Where Ladybugs Roar

Confessions and Passions of a Compulsive Writer

Monday, September 14, 2009

Archetypes and the Expendable Ensign

So, I've recently started Scott Smith's book "The Ruins." He's the same author who wrote "A Simple Plan" for those that think the name Smith is possibly too generic as a reference point. As I discussed the book's premise with "the husband," it brought up the point of the expendanble Ensign (ie. the nameless Ensign in Star Trek who you just know won't see the credits and won't make it alive off the alien planet.)

I went through "The Ruins" and predicted who would see the end of the book. Greek guy that doesn't speak English... not a chance. Then there is the guy that keeps getting drunk... and the girl who initially was vaguely immoral and whose character is just too whiny to live. These may not be traditional archetypes, but, in modern writing, you just know the author is setting them up to be wiped out. We've been taught that vice and immorality makes you expendable. (This was also well-established in slasher films by "Scream" where they mentioned the virgin always lives.) The fact that the chick is whiny just helps the audience disassociate themselves with the character and you feel less cheated when she bites the dust. At some point, you'll find yourself thinking, "Well... sure... she died, but she was whiny," and you'll feel a little guilty, but it can't be helped. While I'm in no way near the end of the book, I'm fairly confident that the intelligent male whose primary fault is that he is a leader and a know-it-all will live and hook up with the non-whiny chick who is stuck in a dead end relationship with the guy that keeps getting drunk. There must be a lead male and female... for the film that will follow after all. I think the fact that both of these characters start out in different relationships will be the shift that the author has chosen to stave off predictability.

While this may seem like a disparagement on the use of archetypes... and yes... I'm calling the "Expendable Ensign" an archetype, I'm entirely fascinated by the enduring quality of such writing devices. In fact, I feel like clapping and saying "I like what you've done here" when I recognize a well-plotted character. Besides, there is a reason why the Obi-wan archetype is reincarnated in a million different "Hero's Journey" plots. It works. If at any time you find yourself snapping your fingers and saying, "You know what they could really use here... a wise old man to come and help the hero get back on the path..." then they've failed.

As I can't possibly limit myself to just one genre of reading at one time... or writing either for that matter, I'm also reading a book of folk-tales that are over a thousand years old. Stories don't change... well not the heart of stories anyway. There are these themes that are as old as Adam and Eve... literally. Joseph Campbell researched this thoroughly... and made many Lucas-centric conclusions and I find it compelling to think that authors tell the same stories using different words. It makes me wonder if perhaps we live the same stories to a lesser degree.

Since I have the attention span of a gnat, I started thinking of reality tv and the classic quote from the first season of Survivor by Susan Hawk:

"If I ever pass you along in life again and you were laying there, dying of thirst, I would not give you a drink of water. I would let the vultures take you and do whatever they want with you with no ill regrets. I plead to the jury tonight to think a little bit about the island that we have been on. This island is pretty much full of only two things - snakes and rats. And in the end of Mother Nature, we have Richard the snake, who knowingly went after prey and Kelly who turned into the rat that ran around like the rats do on this island, trying to run from the snake. I feel we owe it to the island's spirits that we have learned to come to know to let it be in the end the way Mother Nature intended it to be - for the snake to eat the rat."

While it made me want to reach through the tv and strangle Susan for some reason, it was also a brilliant quote.

If reality does mimic fiction, where does that leave me? I explored this topic in the book "Stories and Magic." I did a serious amount of research into fairy tales in order to write the book. Hours of reading the Brothers Grimm can warp your mind in ways you wouldn't expect. The classic fairy tales are not the cheery Disney make-overs. The story of Cinderella alone can give you nightmares and induce you to run around screaming like Grover. I don't feel like the hero... or heroine. The more obsessive my writing becomes... the more I think of myself as more of a narrator on life. Can someone who spends twelve hours a day writing really be the hero after all?

Which brings me to my last thought of a rambling inner dialogue.... James Patterson just signed a seventeen book contract for the next three years. While I acknowlege I'm not James Patterson and I haven't been published, it was interesting to note that there are well-known authors that are prolific... and probably severely sleepless and obsessive also. I've seen some sites criticize his output, though, and I wonder if it's sour grapes or if people truly do believe that a storyteller only has seventeen stories within him in a three year period. I see it as a sign that he is driven beyond what is healthy, but the quality of the work remains to be seen in my opinion. It seems a poor repayment for his time to say that anything fast can't be good. It worries me that people might think the same of me... (which would be a flattering comparison regardless) despite the fact that I read and revise so thoroughly that life has ceased to exist outside of my writing.

Storytelling isn't for sissies. Regardless of whether my words hit the keyboard, they will be inside my head. Ten months ago, I gave myself up to this strange calling that, while it brings me joy, is also a torment. My OCD and creativity seem to leave me only the choices of writing or going mad.

Where does that leave me.... I suspect my archetype falls solidly into the role of storyteller and while it's not noble and since I have two kids we know I'm not a virgin, I still have given myself entirely over to the journey just as much as the hero. As for surviving, well, no one gets out alive anyway. I still intend to avoid the major vices and being overally whiny... and there is no way you're getting me down to the alien planet in a red shirt. We all know how that goes.

No comments:

Post a Comment