Writing for Teen Boys: Exploring the Male Archetypes in Fantasy and Science Fiction
Guest Post by Darby Karchut
Some of the best story-telling is happening right now in the young adult and middle grade fantasy and science fiction fields. But, in a genre dominated by female protagonists, teen boy readers often feel left out. No wonder many school librarians report a sharp decline in reading amongst boys, especially during the middle school years. As authors, we can help keep them “hooked on books” by writing stories which embody male archetypes.
In his book, To Be A Boy, To Be A Reader, William G. Brozo (International Reading Association; 2010) presented an in-depth look at the ten male archetypes, set forth by Carl Jung, and how those archetypes are portrayed in teen literature. Those archetypes include:
Warrior Pilgrim Magician Prophet King
Patriarch Healer Trickster Lover Wildman
Warrior (brave, morally and physically courageous; one of the best symbols to use in the opposition of evil)
Pilgrim (wanderer and searcher; a strong metaphor for adolescence)
Magician (intuitive, clever, uses the right brain, full of psychic potential)
Prophet (bringer of truth, spiritually virile)
King (a great leader, inspires excellence in others, able to make difficult decisions)
Patriarch (most “father-like”, responsible, but also has a sense of fun)
Healer (desires to cure the physical, emotional and/or spiritual illnesses of his society)
Trickster (he embodies the puckish side of the masculine spirit, “snarky”)
Lover (deeply empathic, sensitive to pain and joy; but be wary of applying just the sexual label to this archetype)
Wildman (the natural or primitive man, independent, unpredictable)
You and I can use these archetypes as a check list when creating our characters. However, I have found that male characters are often a mix of several of these archetypes, although they usually have a dominate trait. For example: Harry Potter is not only Magician, but also Warrior. Simon from The Mortal Instruments is Lover and Healer. And it’s not just the younger characters; the male adult characters can be classified by these archetypes as well: Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings is both King (of course) as well as Pilgrim. In my latest novel, Finn Finnegan, I used a combination of Trickster and Warrior for my main character, Finn, to highlight both his growing fighting abilities as well as his Irish temper. His master, the Knight Gideon Lir, is a blend of Warrior and Patriarch.
We should also think about the pairing of archetypes in our stories. Does a Wildman go with a Prophet? Or a Magician with a Pilgrim? Would combining certain archetypes help push the tension in the story? Are there some archetypes that are inherently “friendly” or “hostile” to one another? Just thinking about these archetypes often lead to new story ideas.
By intentionally writing male characters rooted in these archetypes, we not only create deeper and more realized characters, we are also giving boy readers mirrors in which to see themselves. When a hero in a story faces adversity and overcome trials, the reader does, too. It also provides a safe way for boys to “try on” different archetypes. As they read, they can experiment by temporarily becoming that character and asking themselves: Is this the kind of man I want to be?
And when a boy realizes there are others like him, even if they exist only in the pages of a book, he might want to search for more similar characters. Which could lead him to read more books. Then, BAM, we have him hooked on books. Pretty sly of us, wouldn’t you say?
Darby Karchut is a writer, a teacher, and a compulsive dawn greeter. Her fantasy books for teen boys include the 2011 Sharp Writ Book of the Year Griffin Rising, and its sequel, Griffin’s Fire. Her latest novel, Finn Finnegan, about the coming of age of a teen boy apprenticed to a mysterious Celtic warrior, will be released from Spencer Hill Press in March, 2013. She currently lives in Colorado with her husband and has more backpacks than purses. Learn more about Darby at: www.darbykarchut.com