Fantasized or Overblown Fictional Archetypes

Whatever you do, do with your might. If you’re gonna go for something, you might as well go for broke. That is the only way for you to pump out a product that people want to consume. They want to be blown away, they want to be surprised and excited. They want more.

Imagine, then, your surprise when you pump your characters’ interesting tendencies to the absolute brim…and no one likes it. Yeah, I see you out there. You’re probably one of those guys playing a souls game who cranks the “Feminine” slider on his character customization to 255 in hopes that something appealing to look at will result (listen man, we’ve all been there).

But, horny video game references aside, bigger is not always better. Overblowing certain tendencies within a character (we’ll get into what that looks like in just a moment) does not guarantee a more appealing character. In fact, just like overripe fruit can be edible or even poisonous, so can be your character if handled incorrectly. It can be used to great positive effect, but can also result in a lacking experience. It all just comes down to how you handle it.

For example, the character Allomancer Jak from the short story of the same name by Brandon Sanderson is meant to be a silly, overblown archetype of older, more adventurous allomancers. We would generally call this a spoof, and it’s most often used for humor.

Almost all the characters in The Princess Bride are overblown. At least in the movie, the characters are for the most part exaggerated for laughs and fun, but also for simplicity’s sake (for a 100-minute live-action comedy/fantasy production, it has an impressive cast of characters). Sometimes characters make foolish decisions because it’s within their archetype to do so–and we play along with it.

But outside of comedy proper, “overblowing” characters often results in disastrous consequences. The well-known Mary Sue trope is an example of this, being a literal embodiment of the feminist power fantasy to such extremes that characters no longer act rationally (just like in Princess Bride, but without the laughs).

Wanna know why She-Hulk, Captain Marvel, and the Star Wars Sequels were poorly received by fans? Because the main characters of each production were overblown, stereotypical people that weren’t funny. Audiences don’t like it when you subvert their expectations…at least, when they don’t laugh at it.

One of the most valuable skills you need to learn as a writer is how to limit things. Sometimes less is more. If you think that if a tablespoon of chocolate syrup on ice cream is good and that a gallon must therefore be that much better, you might have a difficult time grasping this concept.

Subtlety, in all things. That is your job is a writer. The point of overblowing character tendencies is to entertain the reader, as are all techniques you practice in your pursuit of fame and wealth. I know you want to “show, don’t tell”, but the end goal is not to “show, don’t tell”. The end goal is to create an entertaining book that readers want to enjoy.

Not overblowing archetypes is just the next step up from that. I’ll explain how to overblow characters correctly, but before then I just want you to keep in mind that we do not do anything for its own sake in writing. All techniques, ploys, and education serve to further one final goal, and that goal is entertaining the reader.

That being said, there is a technical loophole to what I just said. Overblowing a single characteristic within a character often has better results than sculpting the character’s purpose around it. Take Wit from The Stormlight Archive: his ability to mock and taunt unceasingly is such that no one, not even sharp-tongued Shallan, can equal him. He is meant as a stand-out character, one obviously different from the rest.

And I don’t just mean that Wit is known for his cleverness: he is absurdly clever. It’s Sanderson’s way of showing how different Wit is from everyone else in the story. It’s that feeling of difference or uniqueness you want to capture when you overblow a characteristic within a certain character.

That’s all.

Really.

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Plus, I mean, it wouldn’t hurt to check out the Resources tab. It’s full of super helpful material and I promise it will help you out. Until then, writers!

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Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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