The Temptress Archetype

I wrote about “The Lover” archetype in June/July, but there is another type of lover who often pops up along the hero’s journey . . . one who is not nearly as wholesome or helpful.

The Temptress character does exactly what you’d expect: she tempts the hero to do something he should not (sorry for my sexist pronouns—you can reverse them if you wish). She is an obstacle he must avoid—he must “just say NO” and continue on his quest.

This does not have to be about lust or a temptation simply to abandon the quest for something (or someone) else. The Temptress could be a person presenting a differing opinion and offering advice. If this advice is bad, then the character is a distraction/obstacle; if the hero shouldn’t listen, then the person giving the bad advice serves as a kind of Temptress. This character may actually be on the hero’s side—also hoping for the best and honestly believing that what he/she proposes is the right answer.

Perhaps the most interesting temptations are more philosophical. That is to say “the Temptress” is not a person at all, but rather, a “dark call.” Consider those heroes who walk a fine line between good and bad: they want to remain true and good and yet it would be so easy to cross the line and seek revenge. The dark side is tempting because it is easy and it feeds on selfishness. The reason this type of temptress is so common, of course, is that we can all relate to selfish desires and we know that they can be destructive in the long run.

Lets look at some Temptresses in my usual stories:

  • In Major League, Dorn’s wife becomes a temptress when she sleeps with Vaughn (who didn’t know she was Dorn’s wife). Vaughn got played, but he also gave in to his temptation and it cost him. Dorn’s wife uses Vaughn’s weakness (women) against him and thereby gets revenge on her cheating husband, but in doing so, she serves as a distraction for two of the team’s best players right before a critical game.
  • Harry Potter has a few girlfriends in the series before realizing who is “one true love is” and I’m not sure any of the other girlfriends could be considered temptresses as they are all “good” and fight on his side. Now, Ron Weasley, on the other hand, is often distracted by other girls and therefore doesn’t recognize Hermione until late in the series (after Emma Watson grows up and then . . . Wow). So we could argue that Ron is tempted by all kinds of things. Of course, the real temptation in the series is for Harry to either give up or give in to his darker side and seek vengeance. In order to stay true to himself, Harry must resist these temptations.
  • Although the boys in Stand By Me second guess themselves and consider turning back, no one intrudes on their quest until the bullies toward the end—so any Temptress they faced would be some sort of internal one. Could “doubt” counts as a Temptress?
  • I suppose you could look at Michael’s Italian wife (Apollonia) in The Godfather as his Temptress since she “distracts him” from his true love (Kay), though I don’t. First of all, I’d like to think that Michael was truly in love with Apollonia. Even if he wasn’t, the problems he has with Kay upon his return to the states have nothing to do with Apollonia (who dies before Michael’s return). The problems come from Michael’s negative transformation. Michael’s brother Sonny has an affair, and while it hurts his wife, this is not a major point in the story (much more on this in the novel, by the way!).
  • In the film version of Lord of the Rings, Eowyn is (sort of) a temptress for Aragorn, but obviously, in this story the real Temptress is the ring itself! Frodo must resist the ring’s call or else all is doomed!
  • While Batman/Bruce Wayne has had many lovers and temptresses over the years, the one that stands out in both the comics and in The Dark Knight Trilogy is Talia al Ghul, the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul (one of Batman’s greatest foes and the master villain in Batman Begins). Talia shows up in the 3rd film, tricks Bruce into trusting her and even loving her, only to literally stab him in the back.
  • There aren’t enough women in Star Wars. Abrams? Help us out. Okay, so it is interesting to look at Anakin and Padme’s relationship as “Anakin’s evil temptation that leads to his downfall and so much misery” …but the heroes Luke and Leia are born from that temptation and it isn’t Padme’s fault Anakin is terrible. Anakin is the bad guy. Not her. The real temptress in Star Wars (and Harry Potter + Lord of the Rings) isn’t a person, but rather a thing or idea . . . the dark side of the self. In all three of these series, the main characters must resist “the dark side” which will lead to their ultimate doom.
  • James Bond movies are filled with Temptresses. Bond is, let’s face it, a ladies man who is easily distracted by beautiful women. Some of these women are “lovers” in that they help and aid him in his quest, but just as often, they stab him in the back and try to get in his way.
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The Turn, Shift, or Twist

A turn, shift, or twist is a welcome element in any form of writing.

In poetry, the TURN or SHIFT is when there is a change in the speaker’s attitude or the tone, possibly leading to a Jerry Springeresque “final thought.” Here is an example: Frank O’Hara’s “Autobiographia Literaria.”

When I was a child
I played by myself in a
corner of the schoolyard
all alone.

I hated dolls and I
hated games, animals were
not friendly and birds
flew away.

If anyone was looking
for me I hid behind a
tree and cried out “I am
an orphan.”

And here I am, the
center of all beauty!
writing these poems!
Imagine!

So obviously the SHIFT is in the last stanza when the speaker casts away his feelings of isolation and desolation, instead pointing out that he has found joy in writing beautiful poetry (of course, you can interpret that differently—feel free!).

A non-fiction piece can easily incorporate a SHIFT if the author uses contrast, perhaps pointing out all the positives of a situation only to rip the rug out from under our metaphorical feet by then denouncing the subject and citing all of the negatives.

In fiction, we do the same thing, but we tend to call the SHIFT a TWIST (as in PLOT TWIST). If a character takes on a new attitude or something unexpected occurs, thereby changing the story’s established direction, we have our SHIFT/TWIST.

The SHIFT/TWIST is important, of course, because it revitalizes the reader’s interest. After 150 pages of a novel, we’re ready for something new—something that will catapult the story in another direction—forcing the characters to respond or to reveal themselves in new ways, pushing them out of their comfort zones. The twist may raise the stakes, be a kind of reveal (character has tricked or betrayed the hero), whatever. What the twist is doesn’t matter (okay, I’m lying—some twists are definitely better than others . . . but just go with it for now) since it can take so many forms. What matters is that there is one.

Some stories include several twists, and these can be riveting (Dan Brown’s novels come to mind). BUT, just having a twist doesn’t guarantee your story will resonate. I’d suggest checking the following:

  1. Does the twist, even though it is a surprise, still make sense? Having some hint earlier on, even if vague, will help. If a character changes attitude or reveals something, this needs to make sense for that character.
  2. Does it move the story forward? While the twist may include discovering something that happened long ago, this new information should still serve as a kick in the pants to the characters. They need to react, in the present, and move.
  3. Does the twist help establish your theme? Since the twist moves the plot and is important to the characters, perhaps it should be connected to whatever it is your story is indicating about human nature, life, the laws of the universe, etc. So if the twist is a reveal, then perhaps you are working with themes including:
    1. Appearances can be deceiving
    2. Trust (perhaps that trust is hard since people are liars?)
    3. Nothing is as it seems
    4. Ignorance (we don’t know all the important information)
    5. Secrets

Whatever the theme, see if you can make it “pop up” elsewhere in your story.

Good luck!

Crafting Great Sentences

Professor Brooks Landon offers a college level course called “Building Great Sentences: Exploring the Writer’s Craft” at The University of Iowa, but this entire course is available on CD or DVD through The Great Courses website (http://www.thegreatcourses.com).

Actually, I found the CD set at my local library.

Predicting that a 12 hour lecture series on writing sentences could only be excruciating, I checked out the series merely to satisfy my skepticism. Not only was I wrong, but the series became a paradigm shifting inspiration that has forever changed the way I write and think about crafting my sentences.

I should mention that, although a literature teacher, I hate studying grammar which, in my opinion, takes all the life out of that which I love. Studying The Great Gatsby’s grammar kills Gatsby more completely than any deranged husband ever could. Thankfully, Landon’s lectures avoid grammar jargon while his passion for excellent writing and his fabulous literary examples are omnipresent.

If you are serious about improving your own writing—no matter the genre— check out this series (at your library or at the website. *Sometimes the website will offer this course at a substantial discount! Check back if it is too pricey right now!).

I’ll give one example of how this course changed the way I write: Landon discusses the concept that we should think about sentences in terms of their suspensiveness: the degree to which the sentence is suspenseful. While some sentences should be short and pack sudden punch, Landon has convinced me that long sentences that unfold, phrase by phrase, word after word, can be the most powerful, descriptive, compelling, and interesting.

Consider this example: “He emerged from the study as one breaking through the frozen lake’s ice, gasping for air, struggling for survival, for the conversation had done more than take his breath, it had hit him in his soul, his mind and sense of identity reeling with that surprising and most fortunate revelation.”

Note that until that last word we have no idea what the sentence is really going to say or where it will take us. The last word truly is a “revelation” because the sentence only comes together once it is divulged. This attribute is what gives the sentence its suspensiveness and keeps us interested in it up until the last word.

Now, for added fun, try substituting out that last word for another and see how it makes us reconsider the entire sentence.

  • Replace “revelation” with “freedom,” for example, and we have to interpret the entire sentence differently because while we don’t know what the conversation was about, we get that the news is good in the sense that it opens things up for him.
  • Replace “revelation” with “humiliation” and we have some idea what the conversation was about.

Some of the very best suspensive sentences make the reader do a kind of whiplash double-take; we are lead in one direction only to have the carpet ripped out from under our feet by the very last word which changes everything that came before.

Unless you are a grammarian, you must still be skeptical about the value of this course. I can’t blame you. After all, I was sure it was something I’d find boring and would never finish . . . until I pressed play and gave it a shot.