Archetypes -- writing/utilizing them

hawksflyhigh

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Mod's Note: This started out in Workshop to be the base for some writing exercises, but as there has been some discussion about what an archetype is, it's now moved here to Writing Discussion and will just be a place for talking about archetypes. So get talking!


Right now I am reading Robert Mckee's "Story" on the structure and flow of storywriting and what makes a great story.
He noted early on & often that great stories are built around what are called archetypes not "stereotypes" or carbon copies.
"The archetypal story unearths a universally human experience,
then wraps itself inside a unique, culture-specific expression. A
stereotypical story reverses this pattern: It suffers a poverty of both
content and form. It confines itself to a narrow, culture-specific
experience and dresses in stale, nonspecific generalities." - Robert McKee

My challenge/exercise to you is to write a tale/story either encapsulating and/or using an archetype here.
And on this thread, share any archetypes which interest you the most.

My current theme/archetype I am building towards centers around the dichotomy of life vs merely existing - being adventurous, and free to succeed and fail vs stagnant and "safe": Life is not a measure of safety – but a longing for adventure and growth, failures and lessons learned, choices and consequences respected – life is freedom not safety, sameness nor equality. It is unique experience to the individual not a mere plastic existence

Aesops fable is definitely a great collection of such life archetypes and lessons if you are looking for inspiration
 
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Provincial

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Would you be so kind as to explain archetypes in more depth, please? A couple of examples would also be helpful. The archetype is a concept I have always struggled with.
 

tinkerdan

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You should check this book.
Life is not a measure of safety – but a longing for adventure and growth, failures and lessons learned, choices and consequences respected – life is freedom not safety, sameness nor equality. It is unique experience to the individual not a mere plastic existence
I would disagree with this in fact life is a measure of comfort and safety which is why fiction and story are not good if they try to be too much like life.
Story is about conflict , struggle, and the character's strong points and weak points and how the conflict challenges them toward change. People read stories because they can imagine doing all of those from the comfort of their own life.

I also agree that there is a need for better definition of Archetype and stereotype in regards to the author you mention.
How many archetypes does he use 7 ? 12 ?

How many or how much of those are getting close to the definition of cliché' in out times?
 

hawksflyhigh

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I would disagree with this in fact life is a measure of comfort and safety which is why fiction and story are not good if they try to be too much like life.
Story is about conflict , struggle, and the character's strong points and weak points and how the conflict challenges them toward change. People read stories because they can imagine doing all of those from the comfort of their own life.
Hi tinkerdan- thanks for the reply. Conflict is life- internal & external. When exactly do you feel MOST ALIVE? When you are tucked under your covers "safely" asleep? or up on a cliff about to jump off, skydiving, or climbing and exploring a ridgeline? I am sure you are familiar with the Hero Journey archetype- that is life itself. Archetypes are kinda like nuggets of truths of not just the fictional world but of human existence and reality - from the good vs evil; the paternal vs maternal nurturing and the growth of the child into a man/woman through various trials, etc.
There is an old saying especially in martial arts- it is precisely in the harsh grind & conflict (with oneself and/or the external world)where one discovers themselves. It is those tales & discoveries of lessons learned which capture our imagination, human spirit, empathy, and deep seated emotions.
Here is the definition of an archetype:
the original pattern or model of which all things of the same type are representations or copies
A stereotype though is basically plastic- it is very superficial carbon copy with little to no meaningful variance - no depth.
stereotype:
a: to repeat without variation : make hackneyed
b: to develop a mental stereotype about

These life lessons, principles or archetypes can be expressed in many different ways- for instance Lion King is a great classic which expresses the conflict of the childhood vs adulthood & responsibilities/maturity. So is Peter Pan and many other tales. But a stereotype or cliche is very vague and confined to a set of generalities. Think of the blatant plastic remakes(like the star wars sequals or the unfortunate soon to be Home Alone remakes)Disney has gone through - it is the exact same shallow story with merely a name change or two.
Robert Mckee elaborates further
"...
For example, Spanish custom once dictated that daughters
must be married off in order from oldest to youngest. Inside
Spanish culture, a film about the nineteenth-century family of a
strict patriarch, a powerless mother, an unmarriageable oldest
daughter, and a long-suffering youngest daughter may move those
who remember this practice, but outside Spanish culture audi¬
ences are unlikely to empathize. The writer, fearing his story's
limited appeal, resorts to the familiar settings, characters, and
actions that have pleased audiences in the past. The result? The
world is even less interested in these cliches.
On the other hand, this repressive custom could become mate¬
rial for a worldwide success if the artist were to roll up his sleeves
and search for an archetype. An archetypal story creates settings
and characters so rare that our eyes feast on every detail, while its
telling illuminates conflicts so true to humankind that it journeys
from culture to culture.
In Laura Esquivel’s LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE, mother
and daughter clash over the demands of dependence versus inde¬
pendence, permanence versus change, self versus others—con¬
flicts every family knows. Yet Esquivel’s observation of home and
society, of relationship and behavior is so rich in never-before-seen
detail, we’re drawn irresistibly to these characters and fascinated by
a realm we’ve never known, nor could imagine.
Stereotypical stories stay at home, archetypal stories travel.
From Charlie Chaplin to Ingmar Bergman, from Satyajit Ray to
Woody Allen, the cinema’s master storytellers give us the double-
edged encounter we crave. First, the discovery of a world we do not
know. No matter how intimate or epic, contemporary or historical,
concrete or fantasized, the world of an eminent artist always strikes
us as somewhat exotic or strange. Like an explorer parting forest
leaves, we step wide-eyed into an untouched society, a cliche-free
zone where the ordinary becomes extraordinary."
 
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hawksflyhigh

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For further examples of archetypes and life lessons, see the tale of the Frog and the Scorpion. That is an archetype we see across many films - where an evil viscous person, due to their very nature of being so evil, viscous and vile can not resist the temptation to hurt others- even those that are helping him and even if it means they themselves ultimately suffer and perish.
 

tinkerdan

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First: fiction is not life and it would be an error to confuse the two.
Second: if those things you mention are the only things that make you feel alive; you might have a short life.
Not all thing that make us feel alive are on the edge of death nor do they need to be.
However; in fiction, sometime they do have to be.
A vast number of people get their life rush vicariously though fiction and through watching sports.

Finding someone to share a life with can make you feel alive.
Watching your children be born--come into this world--can make you feel alive.
Watching your children grow-learn-graduate-go off into life-can make you feel alive.
Achieving your best in anything you endeavor to do can make you feel alive.

At night I go out into evening air that is so different that things sound closer than they are and I look up into the sky and see all the stars and stand in awe and I feel alive.

At the end of the day I lay down under the cover and reflect on the day; the awe and the wonder that I made it through another day; and I feel alive, and for that I'm able to sleep soundly through the night.

In my life experience I had an accident that left me with serious burns over 25% of my body. Yes there was an endorphin rush and then a lot of pain and after a week in intensive care I had the opportunity to reflect on how lucky I was to be alive and I certainly for a period felt more alive than I have at other times. However, i wouldn't go out of my way to do this constantly for that momentary rush.

Now let's go back to your character.
If all those things that the author challenges him with are giving him a rush of life and that's the message the author is trying to give the reader; then I seriously believe the author is sending the wrong message and the reader is going to come away confused and possibly disappointed..

It's supposed to be a challenge-conflict-that the character might lose; and he could lose his life or other big stakes.

Eventually a character who keeps getting the rush and claiming he only feels alive when he is doing this thing that nearly kills or takes away all the things he loves is going to turn the reader away--the reader is going to lose empathy for a fool.

What makes the character feel alive, is what he has suffered for, suffered to protect and preserve, that he can enjoy after being thrashed near to death.

In a book it's about what's at stake and the author constantly challenges the character by threatening that through conflict.

In life we have a similar struggle; however we try to minimize the threats and hope we don't have some malevolent author writing our story.

Most readers prefer to experience those constant threats through the eyes of a fictional character; as a life lesson in ways to help them avoid those situations.

If we had lives like those fictional characters we'd find their stories to be a bit ho hum--boooooring.
 

hawksflyhigh

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thanks for the reply @tinkerdan but i really do not want this thread to go off topic.
If we have a philosophy page we could move further discussions there. And ironically you reiterated my very point and the archetype which i am
working towards- life is not about 'being safe & comfortable' but an adventure where one works towards success & failures- facing death and risks at every turn (again see the classic Hero's Journey archetype- which really underlies 99% of great stories)
Note- i NEVER said that fiction is life. But a good story- both fiction and non-fiction are based around what are called archetypes. And it is precisely the thematic archetypes which make us loathe or connect and empathize with different characters. it is precisely the archetype of the father-son family dynamic among many archetypes & themes that makes us recount Darth Vader's words "Luke, I am your father!", with such intense feelings. Finally as you exemplified in your last post, your own life is a story - and the story you tell yourself defines the life you will live. You are the main character in your own life story - the ultimate question is- what archetype (or prototypical theme & truth) will you write about and have written about you?
 
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The Judge

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Well, hawks, if you like by all means continue the conversation in this thread -- I can move it over to Writing Discussion and we'll see if other members want to join in with talking about archetypes in writing and how we can deal with them in our own work.

The thread is at present in Workshop on the premise there would be some element of writing exercise in the posts, but there's nothing to stop this one being a discussion thread over in WD and you can open another separate thread here in Workshop for the writing exercise itself. In that event, though, it might be an idea for you to write a short archetype story in the first post of that new thread just to get the ball rolling.
 

tinkerdan

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The difficulty I have with this definition of Archetypical and Stereotypical is that they alone are not story and they also are mostly external.
What do I mean by that?
Let's start with story.
Story is not just Plot.
Story is plot and character.
Character interacts with the plot and brings in the internal struggle or conflict.
Plot is basically the external struggle and conflict.
The external tends to interfere with the internal and that's what makes the story where the character tries to overcome internal struggles while the plot keeps throwing external challenges that often interfere with his internal growth or resolutions.

In your description your archetypes and Stereotypes are plot. They are the external.
You still have to build or bring in your internal or your character.

Because once again the story is about the character interacting with the plot and how he deals with overcomes or is defeated by internal and external conflict.

In a crude sense the Archetype and the Stereotype are the basic outline of the story.
In this Archetype these things happen in this order.
If you plugged in typical characters you would probably end up with something formulaic but without some individual with an inner struggle it is not much of a story..
However, plugging in a specific(unique)character with specific(unique)inner struggles and you can change the tone to one of story.

This means that your A-type and S-type are guidelines and whether one is stronger and the other weak will depend solely on the utilization of character.

Neither the S-type nor the A-type are immune to cliche.

They both respond well to Story when it is crafted as it should be with a balance of external and internal conflict and an author who can show the conflict by digging deep into the character to understand the roots of the conflict and translate that into terms that the reader can easily understand.
 

The Judge

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It looks like this is going to remain a discussion thread so I shall move it over to Writing Discussion. I'll amend the title, too, and add a caveat to your first post, hawksflyhigh, to make it clear what's happened.

If you do want to try a writing exercise on archetypes, then do start another thread in Workshop and see how it goes. Perhaps give a limit for the stories, though, so they don't wander forever, and as I mentioned best start things off with such a story.
 

tinkerdan

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I have yet to read this book mentioned in the OP--so I have homework to do
However that means I can not say if the description given does justice to the authors intent until that happens.
In view of the fact that not everyone might be able to obtain and read a copy--I'm offering links to some information and everyone is free to add their supporting links.

My understanding is that plot is not story, idea is not story, and Story is when you add in the unique internal struggle/conflict of the character.

My recommend again is.
Which also deals with story but is not burdened with all the stuff of types while still focusing upon external and internal conflict.

Here are some links to Archetypes
----
These are the seven basic plot archetypes. If this is what the OP is discussing then these are not necessarily whole story.
They make story when they are combined with the characters.
A stereotypical in this sense would just be another plot.
-----
This might support the OP--again I'll know once I read that book
Remembering that archetype characters don't automatically make the story as they can be subject to....
Cliche--stereotype---stock character
Since archetypes are subject to this, I fail to see a purpose in separating archetype from stereotype in character.
These stock Characters lack dimension until you add the internal conflicts.
However it is much more clear in this description that the discussion is about Archetypical characters[which differs from Archetypical plot]

So maybe in the OP we are discussing a single story archetype(plot/external) with multiple character archetypes(story/internal).

hero-journey.png
archetypes-12.jpg

images are from



Jungs original 4
the-12-jungian-archetypes.jpg
12-major-personality-archetypes-diagram-vector-15945503-e1524338963211.jpg

Romance(or feminine)
 
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tinkerdan

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Having read the recommend from the OP I now find myself fascinated by the notion that much of the what the OP is either quote or paraphrase and I think I have a better understanding of the terms the author uses. Archetypical and Stereotypical.
However I think this is a result of a rant from someone who like many readers or viewers has simply found something wanting, but hasn't figured out the true cause. I don't get this so this must be the reason. And it surprises me coming from someone who is writing about writing.

For instance this related quote from the book and the OP
For example, Spanish custom once dictated that daughters
must be married off in order from oldest to youngest. Inside
Spanish culture, a film about the nineteenth-century family of a
strict patriarch, a powerless mother, an unmarriageable oldest
daughter, and a long-suffering youngest daughter may move those
who remember this practice, but outside Spanish culture audi¬
ences are unlikely to empathize. The writer, fearing his story's
limited appeal, resorts to the familiar settings, characters, and
actions that have pleased audiences in the past. The result? The
world is even less interested in these cliches.
This Is a prime example of not recognizing the Show-Tell thing.
What? you say.
What I mean is that sometimes show vs tell recomendation are misleading because we don't get the full context of what show means.
And in this instance the real goal of show is to solve the problem recognized in the quote above.

What is missing for some readers is context.

When the emotional moment that should touch the reader comes-there is no relevant(current)context to assist.
The writer knew what they were writing and knew the emotional impact and was so blinded by the obvious that he failed to realize that he needed to give context to those readers/viewers unfamiliar with the cause. And the really tragic part of this is that this author has the key when he goes on to explain that the Archetype takes the reader to a new unknown world. One that obviously and author knows that no one has been here so I have to explain some context.

Makes sense--however we need to keep in mind that the context problem of showing context could still be missed in the new world once the author gets so entrenched he forgets that not everyone knows what he knows.

The show here is being able to show the source of the inner conflict prior to the big emotional upset and the sometimes external pressure that pushes back on the character. That means that the author knows why this is so emotional or tragic for the character and forgets to set the reader up with full understanding. So the issue here is not Archetype vs Stereotype, but context vs lack of context. Or in show tell language--telling us that the character is devastated without showing us why this might devastate them.

The rest of Robert Mckees Story does little to further explain his rant about Archetype and Stereotype.
It seems more that he took the Archetype plots and then imagined a Stereotype plot that explained something he couldn't quite grasp or explain; but knew he didn't like. So if we throw out anything meeting the criteria of Stereotype, it is like throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

These are plots and they are a not story but are part of Story, and the writer has to put in the other parts in to make a story and those other parts can easily make all plots work to become story.
 

Toby Frost

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Not wishing to belittle anyone else's posts here, but I've come to avoid analytical tools like The Hero's Journey when writing my own stuff. I think they're useful for analysis of an existing work, but actually not that helpful in creating your own. Plotting guides of the Save The Cat variety are reasonably useful in terms of understanding what goes where in a standard movie plot - but adhering to them too closely risks producing something derivative and dull.

I'm suspicious also of anything telling me that men or women or any other group is wired to think in a certain way beyond extremely loose generalisations. Two reasons for this: first, I know for certain that I don't think the way that is expected of me, taking into account my characteristics. I'm not worse or better, just wired slightly differently to the stereotype. Secondly, and more importantly, in writing a novel we're talking about individuals and not groups: "this particular man" and not "men" or "white men" or "male drivers" any other group, unless we want to start with a stereotype and build individual characteristics on top of it (which I think is a perfectly legitimate way of making a character if done right).

At the moment - and this is subject to change - I find myself using an "Is this too easy?" test. If something happens too easily, especially when creating a character who is "that kind of guy", it needs to be changed. If I write about a world-weary private eye, it's too easy to make him an alcoholic. So, let's make him teetotal. The same goes with plotting. If the obvious choice is that the young man avenges his dead mentor, changing some element will make things more interesting. Immediately, more options arise. It might be harder to write, but suddenly I've moved away from the stereotype and he's more my character.
 

tinkerdan

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One more interesting article
I have failed to find articles about stereotype plots or arcs however there are many about character.
What I found interesting about this one is the justification of preferring archetypes to stereotypes.
Apparently Archetypes are expected to be there they have to be so you better have them.
And Stereotypes are those that everyone is sick of and if you have them well the reader will toss his lunch along with the book.

Why do I keep thinking that eventually most archetypes will need replaced when everyone gets sick of them?

That's an issue for later.

Right now I'm trying to wrap my head around why it is that you can't take Mary Sue and tweak her a bit and make her acceptable.
And yet you tweak the Archetypes all the time and they seem to fly.

Seems to me you could tweak the Archetype enough to make a Mary Sue.
Likewise you could tweak Mary Sue enough to make an Archetype.
What happens if you tweak either and they fall somewhere else--some third category.

The thing is that they are all templates and you have to add the inner stuff-the backstory-the dimension that fits them to the story or makes the story.
The difference is when you do that to Mary Sue she is no longer a stereotype so she is no longer Mary Sue and when you do that to Mr. wizard he stays a Mr. wizard throughout--can someone tell me how that works, besides that it is magic.
 

JohnM

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I think simplifying terms will best serve. An Archetype is a perfect example of something. In the book, The Hero with a Thousand Faces, author Joseph Campbell shows that regardless of which culture or place on Earth, heroes are heroes. Whether they face dragons or some mechanized monster, heroes have certain characteristics.

"Mary Sue"? Really?

I think there is a tendency for some to reduce things to mathematics. This in an effort to escape the writer's or artist's journey. Experience shows that there is a learning curve. It did not go away during the transition from the 20th to the 21st Century. Living in "modern times" is fictional, aside from the date on the calendar.

A stereotype is a common description of certain types of persons. It may or may not be accurate for the most part. And there is no reason not to use them in a story.

Human beings write stories about human beings because we are most fascinated by ourselves. And we write for each other, not just ourselves. We share our thoughts.

And human imagination does not boil down to mathematics either.
 
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sknox

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An archetype isn't a thing that actually exists. It's a reification--a deduction, if you prefer. Someone studies a body of information--let's stick with writing and storytelling, so it's a body of literature. They start to see patterns. We humans are as attracted to patterns as a cat to a laser point. We'll follow it anywhere.

One of those places is to the source. We love to find the origin, the earliest, of something. When we identify it, that's the archetype. Another researcher, following different paths, might come to another conclusion. The key, though, is that an archetype is an abstraction from actual practice.

A stereotype is something altogether different. It's something over-used. But sez who? There are plenty of young readers for whom any given stereotype is a bolt from the blue, a revelation, a delight. And plenty of older readers who have seen the same device a hundred times. One can add to this by observing that a stereotype falls short also because it lacks depth, that it employs the device--kingship, farmer boy of destiny, secret evil organization--without putting any flesh on the bones. To which others on this thread have already pointed out this isn't really the fault of the stereotype, it's just called bad writing.

So, my point here is that stereotype and archetype are two different ... er ... types. They aren't really comparable.
 

tinkerdan

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I think this is all a result of people wanting some formula.
I think there is a tendency for some to reduce things to mathematics. This in an effort to escape the writer's or artist's journey. Experience shows that there is a learning curve. It did not go away during the transition from the 20th to the 21st Century. Living in "modern times" is fictional, aside from the date on the calendar.
Something by which they can make any idea into a great and successful story--possibly without the requisite work, And there really isn't.
------------------------------------------------------------------
I think this is very true in character Stereotypes and Archetypes.
A stereotype is something altogether different. It's something over-used. But sez who?
So, my point here is that stereotype and archetype are two different ... er ... types. They aren't really comparable.
However the material from Robert Mckee's "Story" is pushing into Stereotype and Archetype plots; which is quite different and I'm not sure you can have a Stereotype plot the same way as Stereotype characters where someone decides it has been used too often , but the example Robert gives is not that type of Stereotype and is more an example of how culture, time, and context conspire to outdate a plot in an old story or even invalidate a new story for readers of another culture.
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I agree that with this:
An archetype isn't a thing that actually exists. It's a reification--a deduction
As long as we agree that whatever that Stereotype plot Mckee is talking about; it belongs in the archetype plots rather than it's own separate place.

And from there, we should realize that even with this Archetype system if someone wrote well and used Archetype plot and Archetype characters, they still could write something that falls flat on its face by ignoring good character development(strengths, weaknesses, backstory and context).
 

JohnM

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Character development? Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are both heroes, but aside from age, how and why are they different?

A stereotype is definitely a shared thing among groups of people. People from 'small towns' have certain 'typical' characteristics and people from the 'big city' have certain characteristics. Big city folks are generally better than small town folks, or so the stereotypes go.

Write something. Get it done. Sometimes inspiration, as opposed to a great deal of planning, can get a writer to produce something that he or she enjoyed doing, followed by a proper critique. By examining his own efforts, and with proper guidance by someone who is a professional writer or editor, he can develop further. It is a process that takes time. No way around it.
 

tinkerdan

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Remember though that that's just one example of a supposed Archetype.
Character development? Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are both heroes, but aside from age, how and why are they different?
This is what we need to highlight: that using archetypes doesn't give you developed characters. That work still has to be done.
It's like number painting and development of characters is like coloring outside the lines,

We need to put Stereotype and Archetype in the same place we put 3 Act Structure Outlines and Character biography and Much of the worldbuilding; off to the side for reference and guidance.

The real work and story still comes from Character Development on the page as the story and that includes how the author clues the reader into the character motivation through backstory, strength and weakness to show not just the emotions or feeling or five senses, but also the background to why key elements trigger those feelings.

And in that respect I would beg to differ that Luke Skywalker and Han Solo are indistinguishable. Though there might be less depth to the characters than some in other fiction, even the little the viewer sees of their motivations tells the viewer that Luke and Han's heroism comes from totally different places.
 

DLCroix

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Hi! I'm not sure if one should even consider these things. I mean, when one is starting to write it is obviously good to study as much as possible just as a painter begins knowing the theory about colors or how he should mix his ingredients.
But then it becomes, or should, in a process that has more to do with writing a kind of love letter. Something intimate. Where perhaps you have any intention of producing a certain hit of effect; but going further is always going to sound like a recipe, I leave that to the critics or analysts. Because what is recipes, I only apply it in the kitchen. And there I'm not that good either; I mean, it's not that I've ever screwed up the Christmas turkey (knock on wood); but...

What I do recommend is thinking about history. What will be distinctive? I find that legitimate, because it comes from anxiety and the anatomy of influence. We all have favorite authors, anyone reading the first thing we wrote so long, so long ago, could immediately identify more or less what they are or were. Later, when we begin to master the technique better, this tracking becomes more difficult to identify that influence precisely because it becomes more sophisticated. But influence is like first loves. There will always be a trace, what do I know, the unconscious way of organizing the plot, the way we present a scene.
Now, if some archetype can be identified there, what am I going to know? My poor characters, the dominant race of my saga, in fact, are a mass of arrogant individuals who swear themselves the most perfect thing in existence but end up sitting in the mud with their faces dirty and putting bullets in their weapons smoking the remains of a cigarette that they found lying around and without his glamorous velvet jacket with gold lapels, of course, with which they have covered the corpse of the faithful slave who died defending them. It's like Saving Private Ryan with spaceships but suppose they were all earls, dukes or something like that and the bunch of baddies on their way are their own cousins and wives and lovers. What the hell did we do to this country? Etcetera. :rolleyes:
 
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