Psychology in Writing: The Collective Unconscious – Writing Process

English: Universal archetype expression of the...

English: Universal archetype expression of the ancient legend Green Man. One of many modern renditions of the Green Man. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Writing Process

There are plenty of resources out there for writers on archetypes, I included some in the introduction blog.  As writers we should not only be aware of archetypes, but aware of them at a meta-level.  It’s easy to identify the hero or the mentor archetypes in our writing, that’s writing 101, but there are several ways to incorporate archetypes at a deeper level in our writing.

At the meta-level, the first step for us as writers is an understanding of what makes up an archetype.  A generic hero will fit plot needs, but will not help tap into our reader’s sense of the collective unconscious.  We need to identify what are the common threads that make up the archetype of the hero, mentor, etc., so identifiable that readers across cultures would be able to identify with our characters.  As an example, for the hero we need to recognize that the hero as an archetype represents a return of balance for the community, has a sense of good, and because of these traits others will follow the hero.  Another example is the archetype of the fool who is represented by blind hope and frivolousness.  It’s at this level of understanding that we as writers can make our stories really resonate with our readers by tapping into the unconscious categories that our readers possess.

At the story level, a way for incorporating archetypes is having characters explore their archetypes, and encounter and challenge potentially faulty ones.  As I mentioned in the post on therapeutic presentation, our character may have an error in identifying healthy or helpful archetypes and may align with or get into relationships with the wrong people.  We can incorporate our characters’ working through, resolving, and developing new archetypes as part of their journey.  Another way to incorporate archetypes into our writing is by having characters change archetypes; like defense mechanisms, our characters are not locked into a single method of operating.  Our protagonist can move from a fool, to a hero, and depending on the length of the story, potentially to a mentor.  Along the way, our protagonist can represent an archetype without becoming the archetype, such as representing the outcast or rebel to advance the story or a particular story arch.

The basic reason to understand the collective unconscious is to gain an appreciation of the commonalities that all individuals share.  Through understanding these commonalities we can create characters and stories that resonate with our readers and lighten our writing load.  If readers at an unconscious level recognize our characters or themes then we can save effort in exposition and keep focused on the parts of our writing that make our stories move.  Both readers and writers want to be part of something bigger than their self, and nothing is bigger than being part of a shared cultural experience than connecting with the collective unconscious.

As always, from my couch to your pen happy writing!

And keep sending in your questions! mailto:W.T.Jowett@outlook.com

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