Thursday, April 18, 2013

Story Archetypes Help Your Art (Story Craft Part 2)

What type of story is being told here?
One of the more influential insights in my creative carrier came from a conversation I had with my good friend Drew Cox in a discussion about writing. He told me that people don't use archetypes to cheat necessarily, but instead free them from having to reinvent the wheel (or something along those lines).

It's common for artists from many disciplines, whether they be writers, painters, or musicians, to try and be so original that they end up hurting their work. Really what happens is one of two things: they either come up with something that's an exact carbon copy of something else (and they don't even realize), or they create something so bizarre and unrelatable that nobody can make any sense of it.

I used to think that I had to separate myself from other creative work in order to keep my ideas fresh and original. But that's a little bit like an engineer hiding in a cave with sticks and dried grass to make sure his next invention is completely self inspired. What I'm trying to say is that part of learning how to be really good at what you do is to learn who came before you and what they did that works. Expand on the knowledge of the masters and stand on the shoulders of giants. This is progress.

So, I would like to introduce you to 7 basic story archetypes. This will be a brief overview, but I strongly recommend you read into this stuff to get a better handle on your artistic storytelling.
  1. Overcoming the Monster: There is an imbalance in the force and our hero is the only one who can overcome the evil and restore balance. This can apply to many different types of monsters; real, internal, existential, etc. In art these days we see a lot of little guys posing to fight in the shadow of a ridiculously gigantic dragon.
  2. Rags to Riches: Our hero is down on his/her luck and through a series of events becomes wealthy, gets love, or defeats the big dogs at their own game.
  3. The Quest: Somewhere far away is a hidden is a treasure of some greatness or importance. Our hero is on a quest to find it. Along the way there's he/she meets friends, finds trouble, loss, and love. Usually having to overcome some great obstacle or series of challenges and changing for the better by the end.
  4. Voyage and Return: The hero is thrust into a journey they did not intend, and now must make their way back to their normal life. Usually they meet interesting characters and wind up defeating an enemy in order to secure their return often discovering a strength within themselves they never knew they had.
  5. Comedy: Often having to do with romance, a series of confusing circumstances has caused the the life of the hero to be disrupted. This must be corrected before friends and family can make up and lovers can reunite.
  6. Tragedy: Human drama and ego create a hearty stew of turmoil that causes flared tempers and often the death of one or more of our main characters.
  7. Rebirth: An ultimatum of death and destruction pushing the world and our hero to the very brink, only to emerge victoriously causing a change for the better. (Day the Earth Stood Still)
Why is it important to know these? Because they give you a platform to work from. When creating an illustration you can now discover a compelling part of the story you want to represent or convey. As a concept artist it puts you in the mood and reality that you are designing from. It informs your decisions and helps you make conscious choices about where the design is headed.

It's also important to remember that we cater our art to humans and the brain inherently constructs it's world into stories. This is just a way to help others understand your ideas easily and without additional explanation. And upon mastering this concept you will be able to introduce the viewer to newer, deeper, and strangers things in a context they can quickly understand.

Again this book is about writing, but my ideals remain the same. I don't think you can improve your art by only reading art books. It's vital to branch out and relate to other things. By doing this you increase the fold of ideas to draw from and support the synesthetic connections in your brain.

This book is a quick read and delivers some of the ideas I've been talking about. Basically it's a great manual on how to cut to the chase. Important for those who get lost in the details.

Check it out, Save the Cat.

And thanks for reading. 

Next week, Hero Archetypes!

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