Thursday, November 4, 2010

This Story Be Broke

My mother told me about a novel she read. This particular novel is one she didn’t care for. I think I understand why. In what she told me of the book, the main character was the granddaughter of the governor. Of which state I’m not sure. In any case, the governor was the bad guy and because of what he did his granddaughter was put in danger. Without having read the book, I’d like to say that I believe the problem is that the archetype is messed up. A governor’s granddaughter is very similar to a president’s daughter. In that archetype, the president’s daughter is given special treatment. They don’t have a role in government, but as Daddy’s little girl they get special access. On the down side, they have a tendency to get kidnapped. That is because they’re an easier target than the president and the president is tempted to do give in to any and all demands to get them back.

The book Mom read had it messed up because making the governor the villain removes the special access of the granddaughter. And it’s not likely that the governor will kidnap his own granddaughter. As readers, we want that archetype preserved because we want to imagine that this woman has that special relationship to someone in power. In real life, we enjoy being a close friend of the most important person in the room. In the president’s daughter archetype, we enjoy that situation vicariously.

When we destroy an archetype like that, we vicariously experience the same pain we would experience if we thought we were close to a family member and then they betrayed us. Imagine if your mother was a famous author. At a book signing, she has a line going out the door and down the block. Thinking that you have a right to speak to her at any time, you walk past the line and up to your mother. When she refuses to see you because you cut in line.

While we shouldn’t assume that we have to stick to the archetype in all cases, it’s important to know which archetype we’re working with and how we’re violating it. Messing with the archetype can ruin a story, so it may be better to change archetypes or change the story to match the archetype.