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Book Review:

45 Master Characters:
Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters

By Victoria Lynn Schmidt

Reviewed by C. D. Ratliff
Copyright 2008 by C. D. Ratliff, All Rights Reserved

This is an amazing book for writers at any stage in their profession. Ms. Schmidt explains her objective is to give writers better-developed characters. The book offers us mythic, cross-cultural models of both male and female archetypes to explore as foundations for our own unique characters. Each archetype includes the villainous side. This is very useful in regards to exploring the shadow aspects of character or to create that antagonist we love to hate.

She gives us examples from popular novels and movies to demonstrate the effectiveness of using these archetypes, and in the end, shows us how to get the most from them in writing. This author goes the extra mile and gives readers a thorough understanding of how to weave these characters into the feminine and masculine journeys. 

The main portion of the 298-page book presents each archetype in a mythic scenario followed by personality traits and details concerning what they care about, what they fear and what motivates them. In the 'Getting Started' section, she defines the master archetypes and the archetypal patterns for thirteen supporting characters. We see the complex character as a combination of archetypes with examples for developing them. We then explore the male and female archetypes separately followed by a section defining supporting characters and their function. The final section explores the masculine and feminine journeys complete with worksheets and tips. I found the entire book both enlightening and helpful.

The first section describes the use of archetype characters and the many ways their driving force keeps your story alive with believable actions and reactions. She describes archetypes as "blueprints for building well-defined characters." This section shows character sketches and questions to answer that will guides us through choosing the best archetype for the story we want to write. By following the guide in this section, we can easily develop characters that will seem to live and breathe.  

Section two explores creating female heroes and villains where sixteen female archetypes with detailed profiles and how they are seen in today's culture are shown. Examples from literature and film are often noted throughout to emphasize modern concerns of the archetype's distinctive personality. The chapters are organized the same for each archetype with segments defining fears, motivations, compatibility with other archetypes and possible character arcs. The presentation of the villainous side of each archetype, while not as well defined, shows the dark traits of the character and is followed by examples of the archetype in action through popular media.

The third section explores creating male heroes and villains using the same format, and also profiles sixteen archetypes in mythic models. We see Apollo as both the Businessman and his villainous side, the Traitor. Ares the Protector with the villainous side in the profile of the Gladiator. You will most likely recognize favorite characters in these profiles; I did.

Heroes and villains do not tell the Story alone; section four is where we find the rest of our character list. Here creating supporting characters is defined by well-known archetypes such as the Magi, Mentor, and Best Friend. There you will find rivals and symbol characters such as Shadow, Lost Soul, and Double with the most typical uses for them. I was somewhat disappointed that the trickster archetype was not included; he is one of my favorites as a shapeshifter and enigmatic character.

In section five, "The Feminine and Masculine Journeys," we discover the complete structure of each journey and examples of how various archetypes might approach them. We see the different approaches of male vs. female in topics such as power, support, and perception as well as an overview of the different issues each will face. This section explores areas intended to assist writers in creating gender opposite characters with ease.

In the final chapters, she defines each journey and divides the stages into the familiar three-act structure. The coping strategies and issues that various archetypes might use in negative situations are included to help writers create a believable character arc. Craft tips follow each stage with suggestions and ideas for integration and support character roles. Finally, the last pages of the book contain charts and worksheets that make idea development a breeze.

Overall, I found the book well structured and easy to use as a reference guide. Seasoned authors as well as new writers will benefit from the vast information covered here. It has a prominent place on my reference bookshelf.


45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters

By Victoria Lynn Schmidt

Published in 2007 by Writer's Digest Books

ISBN-13: 978-1-58297-522-1

ISBN-10: 1-58297-522-1