“Begin with an individual, and before you know it you find that you have created a type; begin with a type, and you find that you have created–nothing.”
–F. Scott Fitzgerald, “The Rich Boy”
To be sure, this is very good advice, and I see where he’s coming from. Nonetheless, sometimes you have a bill, and need to create a character that fills it.
For me, the archetype-shaped hole in my story was in the form of The Sage Mage. You may spot this archetype in the persons of Gandalf and Dumbledore. Rowtan was the fellow I created to fill this position, but like any decent writer, I did not want him to be type only (and therefore nothing).
To start the individualizing, I made him 40, crazy young for a sage. Second, I gave him a top secret government job in what we would call magic research and development. Also– well, I’ll let this excerpt from Scriptless do the talking.
Until his venture to the Land of Ice, he had lived his entire life in Kapatak, and was unused to being considered exotic. He’d drawn stares before, of course; the youngest elected Head of the international Mage’s Guild was bound to be gawped at every so often, but he had never liked it. Even when they were not simply staring at him for his own sake—if he was speaking to the council, or teaching a university class, or some such thing—the watchers made him nervous.
The only time he could be comfortable under their gazes was when he forgot them altogether, when he lost himself in his subject or his cause. When he spoke as an advocate or a mediator, he could occasionally forget the room, and give all his attention to those he was negotiating or debating with, but it was easiest to do when he was teaching.
Then—no students, no colleagues, no audience; naught but magic, magic and science and detail and theory, fact and possibility and experiment. How easily he could lose himself in his passion! He had once gone two full hours over schedule, lecturing on the degrees and bridges between wild and domestic objects.
Here, however, there was no subject on which to sermonize, and he found it hard to lose himself in his own thoughts in crowded taverns and common rooms. And so he drank his hot cider, and flushed undetectably, and tried not to hear the whispered comments that came with the stares.
I did not make him balanced, or even near to it; I made him a scientist with an obsessive passion. For flaws, I found him sometimes unsure of what to do, of the right thing. I also found him to be shy and somewhat skittish– not nervous of confrontation on behalf of another, but scared to bring up anything personal.
He hasn’t got it together like my original idea of him; he’s not the guru on the icy mountaintop I first envisioned. Shedding the majesty that came with the archetype, he became one better: a person. A person who fills my book’s bill, who stands in The Sage Mage’s spot, and stands well. He is a powerful mage, able to explain the mysteries of magic and advise my wandering characters.
But one flaw at a time, one discovery at a time, Rowtan ceased to be “The Sage Mage” and became simply—Rowtan.