Why do archetypes underpin all our stories?
- ‘The Societal Reason’ – Yorke suggests that it may be possible for “archetypal stories to carry in their DNA a blueprint for survival”. What does this mean? Well, think about the first time you ever used a cash machine. You approached it with fear and trepidation, thinking at best it would swallow your card, at worst swallow your fingers. The machine was your antagonist. But you needed to overcome your fear and scepticism to get your money because the bank was closed. So you plucked up courage, did what was required with the machine, and lo and behold you got your money and kept your fingers! And in the process, you came to appreciate the simple ‘out of hours’ service the cash machine offered, and you also learned not to be quite so fearful about technological change in the future. Inherent in this everyday task then is archetypal story structure – protagonist (you) faces antagonist (cash machine) and overcomes, ‘synthesising’ his or her findings to be born anew (no longer fearful of technological change). The ‘formula’ then is used to get us through life, pure and simple; it helps us to face and overcome challenges big and small every day, helps us to learn and grow, to survive and thrive.
- ‘The Rehearsal Reason’ – Archetypal story structure allows us to emotionally connect to characters in stories – characters have to face their antagonist for us to care (as I did with Adele in Blue is the Warmest Colour). We are taken on an emotional journey with that character in a fictional world through which we experience, by proxy, the problems, circumstances, situations, etc., our protagonist faces and overcomes. Therefore, by learning how to navigate and manage these circumstances in fictional form as the character, it gives us the wherewithal and tools to do the same in real life. Archetypal structure then allows stories to be a rehearsal for real life.
- ‘The Information Retrieval Reason’ – Archetypal story structure brings order to chaos, and the mass of information inside our heads is essentially chaos until we give it structure. And structure it we do. In fact, we understand our thoughts, memories, dreams and the ebb and flow of life itself as story. The maxim you learn on day one of every screenwriting course is ‘show, don’t tell’. As soon as we bombard someone with information, as soon as we ‘tell’, they switch off. Wrap that information into story – governed by archetypal structure – and it hits home far more emotionally and effectively. We like people to feel and remember the information we impart, so we deliver it as story.
- ‘The Procreation Reason’ – If we look at the Darwinian reasons we humans exist – to be the best versions of ourselves and procreate – then archetypal story structure leads us right there. It’s no great surprise that a lot of stories end with the two leads kissing and we all know that one thing leads to another. Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Boy gets girl and procreates. Archetypal story structure then suggests that by achieving “balance and harmony as an individual” we earn sexual union.
- ‘The Psychological Reason’ – We have constant struggles as humans between our desires and needs, both conscious and unconscious, and also between our internal and external worlds. Archetypal story structure – thesis, antithesis, synthesis – ultimately helps us find balance, be healed. The ‘formula’, therefore, helps us to find where sanity lies.
Storytelling in Advertising
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