Category Archives: Other

In Defense of the Archetype

In the last post I argued against archetypal stories and in support of “exciting” ones. I stated that a person who enjoys one of these stories that follows a conventional plot line and includes many common storytelling elements may easily enjoy another of similar construct based on familiarity, and because of this they may be timid to investigate stories that go beyond these boundaries. However, this is not always the case.

For example, some stories that could be classified under our established meaning of “exciting” focus on the plot more than archetypal stories and try to change things up–sometimes quite drastically. The example that I immediately think of is Christopher Nolan’s Memento. The film is about a man with short-term memory loss who doesn’t remember anything after his wife was murdered, and he embarks on a revenge-fueled quest to find her killer and pay him some retribution. Known for its elaborate storytelling, the plot of the film is actually displayed in reverse, as if we are going in reverse through the protagonist’s short little clips of memory. To add to that, the exposition of the film is also shown through short clips that act as flashbacks throughout the entire film. While this film is an incredible feat of storytelling with a gritty noir-like style, it lacks where most stories of the same ilk do in character development. The main character doesn’t go through that much change (or he does, but he then forgets about it), as do the supporting characters who keep reappearing throughout. In stories like these, the plot is the main character and everyone else is just a device used to help keep it in motion. Stories of any kind provide a form of escapism to the reader/viewer, a chance to experience the life of somebody unique yet relatable (chances are a person has experienced a basic plot structure sometime in their life where they face a major problem and change afterwards–for better or worse). And if the characters in the story aren’t well-developed or fail to go through any sort of change one fails to connect with them.

Other pros of the archetypal story structure is the ability to allow more focus on the style of the piece. The “exciting” stories tend to be plot-driven, resulting in the necessity of many (if not all) things brought up or even vaguely referenced in the story to have some sort of subtle meaning or importance to the plot. Other stories that stick to the basic format can deviate from this necessary importance and add elements that help better support the setting of the piece or add to the genre, allowing one to produce a strong mental image while reading or view a vibrant and rich set of a movie. When focusing on the plot, these can’t be so much enjoyed as they must more or less be scrutinized or tossed to the side. An example I can think of is J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Besides the many details she throws in there that are important for the understanding of the plot as the series develops, Rowling is able to eloquently elaborate on the magical world that she created by sticking to a conventional story structure. She describes the characters and the setting in so much detail that one almost feels immersed into her wizarding world.

Finally, the archetypal stories tend to have messages and morals that are more straightforward compared to the “exciting” stories. Usually, one need not dig as deep into standard fare as one would into unconventional fare to understand what the author is trying to convey. A person may enjoy this, as they can clearly understand the author’s moral lessons and don’t have to sift through piles of analysis just to understand a specific action of a character. These stories are effective in leaving the reader/viewer with a strong understanding rather than a confused assumption.

The archetypal story structure isn’t a bad thing at all. It allows aspects that can’t be easily attended to in the “exciting” stories to rise to prominence, while allowing creativity to flourish. And if one wants to read or view a story like this, then who am I to criticize?


Sir, You Forgot Your Side of Familiarity!

In the last post I covered why many people say they enjoy “exciting” stories when in reality they just divulge themselves in rather trite, stockish fare. However, I forgot to touch on why these people like the archetypal stories in the first place.

It’s simple, really: because they’re simple. That may sound a bit weird, so allow me to elaborate. Simple stories with basic plot lines and common literary elements are easily recognizable by the public, and thus more readily embraced. Familiarity is preferred over the unexplored vastness, especially when it comes to something that demands a considerable amount of one’s time and attention. People would rather sit through a movie or read an entire book if they had a pretty good feeling that the protagonist would triumph, and that the sequence of events occurred in a timely manner and remained unchanged (Exposition, lots of rising action, climax, a bit of falling action, and a denouement to top it all off–ooh, and throw in a romance! Everybody loves a romance.). And if they like one story that follows these standard guidelines, odds are they’ll like others that are similar. These people will have a more difficult time enjoying stories that are unconventional and break the rules because they’re afraid to journey into the unknown and try something new, to risk a bit of effort to discover what breaks the standards.

Please don’t misinterpret me–I am not saying this archetypal story structure is the Great Plague of Literature or anything like that. In fact, I enjoy this structure in both book and film form from time to time as a bit of relaxation from the heavier pieces. However those heavier pieces allow me to be more intellectually involved, to dig deeper into them and analyze their messages more thoroughly, and to experience tales that don’t fit into the standard mold. But, sadly, relaxation turns into escapism for most and once getting lost in that they rarely ever venture back out. I guess they could use a better map.


Would You Like Your Story Exciting or Clichéd?

I was posed with a question the other day: a friend of mine asked why people love “exciting” stories, yet the most popular ones are what he called “archetypal”–stories that follow a basic structure in terms of plot, character development, and so on. We’ll assume that in this situation “exciting” means to differentiate from this storytelling norm.

The reason people may say they enjoy these exciting stories when they’d rather indulge in simpler fare can be related back to what Robert Hanson was saying: many people are more boring than they actually think. People may say that they enjoy books or films with unconventional plot devices and non-traditional storylines so that they may appear to others as being unique and different. Perhaps they perceive that this individuality indicates being finely cultured (a.k.a. a way of promoting one’s own ego), and that they won’t look like some uncultured hermit that’s been living under a rock for the past few years.

It’s all about making others believe you know what you’re talking about and making yourself appear more interesting than others. Seriously, if the public was more enthralled by stories that broke away from conventional story blueprints and overused literary devices we wouldn’t see teen (paranormal) love stories dominating the New York Times Bestsellers List or action-thriller movies topping the box office.