Did I mention how much I love LOTR? I probably did…several times.
Some background: there is nothing new under the sun. I mean that. Airplanes are not that different from birds, buildings are not that different from redwoods (barring that, houses, which still take their cues from how trees and burrows are built) and advanced A.I. looks much like a human brain.
If all the ideas in the world, tropes in storytelling or not, are rivers, then they all flow from one source. There is nothing new under the sun when it comes to telling stories: the same tropes and plots are visited and revisited any number of times. Certain characters bear resemblances to other characters.
However, the good news is is that this is an unspoken, universal truth. The Count of Monte Cristo and Inigo Montoya’s story arc from The Princess Bride look similar. In fact, they are 99% the same. They are both of the revenge plot type. The antagonist(s) have/has wronged the protagonist, and that is where the conflict comes from. The driving forces are the same, at the core.
But don’t worry. This is the essence of storytelling. You take many, many things from other stories, and sometimes in ways that you don’t realize. Sometimes, however, you do realize them, and then you’re just being honest with yourself.
One well-known member of these archetypes is The Hero’s Journey. LOTR is a great example of this. The Hero’s Journey is all about the story of an evolution of a character. In this way, it’s deeply personal. It’s all about how the hero/heroine is changed by the end. How has he/she learned something or has become wiser? How has he/she overcome his/her obstacles? What friends has he/she made on the way?
Typically, The Hero’s Journey takes the main plot of a travel or quest. Because such an endeavor is filled with hardships and danger, the hero/heroine is bound to be changed by the end, and probably for the better. This can take a multitude of forms (like in Tom Sawyer, where it’s a collection of adventures, but the main focus is on the development and revelation of Tom’s character), but the main gist has to remain in accordance with the personal development of the main character through trial and tribulation.
One problem you’re going to want to avoid if you recognize this archetype in you story is placing undue attention on other main characters. I’m not saying that you should leave all characters other than the hero/heroine totally undeveloped, but you have to leave them less developed to create a contrast. The real point of the story can be lost this way, and it becomes hard to see who the real hero is and how he/she has been changed.
To do this, just pick a hero/heroine and then stick with them. Don’t do any complicated shifting or “this is the REAL hero” shenanigans. Keep it simple. If you want to add more development and details to your side heroes, just develop the object of the story further so you have more room to contrast.
Remember, this isn’t just a set of adventures. It’s a series of personal conflicts. The conflicts of the physical world only illustrate the conflict that’s happening on the inside of the main hero. If you can, try to make this work to your advantage: see in what creative ways you can illustrate personal problems in a physical way. (i.e., the hero’s tendency to laziness manifests itself in the following problem: the hero stops and an inn and sets down the pack he has been carrying. It contains a letter for the king of So-and-So, and is extremely important. However, he’s tired and weary of carrying it. During the night, it is stolen. Does he overcome his laziness and try to recapture the pack, or does he give up? Bad example, but you get the point, I’m sure)
Good luck, and happy writing!