Finding Plot Roles For Archetypes

by Michael Barnaby
(North Fort Myers, Florida)

Question: My story idea is this: Protagonist has lived entire life passively through to retirement (shown by examples) and then has something stolen - rosary beads carved of olivewood that's been in the family for generations. Obviously only sentimental value to rosary. Theft finally moves him to action. {I have antagonist and contagonist and reason for theft covered}. Would like Protagonist to travel (to Florida from NY and meet other characters) in order to solve. Problem: I've tried, but can't imagine 1.Having other characters with interest/need to be involved throughout the story and 2. at the same time, fit archetypes. Any advice will be appreciated.

Thank You.

Answer: In order to properly help you with this question, I would need to know what the Story Goal is.

Is the Protagonist trying to recover the rosary? Catch the thief? Reconnect with his family or his past? Recover a memory?

A clear Story Goal can act as an organizing principle for the characters as well as the plot.

For instance, the Sidekick could be anyone who speaks in favour of the Protagonist's quest, while the Skeptic would be someone who is against it. (Keep in mind, the Antagonist could be the person who keeps company with the Sidekick or Skeptic.) These characters don't need to be intimately involved with the rosary to have an opinion.

You could also have a character who helps the Protagonist on his quest - a Guardian - who balances the Contagonist. This could be a policeman, social worker, family member, friend taxi driver, or anyone in fact who takes an interest in the Protagonist.

Finally, since it obviously takes a big push to get this Protagonist to embark on the quest (since he is by nature a Be-er), perhaps the Emotion character could be the person who gets him moving with an emotional appeal - reminding him why it is so important to recover the rosary. It could even be someone in a memory or dream.

The possibilities are really endless. The idea is that all the possible motivations related to the Story Goal are represented, so that the story feels complete.

What you might do is make a list of all the possible people the Protagonist could encounter or needs to encounter in his quest for the Story Goal and then see which ones it might be interesting to assign an archetypal role.

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Follow-Up - Finding Plot Roles For Archetypes

by Michael Barnaby
(North Fort Myers, Florida)

Thanks you for the detailed and quick response to my questions. Greatly, greatly appreciated. Hopefully I absorbed some of what you wrote. Here is where I stand now - my thoughts - not really a formal synopsis: Protagonist Mark Higgins, among others, has been victimized by the "Snowbird Burglar" who struck in the late fall three years running in Mark's small town. Burglar takes jewelry, gold and religious items. No religious items, but all other items, found through sales to flea market vendor; thief caught. Turns out he is a “snowbird”, wintering in Florida in a small, modest condo community. That and all other info, including name/address, becomes public knowledge when he's arrested. Turns out thief is dying of cancer (unknown to public), pays restitution, gets probation and let go.
Mark has been passively drifting through life for forty years and been consciously aware of and disgusted by it. Recently forced into early retirement due to economy; wife died of cancer ten years prior. His story goals are in reality multiple - first, to recover the rosary, with its personal and family-memory value, second, plain old-fashioned anger over robbery (“almost felt like I was raped”) third, to consciously change his attitude/lifestyle to one which more actively engages life, and lastly to prove to himself that can accomplish, start and follow through on something on his own, without family or employer obligation.
As a result of the above, Mark “snaps” - he wants back an antique olivewood rosary that’s been in family for many years. Brought back from the formation of Israeli state ceremony in 1940’s by an aunt, a nun). Also feels shame that his aunt went through so much, and feels obligated to retrieve - this must be about reason #10! Throughout story, Mark will be dramatically, passionately focused on recovery.
By phone, Mark rents a furnished condo unit for a month where antagonist lives. Contaganist and traveling partner is friend Dottie, his opposite, who has two weeks vacation (she has time-option limit). Contaganist is atheist, Mark isn’t, and this can play into story and tension, though story definitely isn’t overtly religious. Some past history can come during drive.
Mark meets colorful next-door neighbor Luella (obese 60’s throwback), who becomes Guardian. Through her meets Brother John (minister) and Octavia (social worker), young Black couple in community. She becomes Sidekick; he becomes Skeptic. These two may also double at times as Reason and Emotion. Also have another character in mind for Emotion - a retired female business manager, who is surprisingly vocal and very passionate regarding religion. Hopefully will make recruitment events interesting and story-progressive. Not all characters will be inclined to help - antagonist, it turns out, is highly regarded by many.
I now picture the story beginning in Luella's apartment, who he's just met, and giving backstory in pieces through dialogue.
Climax: Mark visits Philly Starnes, antagonist, homebound, who’s semi-conscious, drifting in and out. Looks pitiful. Starnes has rosary wrapped in hands, fingering them prayerfully.

Now I just need to figure out the part where you say, "The possibilities are really endless". I think that part's called "Imagination and Scene Creation"!


"Goal must involve or affect all or most characters. We will build a world around our protagonist that includes many perspectives on the problem and makes the goal important to everyone in that world."

Hopefully I'm getting closer.

Would appreciate any further help, if possible and convenient.

Thanks again,

Answer: Mike, you know I can't write your story for you, so I'll express a couple of thoughts.

One thing your outline leaves me wondering is how this story will end. In what state/condition will Mark be in at the end of the story? Will he be at peace? Will he be better off? Will the journey have been worthwhile? (This is the story Judgement.)

The climax seems a little flat, probably because I'm not sure what the big decision is that will determine the outcome. Does Mark resolve his inner struggle by taking back the rosary or by leaving it in Philly's hands? What does the decision mean to Mark? Is the message of the story about gaining or losing faith (which the rosary symbolizes)? Or is it about passing faith on?

Is there an impact character - someone who provides an example of the type of person Mark wishes he was or feels pressured to become?

I feel you should probably nail down the Story Goal. If it's "recovering the rosary," okay. If the outcome is failure, you could have the basis of a tragi-comic ending. Somehow that feels better to me than a goal of revenge. The burglary is really the initial driver that sets the story in motion (which incidentally implies that the story will end with an action). But the story seems to be about more than a simple quest for revenge. As for the third option you suggest (essentially to become a man who accomplishes things), perhaps that's Mark's inner conflict?

When I suggest that the Goal should affect or involve most characters, you are clearly on your way there. Mark and Philly both want the rosary. And if the rosary does represent faith, several of your other characters obviously have opinions about possessing faith or could be affected by the outcome of Mark's decision.

One final suggestion: have you looked at the article regarding the 8 Steps to Creating a Plot Outline (

I think that might help you fill in some of the remaining plot holes.

Best of luck with this story.

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