. In this article, I will examine the Fool.

1. Don’t assume “fool” is interchangeable with “stupid.” While some fool characters may be stupid, that’s not the essence of the archetype. Elizabeth Bennet’s mother in Jane Austen’s novel Pride & Prejudice is a very silly woman, but she’s smart enough to know her daughters must marry to avoid ending up in poverty.

2. Don’t assume the fool’s sole function is comic relief. Again, these characters may provide comic relief, but that’s not the only reason they exist in a story.

3. The primary function of the fool is to represent optimism. The most iconic image of the fool archetype is from the Tarot deck, which shows a young man looking up at the sky as he’s about the step off a cliff. The fool moves forward regardless of danger, warnings, or common sense. They believe they will prevail, no matter what.

4. That doesn’t mean they never experience fear. Guy Fleegman in the movie Galaxy Quest is in a constant state of terror, but never thinks not to join in with the rest of the characters on their dangerous missions.

5. The fool represents an important aspect of the hero. Heroes tend to be cautious, even reluctant, and may be plagued with self-doubt. The fool represents the part of the hero that wants to press on in spite of any fear or doubts they may have about doing so.

6. Fools also represent innocence. As well as a foil for the hero, the fool can be a foil for the antagonist, because their innocence is a counterpoint to the antagonist’s corruption. Antagonists may fear fool characters more than heroes because they are afraid of the incorruptible.

“Holy Fools” are innocent characters who seem to be touched by or speaking for God. An example would be Tom Cullen in Stephen King’s novel The Stand. A man with a mild mental disability, when hypnotized he conveys to the other characters what God wants them to do.

7. Fool characters tend to be astonishingly lucky. A perfect example of this would be Forrest Gump. Forrest becomes a football star by accident (a coach sees how fast he can run while trying to evade bullies) and survives Vietnam unscathed, while others around him are killed or injured. He also becomes an Olympic ping pong player, millionaire and pop culture phenomenon without trying very hard to accomplish any of those things.

8. They may be lucky even when they are utterly incompetent. Inspector Clouseau from the Pink Panther series is just about the world’s worst detective, yet somehow always manages to catch the thiefAnother example would be Maxwell Smart from the TV series Get Smart, a Cold War spy who bumbles his way to success in his profession.  

9. Fools may leave a trail of destruction in their wake—without ever meaning to. Clouseau torments his superior, Chief Inspector Dreyfus, not only with his incompetence, but because he nearly always injures him while in his presence. In Connie Willis’ novel Bellwether, mail clerk Flip wreaks all kinds of havoc for the characters just by walking through the protagonist’s place of work.

10. Unlike the trickster archetype, fools rarely cause harm intentionally and don’t take pleasure in the idea of causing trouble. In fact, if anyone bothers to accuse them of causing harm, their reaction most likely will be surprise and dismay. They’ll either live in denial or try to make up for it—and inadvertently cause even more destruction.

11. The destruction can have a negative outcome—or a positive one. In the case of the Clouseau example, obviously, it’s a negative one for his superior officer. In fact, Dreyfus is eventually driven insane by Clouseau. In the case of Flip in the novel Bellwether, the destruction leads to personal happiness and professional success for the protagonist.

12. In spite of causing havoc, fools can be a last resort for problems the main characters can’t solve. An example would be Delly Cartwright from The Hunger Games series. In Mockingjay, Peeta has been so damaged by torture he thinks Katniss is out to kill him. Their childhood friend Delly, who has such an optimistic and honest demeanor it’s difficult not to take what she says at face value, is brought in to convince him otherwise.

13. Fools are also capable of acts of heroism. Tom Cullen in The Stand is sent on a dangerous mission to spy on the antagonist Randall Flagg. In Galaxy Quest, Guy offers to sacrifice his life to save the rest of the crew/cast, believing that’s the purpose of his character, an unnamed extra on the show.

14. Fools can be a sounding board for the protagonist and/or a way for characters to convey exposition. Because of their open manner other characters tend to trust and confide in them. Consequently, a fool character can be useful for conveying exposition in a natural way.

15. Don’t be afraid to twist the archetype a bit. Joss Whedon did this for two characters in his TV series Firefly: Jayne Cobb is hardly optimistic or innocent (on the surface, at least) but he fits the archetype in other respects. For instance, he is worshiped by the residents of a town called Canton as a savior when he actually meant to steal from them. On the other hand, the character Kaylee is optimistic, but also competent at her job.

Please check out my previous articles about archetypes:

The Trickster

The Mentor

The Herald

Do you have a favorite fool character? Let us know in the comments section!

Writers, Know Your Archetypes: The Herald

effie

In Part 3 of my series, “Writers, Know Your Archetypes,” I will examine the role of The Herald archetype in a story:

1. The primary function of herald characters is to give the protagonist “The Call to Adventure.” Or, to put it in more modern terms, their function is to kick off the plot. The herald says or does something that notifies the protagonist that he or she must deal with something of critical importance. In mythology, the god Hermes, literally the messenger of the gods of Olympus, would inform the protagonist of tasks the gods wanted him to accomplish.

2. The herald is usually the agent of change for the hero. He or she tells about/causes/cautions the hero about the event that will be critical to bringing about the hero’s character arc.

There are exceptions, however. M in the James Bond series, for instance, is an example of a herald whose calls do not lead to change in the character.

3. It is typical for heroes to initially refuse the call. People don’t want to change. Even in cases where the hero CLAIMS he or she is desperate for a profound change, when confronted with an actual call to adventure they tend to retreat back to the comfort of their known world. For example, Luke Skywalker complains about his life on Tatooine and yearns to leave to find adventure. When told he must leave his home to save Princess Leia, he immediately comes up with excuses for why he can’t do it. He only agrees when he finds his home has been destroyed and his aunt and uncle have been killed by Imperial stormtroopers.

4. Heralds may issue warnings along with the call to adventure. Which the hero may or may not heed, at least initially. Think the witches in MacBeth or Hamlet’s father’s ghost.

One of my favorite examples is in the movie Death Becomes Her. A mysterious woman named Lisle von Rhuman offers the two protagonists, Madeline and Helen, a miracle elixir to make them young again. She warns them both to take extra care of their bodies after drinking it. Both disregard the warning. Every time they are injured their bodies deteriorate exponentially.

5. The herald character doesn’t have to disappear from the story after issuing the call. Hermes would usually disappear (to appear again only to issue more instructions from the gods) but herald characters in modern stories often stick around. Hagrid in the Harry Potter series, C-3P0 and R2D2 in Star Wars, and Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games series are examples of herald characters who stay in the story beyond the initial call to adventure.

6. Heralds don’t have to be characters. Aside from Hagrid, another herald for Harry Potter is simply the letter informing him that he has been accepted at Hogwarts. An invitation, a photograph, a disaster warning, a bequest in a will, an item from the past, a story in a newspaper, magazine or on the internet—these and many other things can serve as heralds for the hero.

7. Heralds can have malicious intent. Depending on the genre, it is perfectly acceptable to start the hero’s journey with a herald who lies or at least misleads the protagonist.

This is quite common in detective fiction. In the movie Chinatown, a woman pretends to protagonist Jake that her husband is cheating on her. In the movie Vertigo, the protagonist Scottie is asked by a friend to follow his wife because he is afraid she will commit suicide. In both cases these are lies that still eventually lead to a character arc for both protagonists.

8. It is not unusual to combine the mentor and herald archetypes into one character. Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings series and Glinda the Good Witch in The Wizard of Oz would be two examples.

9. Protagonists can sometimes also function as a herald character.  In Justin Cronin’s post-apocalyptic vampire novel The Passage, the protagonist FBI agent Brad Wolgast serves as the heraldic character for 12 death row inmates by talking them into agreeing to a “treatment” which is actually the virus that eventually turns them into the vampiric creatures. Brad, of course, gets his own call when he is offered the assignment in the first place.

Do you have a favorite herald character? Let us know in the comments section!

Writers, Know Your Archetypes: The Mentor

Yoda-and-Luke

In Part 2 of my series, “Writers, Know Your Archetypes,” I want to study the role of the mentor. Here are some things to keep in mind about mentor characters in your stories:

1. The main function of a mentor is, of course, to teach and guide the protagonist. The word originates from Homer’s The Odyssey. Mentor was the name of a character who guided Odysseus’ son Telemachus during a search for his long-missing father. He was actually the goddess Athena who took on the form of Odysseus’ old friend. As Athena is the goddess of wisdom, mentors, not surprisingly, are often personified as wise old men and women.

2. Mentors also provide protagonists with gifts. In myths and legends, the usual kinds of gifts could be swords and shields, or magical items. In The Wizard of Oz, Glinda the Good Witch gives Dorothy the ruby slippers to protect her from the Wicked Witch of The West. Q in the James Bond series invents the amazing vehicles and other gadgets Bond uses to fight his antagonists.

3. Mentors nearly always disappear from the protagonist’s life at some point in the story. Dumbledore, Obi-Wan and Yoda are examples of mentors who die. Not all mentors need to die, however. Think of it like a mother bird pushing her baby out of the nest. They may simply remove themselves from the protagonist’s life so they can continue their journey on their own and no longer have to depend on the mentor. (In fact, Obi-Wan’s death seems almost self-inflicted and his way of leaving Luke to figure out the rest of it on his own.) Or, you can invent any number of plot points to remove them from the stage. Anything that separates the protagonist from the mentor will do, as long as it seems organic to the story you are telling.

Sometimes, mentors can be missing from the canvas before the story even begins. Katniss’ father, who is the one who taught her the survival skills that help her in The Hunger Games, is already dead when the story begins, but his influence is felt throughout the series.

4. Like every other character, mentors are flawed. Just because they have superior knowledge the protagonist needs doesn’t mean they know everything or are always right or have pristine motivations. Haymitch in The Hunger Games is a drunk who has already given up on the possibility that Katniss or Peeta can survive the games. Dumbledore in very manipulative and never tells Harry he must die to defeat Voldemort. It is not unusual for mentors to at some point fail and/or disappoint the protagonist.

5. Mentors can function as a romantic interest. One of the best examples I can think of is Kyle Reese in Terminator. He travels from the future to help protect Sarah Connor from the Terminator. He teaches her how to fight cyborgs so she can pass the knowledge on to her son, the future savior of humanity—who turns out to be their son.

6. Mentors can function as protagonists. William Wallace in Braveheart in an example, as is Mark Thackeray in To Sir, With Love. Any story involving a teacher or an already evolved hero/leader will feature a mentor protagonist.

7. Whether functioning as the protagonist or a supporting character, mentors can also have character arcs. To Sir, With Love is an example of a mentor-protagonist who experiences a character arc. Mark is only teaching temporarily until he can get a job as an engineer. He not only guides his rather unruly students into adulthood, the experience helps him decide the course of his own future.

It’s not critical that a mentor have a character arc—Wallace does not have one—but it can add to a story if he or she has one.

8. A protagonist can function as his or her own mentor. An example would be the movie Groundhog Day. Trapped in some kind of spell that forces him to experience the same day over and over again, there is no one to explain to protagonist Phil Connors how to break it. Phil is forced to figure it out for himself.

9. Mentors can function as antagonists. A great example is the James M. Cain novel and movie, Double Indemnity. The protagonist, insurance salesman Walter Neff, is lured into a murder and insurance scam plot by a beautiful woman. His colleague and mentor, Keyes, not only gave him the tools he needed to plan the crimes, he’s the one Neff fears the most will figure out the plot.

10. Mentors do not always have to be benevolent characters that put protagonists on the path of righteousness. They can also lure them into committing criminal/evil deeds. Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidious of the Star Wars movies would be an example, as he lured Anakin Skywalker (later Darth Vader) to the dark side of The Force. Another example would be Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street.

11. Protagonists can have more than one mentor, who sometimes can be at cross-purposes. In the aforementioned movie Wall Street, the protagonist Bud Fox actually has two mentors—his father, Carl, and Gekko. He must choose which path to follow—the honest or corrupt one. (Writer/director Oliver Stone also used opposing mentors in the movie Platoon.)

12. Characters can switch from teacher to pupil and vice versa during a story. Two examples: in The Shawshank Redemption, Red is protagonist Andy’s mentor for how to survive prison life. By the end of the story, their positions change, and Andy becomes Red’s mentor for how to survive outside of prison.

In the TV series Breaking Bad, here’s an interesting dynamic: protagonist Walter White was Jesse Pinkman’s high school chemistry teacher. When Walter finds out he has cancer and decides to cook crystal meth so he can leave his family money when he’s gone, Jesse mentors Walter about cooking and distributing meth. As the series progresses, the positions flip again and Walter is Jesse’s mentor when it comes to running a drug empire.

13. You don’t have to limit mentor characters to the wise old man/woman trope. Mentors can be literally anybody who has a superior knowledge of anything that helps the protagonist. A mentor can even be a child, if the child has knowledge that is critical to the protagonist. Look beyond the same old/same old for your mentor characters–there are a wealth of possibilities that can help make yours unique.

Writers, Know Your Archetypes: The Trickster

bluto3archetype

noun

  1. a perfect or typical specimen
  1. an original model or pattern; prototype
  1. (psychoanalysis) one of the inherited mental images postulated by Jung as the content of the collective unconscious
  1. a constantly recurring symbol or motif in literature, painting, etc

—from the English Collins Dictionary

Writers are sometimes wary of archetypes, worried they will lead to characters that come off as unoriginal. But archetypes are a wonderful tool in the writer’s arsenal, and, as I hope to demonstrate, their use is only limited by the author’s own creativity and imagination.

Let’s start with one of my all-time favorite archetypes, the trickster. Here are some things to keep in mind about the trickster archetype while composing your own stories:

1. The trickster creates havoc. Mythologist Joseph Campbell, during his famous The Power of Myth interviews with Bill Moyers, recounted the story of Edshu, a Nigerian trickster god. Edshu painted a hat blue on one side and red on the other, then put it on and walked through a village. A farmer on one side of the village claimed he saw the god in a blue hat, and another other swore he saw him in a red hat. Edshu then made things worse by turning the hat around and walking through the village the other way. The two farmers came to blows, still arguing about the color of the god’s hat. When the chief tried to mediate, the god showed up and admitted what he did, declaring he loves to create strife.

This is the most important function of the trickster in a story. They land in the middle of the mundane and shake things up. This is a great way to use character to get your plot moving. It’s also a great way to jump-start your protagonist’s character arc, because people don’t change until they HAVE to change. While it’s typical to assume that tricksters will function as antagonists—and they certainly can—whether friend or foe, they are usually the agent for a profound change in your protagonist.

2. Which means the trickster is often (though not always) the best thing that ever happened to your protagonist. Two examples from Jane Austen novels: George Wickham of Pride & Prejudice and Lucy Steele of Sense and Sensibility:

Both are schemers who bring a great deal of heartache to the protagonists of their stories.

But without Wickham and his schemes, it’s highly unlikely that Elizabeth would have changed her opinion of Darcy. Without Lucy Steele and her schemes, it’s highly unlikely Elinor would ever have been in a position to marry her one true love, Edward Ferrars. In a sense, they are like the fairy godmothers of the respective love stories, allowing the characters’ happy endings to happen

3. The trickster does not play by the rules. This is another vital aspect of the trickster. The rules simply are not made for them—at least, in their opinion.

One of my favorite lines in the first TV season of Game of Thrones is by Petyr Baelish, a low-level aristocrat who is bitter that he wasn’t allowed to marry the woman he loved and who has clawed his way into becoming an important political player:

“I’m not going to fight them, I’m going to f*ck them.”

That is a great summation of how the trickster operates. Not directly, not by doing the expected, but by subterfuge and doing the unexpected.

4. The trickster relishes the idea of breaking the rules. This is why tricksters are often beloved characters—because we LOVE the idea of someone who can not only break the rules, but enjoy doing it. In that way the trickster functions as a mirror for things we would LIKE to do, but are too timid to do ourselves.

Even though Baelish helped contrive the downfall of the show’s supposed hero, he’s still a fairly well-liked character because people just love watching this guy enjoying his own plots and schemes.

Another character of this ilk would be Shakespeare’s Richard III, who does many monstrous things, but has such a grand time doing them that the audience can’t help being at least somewhat on his side.

wileecoyotebugs5. Not every trickster is motivated by malice, but rather is forced by circumstances into trickster tactics. Bugs Bunny is the perfect example of this. He rarely seeks out trouble; it almost always comes to him. Usually, it’s a threat to his survival and/or environment that makes him become a trickster, i.e. because Elmer Fudd or Wile E. Coyote try to kill him, or because someone tries to build a skyscraper over his rabbit hole.

6. Tricksters often serve to tear off the masks of other characters. They bring down the arrogant, the stupid, and the self-deluded. Bugs Bunny does this time and again, besting opponents who think they are superior to him.

Another example is John Givings from the movie Revolutionary Road. A recently released mental patient, he has no filter, and at a lunch with the protagonists he proceeds to rip away the lies they have been telling themselves and each other. By doing this, he causes a marriage that had cracks in it to crumble completely.

7. The trickster does not have to be a character. It can be anything that causes profound upheaval to the protagonist. It can be an alien invasion, a hungry shark, a plane with a defect. Or something even simpler, like losing a job or the sudden end of a relationship.

It can also be a disease. An example is the movie Awakenings, which featured a doctor studying a disease that caused people to live their lives in an almost catatonic state. When he figures out a drug regime that brings them back, he has to deal with the consequences of his actions. The patients don’t realize so much time has passed, and don’t understand why they can’t live life exactly as they want, outside the hospital. This in turn causes the doctor to change, as he becomes less of an introvert and engages more in life.

8. Tricksters can function as the protagonist. This is usual in comedies. The aforementioned Bugs Bunny is one example, as are Ferris Bueller, Ace Ventura (pretty much any character played by Jim Carrey), and most of the characters played by the Marx Brothers.

9. A story can have multiple trickster protagonists. For instance, in the movie Animal House, the entire Delta house is composed of tricksters who make life miserable for Dean Wormer.

This may seem like a bit of a stretch, but I think the maids in The Help could also be seen as tricksters, because they shake up their society by finally rebelling against the limits put upon them. Some of the ways they do this are wonderfully inventive. This example shows that trickster protagonists do not have to be confined to the comedy genre—they can be involved in stories about serious issues, as well.

10. Tricksters can function as a romantic interest. In the old screwball comedies of the 30s and 40s, the female character was often a trickster who shook up the life of a staid male character. Nowadays, the genders have flipped, and it’s more likely the male character in a romcom will function as a trickster to shake up a staid female character.

11. Tricksters can function as a mentor. One of my favorite examples of this is Gazu, the alien who was forced to serve Fred and Barnie on the old animated series The Flintstones. He was supposed to help them out and teach them to be better than their primitive selves. Instead, he would conveniently not be around whenever the things he did for them got them into trouble.

A really good mentor always has an element of the trickster in them, because one way protagonists learn is by extricating themselves from trouble. So mentors will resort to trickster tactics, like disappearing at a crucial moment, or leaving out something vital from the instructions.

12. Some characters are inadvertent tricksters. They cause trouble because they can’t help it, not because they do it deliberately.

Stephanie Plum, the bounty hunter from Janet Evanovich’s series, causes havoc just by driving through town, and you know at least one car is going to blow up before the end of the book. Manuel, the Spanish waiter in the classic British TV show Fawlty Towers, is another inadvertent trickster, who wreaks havoc almost entirely because of his limited ability to speak English.

I would also designate Larry David from Curb Your Enthusiasm as an inadvertent trickster. He simply doesn’t get why he upsets people so much, or why he causes so much strife when he’s around.

13. Tricksters can be friends/allies to the protagonists. Walter Sobchak in The Big Lebowski is an example of a trickster-ally. He helps The Dude with everything he does, and invariably turns every situation into a disaster.

Megan in Bridesmaids is a trickster-friend, who does outrageous things, but also helps the protagonist Annie face her problems.

“I’m life, Annie, I’m biting you on the ass!” Then she literally bites Annie on the ass, to get her point across.

That line of dialog pretty much sums up what the trickster needs to accomplish in a story: bite your protagonist on the ass, and make her take action that forces her to change and grow.

Do you have a favorite trickster character? Let us know in the comments!