Character Archetypes: The Herald

Hi gang, Craig with you today. This is post number four in the character archetypes series. In the Hero’s Journey, there are some common characters that are likely to show up in all stories. This doesn’t mean each archetype shows up in every story, and aside from the hero, the rest are kind of optional. Almost every story will have an assortment of them.

This series is to introduce you to them. Once you’re aware of them, you can decide if they can benefit the story you’re writing.

The herald does not show up in every tale, but can be a handy story tool. This one is interesting in that sometime it isn’t even a character.

You’ve all read a story that starts off some thing like this: A girl is running through the desert at night, cacti are tearing away at her dress, the rocks are cutting her feet, a hound is barking somewhere behind her, etc. That’s called dropping your reader right into the action.

It’s a good way to open your story, but it tends to get over used at times. It’s also often used as a false hook. She’s going to die in three paragraphs, then we’re going to jump ahead and meet the main character. (We’ll get to a famous book and movie that did that very thing down toward the end of this post.)

Not all stories open like that, nor should they. The herald basically delivers the message that your main character’s world is about to change. In story craft it’s known as stepping into the special world.

What about a story that opens like this? You’re walking down the street, enjoying the summer weather, when your friends race around the corner in a car you’ve never seen before. They’re all wearing costumes. They skid sideways upon seeing you. “No time to explain. If you want to live, get in the car.” Screaming and explosions sound from somewhere off in the distance.

Your friends and this event are a herald.

To use a herald, it’s important to show a bit of the ordinary world. This has gone out of style lately, but I’m a big believer. That way, it has a bit more oomph when the herald delivers the message. The character was comfortable, he was happy, he has something worth fighting for, etc. Then WHAM!

I’ve mentioned before that characters can serve more than one archetype, and the best ones often do. R2D2 served as a herald, among other things. He delivered the message,  “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

You can use the herald of the Gods, if you want. Winged Mercury/Hermes can show up with his little flappy shoes and deliver the message, but there are a lot of creative ways beyond that. The herald doesn’t even have to be a character, an invitation to Hogwarts or Cinderella’s ball is also a herald. The Bat-signal is a herald.

Creativity is always a plus. Bruce Willis was happily drilling for oil in the South China Sea. He was with his daughter and people he considers family; the ordinary world. A helicopter whisked him off, eventually to NASA where he learned a killer asteroid is heading toward Earth, and he is our only shot at stopping it. It’s creative, because it’s spread out more than normal. Was the helicopter the herald, or the message at NASA? Maybe it was Billy Bob Thornton. It’s the whole scene, honestly.

R2D2 served a bigger role, so did Billy Bob Thornton, and herald characters are good ones to expand into other archetypes. Gandalf served as a herald in The Hobbit, but he also went on the adventure.

Maybe the best way of explaining the herald is that it’s a moment in time where everything changes. (But not always the same as the Call to Action.) Sheriff Brody’s deputy discovers the body of Chrissie Watkins on the beaches of Amity. Everything is about to change. We still got dropped into the action, because we saw Jaws killing Chrissie, but the discovery of her body was a herald for Brody. (Told you we’d get to it.)

Goonies is a good one to examine. When the developer shows up and talks to the Goonies, that is the herald in the story. He’s going to foreclose on all of their homes, tear them down, and build something new. A short while later, in the attic, they discover the notes of Chester Copperpot and that is the Call to Action.

Heralds can take many shapes, and are only limited by your creativity. Think about some of these: A distress call from a distant star system, “I’m dying, please take this MacGuffin,” a plane wreck like in The Castaway.

Heralds can also appear later in the story, but they generally don’t have the same impact. This might be the situation where all is lost at the end of Act Two, but someone shows up with current information that could save the day.

Tom Hanks spent an entire movie trying to fulfill his herald mission in Saving Private Ryan.

Let’s try something different, and remember the herald does not have to be a character every time. This is a quiz called Name the Herald:

1.) The Wizard of Oz.

2.) Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

3.) The Arthurian Legend.

4.) Ghostbusters.

5.) Raiders of the Lost Ark. (This is a longer one.)

6.) Young Frankenstein.

You guys have got this. Let me hear from you in the comments. Have you ever written a herald character or moment? Would you, if it suited your story? Are you stumped by any of this quiz?

Talk to me. We’re at the halfway point of this series now. Four down and four to go. The last one was The Ally, the next one is The Trickster.

44 thoughts on “Character Archetypes: The Herald

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  4. The Herald can most certainly play a huge part in a story. I immediately thought of Angels. Maybe it was the word, “herald.” 🙂 But, seriously, these are valuable characters or events! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I love the concept of the Herald, Craig. It’s not one I’ve ever thought about at all, but I’m thinking about it now. I’m saving this entire series for future reference, for sure. And while the tornado heralded bad things for Kansas, my first guess would have been Professor Marvel, who actually tried to read Dorothy’s future. But I see how the tornado works better. Super post! Sharing!!

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  6. Interesting and informative, as always. Had trouble remembering the beginning of some of those movies:) The scene I remember most from Indiana Jones is the one with the big guy and the whip, when Indy takes out his gun and shoots him. And I KNEW that wasn’t the herald. The quiz was fun.

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  7. A quiz! How fun!

    People have answered Oz, Willy, and Arthur, which I’m most comfortable with. I’ll take a stab at Indy and guess the agents showing up at school.

    For the life of me, I can’t remember the beginning of Ghostbusters or Young Frankenstein. (I feel old.)

    Loving this series, Craig.

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  8. My guess is Merlin is the herald from Arthurian legend, and maybe the old lady who hated Toto digging in her garden was the herald in the Wizard of Oz. Or maybe it was the carnival guy in Kansas who later became the wizard in Oz….I can’t remember names. In Willy Wonka, possibly the gold ticket in Charlie’s candy bar. I haven’t seen the others in ages, so I’m drawing blanks on them.

    I’ve used heralds in a number of my stories, but they usually end up tagging along as a secondary character. In my current WIP, the herald comes in the form of a note sent to my MC.

    Another cool post, Craig!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Great post, Craig! I’m guessing the herald in Wizard of Oz was the tornado. My brain is still a little foggy to figure out Lost Arc and it’s been too many years since I saw Willy Wonka. (Haven’t seen the other movies.)

    I didn’t realize the character was called a herald, but I used on in my last novel.

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  10. In my current WIP series, common, everyday newspaper articles on an etab herald sweeping changes to come. The rest of the setting is normal life within an overcrowded house, and a woman desperate to get out of there. The herladic newspaper reports also help to set the scene as well as develop the rest of the story.

    Great post, Craig. I’m enjoying your archetype series immensely.

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