This article draws heavily on the work of Jung and Vogler, but also my own research as a writer.
Archetypes are certain kinds of characters that reoccur in myths, folk tales and stories. They are essential not only in a structural sense (for example, every story needs a hero and villain), but in a sense of emphasizing the emotional and symbolic power of your writing.
In this article, I will identity eight of these archetypes and the roles they play in narratives. These eight have featured time and time again in the great stories of human history, and it is my belief that with the correct combination of the mythic eight you can create truly resonating characters and storylines.
[Disclaimer: For the purpose of writing this article, I make certain assumptions about the gender of Archetypes. This is based on precedent only and is in no way set in stone]
THE HERO Storytelling began as a way of passing wisdom to the next generation, reinforcing the bonds of community and culture. The Hero, at his most basic level, is there to draw a comparison with the audience/reader. 'Here is someone who is just like you...' By using a protagonist, the narrator can push the reader to think and feel what is necessary for the story. We look at the Hero's predicament and imagine how we would behave in their shoes. From this simple relationship, all of the tension, drama, power and entertainment of the adventure is conjured.
The Hero, as an everyman who the readership will empathize with, is therefore a strange entity. His part in the story is to learn as the reader learns... to discover the truth about the situation and himself, and to overcome the worser parts of his being. Stories are not just educators and reinforcers, but therapeutic devices. They are the working out of a problem, a search for a solution. This is why Jung used storytelling and archetypes in his psychotherapy. The Hero is a canvas on which we can project our own quest for truth, glory, love and self-completion.
The Hero thus begins with a flaw. There is something incomplete in him - something he has lost or something he longs for. And his story will be a means to correct or come to terms with that flaw. Some of the earliest protagonists in folklore were the Shamans or Witch Doctors of human tribes. They taught that in order to achieve power the Shaman had to travel to the Otherworld and speak with their spirit guides, of which some were good and some were evil. These spirts would often rip the Shaman apart before rebuilding him. The Shamanic creed is one of purification and facing the prospect of death. In most legends the Shaman visits the Underworld for 3 days, in which he is, for all intents and purposes, dead. The same process is seen in the story of Jesus and other messiahs. By undergoing the greatest ordeal, the Shaman can return to his people as a purified healer, wielding arcane power.
As well as embodying a fundamental human flaw, the Hero also embodies a fundamental human drive. Without a quest that the reader can root for, the story will collapse. The Hero is thus a link to the underlying and universal drives of the human race. One of the very earliest protagonists in written text was Gilgamesh, the hero of the Sumerian epic. His story is one of a search for immortality, in which he must battle higher authorities and deal with the death of a loved one. This is an ordeal that every human on the planet can relate to and for this reason we cannot help but identify with Gilgamesh and entrust him to carry our excitements and expectations throughout the narrative.
The archetypal hero is primordial - a boiling down of our greatest strengths and greatest frailties into a state of constant turmoil. The Hero battles with himself and his situation - a neurotic golem of questioning, emotion and impulsive heroism. It is no wonder that some of the greatest heroes are teenagers. He is a whirlwind who changes the world on his journey.
As the Hero swirls, questions, debates and duels... the Ally remains stalwart. The Ally archetype may in some ways be derived from the idea of the soldier - the unquestioning minion - but also from the Shamanic idea of spirt guides. The Ally is the companion, more refined in his singular role. He represents a facet of the Hero - perhaps his strength, his speed, his quick-wittedness. He is something that the Hero does not have in abundance, and that virtue will be something that the Hero will depend on at some point in his journey.
In many ancient myths, the Hero is accompanied by a band of allies with singular talents: a mighty archer, a strongman, a swift runner, a skilled sailor, etc. With the Fantasy genre this is taken to the extreme, where the very races serve as allies to humans - the swift and spiritual Elves, the hardy and resilient Dwarves, the cunning and cheerful Halflings, etc. The Ally serves to symbolise to the Hero that he is greater when he works with others - that his biggest strength lies in fellowship. The archetype perhaps originated as a lesson about hunting in groups or swearing allegiance to the alpha male. Whatever the case, loyalty is a huge part of what the Ally stands for. It is no coincidence that the Shamanic creed gives its hero animal companions. The fearsome wolf, the sharp-eyed eagle, the cunning fox, the loyal hound, etc.
Allies do not question as passionately as the Hero. They serve their part, run errands, fulfill their singular purpose, and become extensions of the Hero's power.
At times, however, there is one amongst the Allies whose purpose is not as singular or straightforward. He is the joker, the comic relief, the fool or madman. In some ways he is the voice or playful spirit of the author, or the character who has stepped beyond the fourth wall. He holds the place between the seats and the stage - the character who winks to the audience. His role is to make mockery of the Hero's over-serious nature - to cut him down to size.
The tradition of the Trickster is as ancient as stories themselves. From the times of the mad soothsayers and the court jesters, the clowns and village idiots. There is a belief that the ability to laugh at something is the greatest human virtue, and that victory can only be assured in realising that everything is a joke. In Shakespeare the fools are the ones with the greatest wisdom, who amongst their babble and wordplay speak nuggets of enlightenment. The joker knows his own inadequacy - he is humbled, unlike the other Archetypes, and thus has realised the greatest prize.
In some myths the Trickster has a darker edge, representing death and betrayal. Often the crow is the symbol of the trickster. But even in this the Archetype serves the greater good, for he stands to remind the Hero of the chaos beyond all things. The Trickster is completely unbiased - he does not involve himself in the petty moral squabbles of the heroes and villains. He serves the random, the anarchic, the preposterous and stupified.
Without the Trickster, everything is black and white. Everything is simple, boring, and over-serious. He hovers on the boundary between laughter and tears, comedy and horror, transparency and deceit, foolishness and wisdom.
In many belief systems is the idea that the perfect soul has a unified gender. Ancient gods and angels embodied this quality, and we see its reflection in the modern-day fascination with elves, vampires and such fictional creatures. To equate perfection with dual-gender is to see the Hero's flaw in a whole new light. Kaballah philosophy states that true alchemy and redemption cannot be achieved without the cooperation of both genders. As such, the parts of himself that the Hero has not embraced are those parts of his "other" gender, and it is for this reason that he remains incomplete.
The Soulmate, sometimes known as the Goddess or Shapeshifter, is a character who embodies that otherness. As the love-interest or special friend, she exists to show the Hero another side of things. She grants him a reprieve from action, or challenges his assumptions. There are elements of Trickster, Ally and Mentor in her, but her purpose is not as clear-cut. She does not exist to teach the Hero something or to channel chaos or to run errands for him. She simply exists for her own sake in a state of opposition. She is the polar reflection of the Hero, as much antagonizing as enabling. She will defy expectation, change her form, reverse her moods, be deceitful and unpredictable - frustrating the Hero's every assumption in order to humble him.
Many great plots have a "B-Story" - a romantic or emotional subplot that at times may seem frivolous or distracting. But the underlying thread of the Soulmate is an essential lesson in the necessity of union and harmony. The Hero cannot triumph with strength alone. To achieve perfection of will and deed, the Hero must embrace his total self. In this way the Soulmate is a fragment - the pieces of the Hero that he needs to return to himself.
In stories, the final kiss (or in Buddy Movies, the final explosion) is a celebration of that alchemical fusion. When the Hero and Soulmate come together against adversity, they give birth to the child that is love, hope and resurrection. But the path to this victory may be long and winding. The Hero and Soulmate may spar and scorn one another, as each remains in denial of their fragmented selves. Whatever quest the Hero is on - whatever great darkness he is facing - there is always this sub-battle going on, between the two halves of his nature.
As the Soulmate ensures the "child" of the future, so the Mentor channels the "voice" of the past. The Mentor is character from the tradition of passing on wisdom and granting gifts, a lesson in respecting the elder traditions. He is the father figure who understands that he must teach others to be greater than he ever was. He is often a Failed Hero who has been on the same path as the new Hero but faltered at some point. Like the Ally he can perform a specific errand or grant a certain gift, and unlike the Trickster his wisdom is clear and direct. He will often instruct the Hero in detail about how to better himself and as such is often the deus ex machina of the author himself.
But like the Ally, the Mentor understands that he can only get the Hero to a certain point, and that the protagonist must face his greatest battle alone. He is not a physical aid like the Ally or a confrontational energy like the Trickster or Soulmate. He is constructive and patient - the mouthpiece of the world that the Hero is defending. In Arthurian legend the Hermits were a race of old and reclusive dwarves who kept the traditions of the Old World. This is the Mentor in his element - a man who has been "out there" and experienced a great many things, returning with secrets and lessons for the Hero to come.
Many characters are instruments of the author's will. The Hero carries the thesis, the Trickster ridicules the argument, the Soulmate confounds the answer and the Mentor preaches the solution. But the Herald - often the most minor and overlooked character - is perhaps the most unbiased of the Archetyes. The Herald exists as a relay of information - a tool of exposition and juxtaposition. The Archetype derives, of course, from the medieval idea of bards and heralds - the artists who would explain or elaborate upon great events.
The Herald puts things into proper perspective. In many stories his appearance may be fleeting and purely functional: the messenger who dies with a mysterious note in his hand; the prophet who announces the end of the world; the reporter who delivers fantastical news. The Herald is a powerful driver of the plot, who frames information in such a way that informs both the reader and the Hero of the greater stakes. They are linked to the wider world of the narrative, in tune with the repercussions of great changes and the foreshadowing of great events. And in their role, unlike the mentor, they are inert and objective, forcing no agenda. How the Hero chooses to react to a Herald is his own business and not the Herald's.
As an archetype the Herald was put to great effect by Shakespeare, who when faced with a finite number of actors and stage space could use the Herald character to show the audience what the rest of the world was thinking. And even longer ago the Herald was reflected in the Chorus of the Greek Plays, in which he assumed the status of a supernatural, godlike mirror to mortal action.
By collecting and recording deeds, the Herald produces heraldy - a total symbolic record of history, prophecy and intent. With heraldy the factions are aligned, the contenders identified, the darkness defined and the stakes intimated. Through this the events are the story are not singular incidents, but deeds that resonate with greater questions and struggles.
The Herald is artist and echo, translating the Hero's actions into the bigger picture of the setting.
While the Ally symbolises a part of the Hero that he must rely on to succeed, the Guardian is a part of the Hero that obstructs him. Derived from the term Threshold Guardian, this Archetype encompasses all the hurdles, monsters, minions and distractions that the Hero must deal with on his journey. If we perceive stories in the Ancient Greek sense of a series of challenges to be overcome, then each challenge is presided over by a Guardian.
The Hero's perfection does not come all at once in the story's conclusion. Instead, it is a step-by-step process in which he must overcome his fears, frailties and delusions. The Guardians embody these faults. They are the Hero's neuroses made manifest. One may be fearful, one may be ignorant, one may be wrathful, one may be proud, and so forth. They are the externalized inner demons of the Hero, there to drag him down into doubt and injury. In many ways these characters are extreme, like the Allies, their single facet exaggerated into a twisted mirror of that specific part of the Hero. This is why they are often portrayed as monsters and abominations.
They may be static or recurring, servants of the Enemy or neutral aggressors. In the Shaman's journey through the Underworld he is the plaything of the demons, who tear him apart not for any grand design, but simply because it is in their nature to do so. They guard their place on the path, be it literal or metaphorical, yielding the threshold only when the correct rite of passage is presented.
The Guardians represent the obstruction and hostility of the world through which the Hero travels, each one greater than the last and more necessary for the Hero to overcome.
If the Guardian represents a piece of the Hero's neuroses, then the Shadow represents the totality of psychosis. He is not the opposite of the Hero, like the Soulmate, but rather the WORST of what the Hero could become. Should the Hero abandon his Allies, spurn his Soulmate, defy his Mentor, ignore his Herald, scathe his Trickster and yield to his Guardians... then the Shadow is his fate.
Like the Mentor, the Shadow could be a Failed Hero - one who has been on the same path as the Hero but become irrevocably corrupted or damaged by it. This is a pattern shown in Star Wars and Lord of the Rings, where the only divergence between Hero and Shadow is the redemption of fellowship. The Shadow is, in many ways, highly relatable for the audience, not just because he is a semblance of the protagonist but because unlike the Guardian he has absorbed a whole bundle of neuroses and fashioned them into a functioning human-being. The line between Shadow and Anti-Hero can often be a narrow one, and thus the greatest villains attract a morbid fascination from the reader.
The Shadow is the ultimate threat and antagonist to the Hero, more than any force of nature or politics that may exist in the setting. This is because, at heart, all stories are about human conflict and the inner turmoil of the Hero. The true "darkness" is the question of what the Hero may become, not the question of what may happen to his world. For example, in the film Aliens, the true Shadow is Burke, the Company representative, and not the demonic aliens themselves. This is because whilst the aliens are motivated by blind instinct and reproductive drives, Burke has made a conscious and human choice to betray his fellow man, and as such is the dark mirror and nightmare fate for Ripley.
This third dimension - this person-like collaboration of neuroses - is what distinguishes the Shadow from the more two-dimensional Monster-Guardians. And this is what makes him hard to defeat. The Hero will struggle to second-guess and outwit the Shadow, or at heart may sympathize with part of his enemy's cause. This relateable, unerstandable, genius-like nature of the Shadow's behaviour makes him all the more seductive and impervious to the protagonist's quest.
We hate him because, in some ways, he is right, and he shows us a certain logic in evil deeds. In rooting for the Hero to defeat him, we are rooting for those devilish impulses within ourselves to be suppressed.
So these are the fundamentals of the mythical eight. By understanding these Archetypes you will have the building blocks of truly resonating and moving characters. These symbolic figures are hard-wired into the human psyche, planted there by both the tradition of folklore and the nature of psychological development. In working out human problems, we identify our villains, our obstacles, our allies and our mentors. We are the heroes of our own struggles, and by using Archetypes we simplify the questions we are faced with.
Storytelling and psychotherapy are one and the same in this respect.
So for a story to be effective, it has to address these universal conflicts and these universal drives. The Archetypes are your key to doing this. By understanding each one, you can begin to combine and rework them into your own unique cast.
As many before you have done...
Han Solo: The Trickster-Ally, taking nothing too seriously, but providing essential help when it is needed. Doctor Watson: The Herald-Soulmate, recording Holmes's exploits, while also being his moral compass and greatest friend. Bill from Kill Bill - The Shadow-Mentor, the beloved teacher to Beatrix, but one who denies her a life of contentment. Lucy from Dracula - The Guardian-Soulmate, an innocent girl who is loved by all, but becomes a minion of the darkness.
Build a character from these blocks, and you are building them from raw pieces of the zeitgeist. You cannot go wrong!
My second article starts with an apology. For a long time I've insisted on supporting the 12-Stage Structure as a mythic foundation for all stories. But recently I've come to realise that I have not been teaching the full picture.
What I've been teaching is the Male Journey - the twelve stages that apply to masculine character arcs. The Female Journey, which has some key differences to the Male Journey, has been badly neglected up till now.
I believe this is the reason why I'm having problems with the female characters in my novels, and it could explain why female characters in roleplays fail to arc properly, or else end up as thinly-disguised male characters.
In this article, I will show the difference between the Male and Female Journey and how understanding both paths can lead to a better depiction of feminine characters.
Some of what follows may seem very basic and black-and-white, but please remember that I am being deliberately generic. Most stories use a combination of journeys and almost all of them subvert the following conventions for dramatic effect...
THE MALE JOURNEY
So, just to recap: this is the structure that I torment Iwakuans on a daily basis. It is derived from ancient folktales, including the oldest recorded story of a male hero - The Epic of Gilgamesh...
1. The Ordinary World: The Hero is shown in his everyday life.
2. The Call to Action: Something happens to threaten his world.
3. The Debate: The Hero hesitates, procrastinates, weighs up the pros and cons of taking action.
4. Meet the Mentor: A friend, teacher, herald or source of inspiration spurs the Hero to leave the Ordinary world and go on an adventure.
5. Over the Threshold: The Hero crosses into an unusual world, full of discoveries, dangers and high stakes.
6. The Trials: The Hero undertakes trials, makes new friends, gathers allies, identifies enemies.
7. The Spiral: Things start to go wrong and the bads guy close in. The challenges become greater and the Hero becomes more desperate.
8. The Ordeal: The Hero suffers his darkest moment, when all seems lost. This is the dark night of the soul - the moment when he faces literal or metaphorical death.
9. The Reward:After surviving his near-death experience, the Hero gets a small reward, like a new weapon, a sex scene, a fresh hope. He picks up and carries on.
10. The Road Back: The Hero starts to resolve things and head back to the Ordinary World. He comes to terms with what he has done and appreciates what he has.
11. The Resurrection: The bad guys come back for one last attack and the Hero must decide to stand alone against the evil or let everything be lost.
12. The Elixir:If the Hero wins, he receives his ultimate reward. If he loses, then his death becomes a lesson to others. Either way, the "Elixir" is the prize at the end of the quest.
THE FEMALE JOURNEY
Now, if we think about female characters, we can start to see that they arc in a different way and follow a very different path.
This is the 12-Stage Journey for females, based on the majority of folk tales and the oldest recorded legend of a female heroine - The Descent of the Goddess Inanna...
1. The Illusory World: A very important distinction. The Ordinary World of the female protagonist is more likely to be a fake one, where the woman exists in a suppressed state, lying to herself and pretending to be happy. A male hero will often start his quest in a very nice world with plenty of personal opportunities. But the woman is, more often that not, trapped. At the start of the story, the Male has choices but hasn't yet made up his mind, while the Female has NO choices and HAS made up her mind (to be docile and inferior). This shows the fundamental distinction between the mythical male and the mythical female. One is a prisoner of himself; the other is a prisoner of her world.
2. The Betrayal: Rather than being "called" like the Male Hero, the Female is usually betrayed. Her world falls apart and she loses her coping mechanism. Think of most feminist movies: they start when the heroine finds her husband cheating or when she loses a baby or when her career falls apart. Whereas a Male sees the enemy and goes out to fight it, a woman is usually "cast out" in solitude.
3. The Debate: Though similar, the Debate for the Female is more emotional than physcial. While the Male Hero will weigh up the threats and opportunities of his adventure, a woman will think more about the emotional stakes. In the end, the Male Hero will physically throw himself out into the wilderness, while the Female will come to a decision inside herself.
4. Meet the Mentor: Likewise, the mentor for the Female Hero is far more likely to be non-physical and non-human. The important thing to remember is that the Female is abandoned to her quest, and this is HUGELY different to the Male Quest, where the Hero may have allies right until the very end of the story. The distinction here is one of power. The Woman seeks to gain power and find connection with the group; whilst the Male seeks to yield power and find the strength to stand alone. This follows very obvious mythical expectations - the Man, as protector, must achieve independent glory, while the Woman, as life-giver, must find union with her community.
5. Over the Threshold: This is one stage that IS the same. Both Male and Female Heroes choose to take the first step into an Undiscovered World. But, as said before, the Female is much more likely to be on her own at this stage, with no allies and no support from her homeland.
6. The Trials: Once again, this stage is similar for both journeys, but still with its distinctions. For the Male it is a very calculating and systematic time, when he works out who are his friends and who are his enemies. But a Female Hero is more likely to go through a humbling process here, learning which of her abilities are useless and learning what it takes to survive. This is the Little Red Riding Hood moment, where the Girl must navigate her way through the dark woods.
7. The Spiral: Perhaps one of the biggest differences can be seen in the Spiral stage. Here, the Male Hero is confronted by feminine symbols, and the Female Hero is confronted by masculine symbols. This is equivalent to facing your alterego. The Male is challenged by feminine principles such as a romantic subplot, a call for mercy, a call to return home, a need to protect the weak. He will be challenged by feminine characters who call on him to show compassion and open himself up. This is HIS spiral, where everything becomes more complicated and less black-and-white. But for the woman, she is confronted by the Masculine, which takes the form of pitiless monsters, physical challenges and the need to fight and be strong. Sometimes she will have to protect something like a father would (as in Ripley in Aliens, who is given the task of defending Newt against unforgiving monsters). The Spiral challenges Male and Female Heroes alike to conquer the 'other' sides of themselves and learn new things.
8. The Ordeal: Here again we see the primal mythic difference between Masculine and Feminine. The Male Hero must go through his near-death experience alone. He is unlikely to be helped by his allies or rescued by someone else. He must dig deep to find his inner strength and to stand alone. But for the Woman, an opposite is learned. At the Ordeal stage she finds CONNECTION. An ally will come or a group will assimilate her, and with the help of this new family she will rise out of her darkest moment. Think of all the films where the female character gets a make-over - this is a modern-day rebirth scene. She gets her sisters, her new family, and she gets back in the saddle.
9. The Reward:And so it follows, that the reward for the Female Hero is a much greater one. While the Male will simply get a blowjob or a shiney new sword to continue his adventure with, the Female will actually be more-or-less complete by this stage. She has come into her power, beaten her fears and is ready to face the world again. The Female Hero recognises her faults much earlier and conquers them much sooner (albeit it with the help of the collective), whereas as the Male must venture onwards a little longer and make a few more decisions. His final battle has yet to be fought...
10. The Road Back:Again, the distinction remains. As they return to the Ordinary World, the Female enjoys her power, while the Male lingers in indecision. The road back is much more of a "coming-to-terms" scene for the woman, and just as the Debate stage was non-physical for the woman, so the Road Back stage will be MORE physical for the Female. She will return to her community and meet all the old faces who abandoned or doubted her before.
11. The Resurrection: For the Female, the Resurrection is a last little challenge where she demonstrates her new power. She comes home and tells her husband to go fuck himself. Or she gives birth to the baby and decides to raise it on her own. Or she sings at the end-of-school concert. There is little chance of her being defeated, because she has already come into her power - all we want now is to see her showing everyone the New Woman she's become. But for the man, the Resurrection is VERY important and VERY MUCH in the balance. It is his sink-or-swim moment, his final battle, where he either gives in or digs down to find the deepest reserves of strength with which to prevail single-handedly over evil. As said earlier, the Masculine is all about standing alone, while the Feminine is all about "re-integrating". So the Resurrection is clearly going to be much more violent and dangerous for the Male.
12. The Elixir: This is where the two stories come back together. With victory, both the Male and Female Heroes achieve something on behalf of the Ordinary World and find contentment within themselves. Or, if the story is a tragedy, their deaths stand as lessons to those they have left behind. The Elixir is androgynous - representing the union of Male and Female principles. Perfection in Alchemy.
So, once again, I apologize for not acknowledging these differences before. Hopefully they will help you to put more thought into female characters and how to write their character arcs. Now here's a last few points to remember...
- The Female journey goes in a circle, from abandonment to re-integration (the womb).
- The Male journey goes in a line, from ignorance to enlightenment (the phallus).
- The Female's greatest achievement is proving herself to HERSELF.
- The Male's greatest achievement is proving himself to THE WORLD.
- The Female awakens at the BEGINNING and finds a way to power.
- The Male awakens at the END and finds a way to humility.
- The Female starts in a dangerous world, suppressed and unsupported.
- The Male starts in a safe world, with opportunity but indecisiveness.
- The Female must save herself.
- The Male must save others.
Playing with these conventions can lead to great stories and memorable characters. Think about films where these journeys are reversed. Ripley follows the Male Path in Alien, where she is forced to surpass men and become a warrior-woman fighting terrifying demons. Neo follows the Female Path in The Matrix where he loses his world and must come to terms with his own inner soul and find a new family to care for.
In Star Wars, Luke is continually challenged by feminine symbols (the Dark Side, his father's love, his family, compassion, inner-strength, suffering), while Leia is continually challenged by male symbols (physical captivity by monsters, the demands of politics, leading her people, fighting for her life).
So if you ever find your characters not working, take a quick look at the mythical underpinnings of what they are doing. It might just be that you've got them on the wrong path. A huge amount of female characters fail if you put them on the Male Journey, and sadly too many writers (including myself) have made this mistake.
As some of you know, it is my belief that there are essentially 8 character types, or archetypes, that feature in all good stories.
Some of you may believe there are more, or less, or even that it is wrong to count them, but that is a debate for another article. Instead, for this article, I will be applying the Archetype System to roleplay posts and looking at what makes a post good or bad in terms of function...
A Hero Post, often termed a mod-post, is one that drives the plot and modifies the situation entirely. It closes doors and creates openings. We all know these posts - usually ones made by the GM that mark plot-points and chapter-changes. A good Hero Post will drive the plot forward and create opportunities for every other character in the scene. For examples of this on Iwaku, you can look at the Mass Roleplays and the opening posts of each IC thread.
A bad Hero Post is the equivalent of a Bad Hero - one who is overly selfish and only gets others hurt as he rushes ahead. A bad Hero Post is one that only focuses on the main character and does not create openings for anyone else. It is, at best, an ego-trip and, at worst, GM-bullying.
The Goddess Post is, in many ways, the opposite of a Hero Post. It presents a different point of view, or a reflection on the main plot. It presents the other side of the story, the reaction, the argument. For examples of good Goddess Posts, look at Diana and Sakura, who are very good at presenting the opposite feminine or childlike argument to the main characters. A good Goddess Post forces players to think about the other side of things, which in turn informs their next posts.
A bad Goddess Post is one that brings in an opposite argument at the expense of the mood. For instance, if there is a highly emotional scene then a bad Goddess Post would be someone presenting a macho brush-off. Likewise, an intense action scene might be ruined by a sentimental flashback. Presenting a counter-view should only be done when the plot remains open and not when it has started heading towards a scene-climax.
The Ally Post is the helpful post, supporting and loyal. It reinforces a Hero Post or simply helps out the other characters. Two members who are very good at Ally Posts are Warmaster Death and Vay who are both excellent at picking up on a mood and following the feel of a particular scene, be it action or emotion. A good Ally Post creates a sense of continuity and momentum to the scene.
A bad Ally Post is a reaction post that offers nothing to the plot. If a character simply reflects on what has happened, they may eventually get sidelined by the plot. A bad Ally Post neglects the themes, the mood and the momentum of a scene and so becomes more of a hinderance than a help to other players, particular to the GM who is trying to establish a certain "feel" to their story.
A Mentor Post is one of the rarest on Iwaku. It is when a player writes a post that inspires opportunities and helps develop OTHER characters rather than their own. Think of it as a Super-Ally Post. The best example of these are the posts of Coffeecakesadist, where he not only adds content to other character depictions but also suggests new directions they can go in and new ways they can use the setting. A good Mentor Post focusses directly on shaping another player-character, with or without a plot event. It adds layers and enriches the roleplay.
A bad Mentor Post is the worst type of hijacking - where someone starts mis-portraying someone else's character. This not only causes a lack of continuity but also antagonizes the player on the receiving end of this hijack. Bad Mentor Posts can be very jarring, upsetting the player and upsetting the background of the roleplay.
Perhaps one of the hardest to get right, the Trickster Post is like a pressure-release, a moment of comic-relief or social commentary. It can serve to make people laugh, to make people calm down, or to nudge the plot subtly in another direction. Look at the posts of Palonis if you need an example. With his blend of satire and veiled-quips, Palonis encourages other players not to be stupid in their IC actions or to think twice about what they're doing. He can also deflate a scene that is overly melodramatic or implausible. Sometimes this is needed, to stop a roleplay becoming too dark or too intense.
A bad Trickster Post is the "lolwhut" post, where someone brings in comedy purely to attention-seek, disrupt or antagonize other players. The lolwhut post is a selfish one and quite disrespectful to the GM if done to the extreme. As with all things comedic, the line between good and bad comic-relief is a thin one and I would recommend that if you are unsure of what effect your comedy will have, then simply don't do it.
The Herald Post is an exposition post. It presents information and backdrop or puts the roleplay into its correct context. Two people who are good at these types of posts are Rory and Grumpy. Rory uses philosophy and historical context to show the larger themes behind a story, while Grumpy uses first-person monologue to place a scene at the correct emotional pitch. The Herald Post is the best kind of reaction post and the best kind of filler, lending a third dimension to the story. Unlike the Ally and Mentor Posts, which support other player characters, the Herald Post supports the setting and core themes of the story.
A bad Herald Post is one that provides needless information that doesn't enrich the story in anyway. A player who describes lots of pointless NPCs or the measurements of their weapon or what color socks they wear is just wasting the reader's time. Likewise, players who inserts quotes that are only partly-relevant or paints huge extended metaphors that break the flow are only indulging themselves.
The Shadow Post is, like the Trickster Post, one that should be treated very carefully. A Shadow Post presents an ultimate challenge to other posters - an event or a comment that everyone else in the roleplay must react to. It is not like a Hero Post because it does not provide opportunities. Instead, it forces every other player onto the back foot and takes them out of their comfort zone. A good Shadow-Poster is JackShade, who will write a character entrance or plot event that everyone must react to. His posts will include dialogue or internal monologue designed to cause a mood-change, turning deep reflection into comedy or light-heartedness into epic melodrama. In these situations, other players must meet the challenge of his posts, either adopting or opposing his language and the mood he is trying to force on the story. If done correctly, a Shadow Post can "shake things up".
A bad Shadow Post is one that gives the other players no way out. It is the "cockblock" post, designed simply to stop other characters completely and force them to submit to your mood or plot-direction. A bad Shadow Post will undo everything another player is trying to achieve, denying them the scene they want or forcing a mood-change. A bad Shadow Post can utterly destroy a roleplay, no matter how old it is.
The Guardian Post lies halfway between the Trickster and the Shadow Post, in that it provides obstacles to certain plot-directions but removes obstacles from other plot-directions. A Guardian Post is something that can be overcome if the character wills it, or used if the character wishes to depict challenges. Good Guardian Posters are Woodrat and Ryker. Woodrat is very good at working mini-challenges into a scene, such as character injuries and physical obstructions. And Ryker usually has a host of NPCs who can either enable or obstruct other players depending on how they wish to use those NPCs. A good Guardian Post makes victory possible and defeat plausible. It is the mini-challenge, the mook and the minion.
A bad Guardian Post is one that brings in obstacles too frequently or at inconvenient times. A character shouldn't stub their toe in the middle of an action scene, or run out of gas during a car chase (unless it's a very astute Trickster Post!). Such things only break the mood and momentum and serve to piss the players off. A story should follow a gradient of difficulty, just like a game, and if the players have too many challenges at too many times, then it just becomes a plot-grind.
So, in conclusion, if you are looking to write a post that HELPS the story, then remember the 8 post-functions.
- The Hero Post - creates openings for ALL other players through plot-action.
- The Goddess Post - presents the counter-argument to all that is happening.
- The Ally Post - reinforces and supports someone else's post.
- The Mentor Post - provides a direct opportunity for another player.
- The Trickster Post - lightens the mood and brings other players to their senses.
- The Herald Post - provides vital background and essential context.
- The Shadow Post - provides a total and immediate challenge to ALL players.
- The Guardian Post - provides an event or NPC that other players can use to succeed or fail in what they are doing.
Choose one of these styles when you post, and you'll surely be helping to make an interesting roleplay.