They say all good things must come to an end, and here we are at #8 of the Character Archetypes. This series is (was, small tear here) a breakdown of the main Character Archetypes of basic story structure.
Our character today is a fun one, but I find them difficult to write. He’s known as The Shadow. (Dun, dun, DUNNNN!)
This is almost always your antagonist, but there’s a lot more that goes into him than simply making him thwart the hero at every turn. He’s called the shadow for a reason. He is a reflection of the weaknesses and darker parts of the hero himself. This makes the mission of your hero much more difficult.
One of the things to consider when crafting this character is that with a few different turns along the way, your hero could become the shadow himself. It’s likely that your hero might have to embrace a few of these traits before overcoming the shadow and completing his quest.
I cover things better with examples, so here we go. The oldest one I could think of at 6:00am while I’m writing this is Aesop’s The Grasshopper and The Ant. There are many similarities. They’re both insects, the story takes place in a virtual Garden of Eden, and they both enjoy nature’s bounty. However, the grasshopper likes to have a good time. He fiddles and dances all summer long after filling his belly wherever it’s convenient. The ant tucks away everything he can like a character from Game of Thrones, because Winter is Coming.
Another older, but wonderful example is Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The similarities are that they’re the same person. (If this was a spoiler, I don’t know what to tell you.) Everyone has multiple faces they show the world, and this book dives deep into that. Hyde is the grasshopper to Jekyll’s ant.
This angle really came to the forefront in Star Wars. They hit it with a ten-pound sledgehammer, to be honest. The Force has its Dark Side. Luke could easily be seduced by the Dark Side, becoming the next Darth Vader. And just in case anyone in the audience missed it, Vader was Luke’s father. (Seriously, if these are spoilers you need to get out more.)
Nazi propaganda worked on the flip-side of this Shadow concept. Maybe the villain can become the hero. If the war had gone differently, what perspective would we have today?
Star Wars tried to touch on this, too, but I don’t think they did it all that well. Vader is the one who saves Luke’s bacon at the end of the day. (Oh yeah, it might be a spoiler.)
You can still be creative here. This isn’t a recipe card. Rowling made Harry and Voldemort extremely similar. Then she pulled off some kind of triple-lutz move and it was Voldemort who planted those traits inside Harry in the first place. (Seriously, the last movie came out in 2011, and the books are even older than that.)
One of the fun things you can do is take a sheet of paper, then draw a line down the middle. On the left side write down some traits of your hero. On the right side jot down the shadow, or opposing trait. After you’ve done this you might have a pretty good idea of what your antagonist is going to be like. You might even turn the page and jot down a few notes about how these two could clash in some vignettes that may, or may not, actually happen in your story.
Your hero should have a few flaws, and it’s okay if the antagonist has some good points that also reflect these flaws. It makes them both more believable. Maybe your street savvy hero picks up the occasional street walker. Your villain has sent several working girls to college, even if he’s recruiting them to work within his organization.
Some of you might be saying, “Oh, but Craig, we remember Staci’s excellent series about basic plots. What do you do about Man vs. Monster, or those stories about survival in the wilderness?”
In these stories you explore the shadow from a psychological standpoint of your main character. You’ll find yourself dealing with mental twists and turns that might involve depression, rage, fear, and other concepts. Giving up, giving in, going back, are all possibilities to explore. Your hero is a good guy, but that velociraptor bite has put him off his game for a while.
I love characters, and this was a good series for me to present. It ties in with the earlier series I wrote called That Hero’s Journey Monomyth Thingie. It also ties in with Staci’s series about Basic Plots. Rather than turn everything into a huge obnoxious page of links, I’m going to encourage you to use our search tool at the bottom of the page. Type in “Monomyth” or “Basic Plots,” even “Character Archetypes.” They’re all available whenever you need them.
I hope you enjoyed the series, maybe thought about how you can use it to develop your characters a little. Now I’m going to ask all of you a question. What do you want to see next?