for writers: the hero’s initiation in the magical woods, and 14 characters plus one he might find there

So our little Shane from Maine stumbles into the airport, his regulation-sized carry-on rolling behind him. 

He is in Italy, the Magical Woods.  With his red flannel shirt and lumberjack boots, Shane from Maine is a Stranger in a Strange Land.  Time to begin his INITIATION.

The Magical Woods does not need to be literally “magic”,

nor “woods”. 


It is simply a place that is out of the Hero’s every day world.  He will be tested here with tasks and hardships, though he may not always pass the test.  Even so, the Hero will pick up special skills and powers, and grow in strength.  Because until the climax, the worst is always yet to come. 

Poor Shane wanders the streets of Rome, gawking at the traffic cops leaning on their motorcycles smoking fat cigars, and the nonnas skittering down the alleyways dressed entirely in black and carrying a cloth bag full of garlic and tomatoes.

What is he doing here?!  What are the rules?  Who can he trust?  Who should he avoid?  


If Shane knew the list of characters often found at this point in the story, he would know:

1. Evil Sidekick–would be not a friend.  He might be stronger than the actual Evil One.

2. Femme Fatale–also not a friend.  She is the siren calling the Hero to his ruin.

3. The Rival–is often seen in a romance novel.  He is also in love with the Hero’s Lover, and is usually the one preferred by friends and family.

4. Hero’s Lover–ah, if the Hero meets a lover, she ain’t no help to him.  She is an important character, but she’s an antagonist.  They do a dance of repel and attract.  They are opposites, yet they see the heroic qualities in each other.

5. The Trickster–is an interesting fellow.  He’s the office jackass that fills our Hero’s office with popcorn while he’s on vacation.  He’s the Pied Piper that  lures away the children instead of the rats.  He’s a clown.  He’s a troublemaker.  He shakes things up.  He sticks pins in inflated egos.  Is he fer ya or agin’ ya?  The hero’s never quite sure.

6. The Crone–ugly old woman.  She might be an Oxford Professor.  She might be a paranoid schizophrenic.

7. The Fool–better not let him pull the wool over your Hero’s eyes.  This character walks around muttering in his beard.  The Hero better listen.  It’s something he needs to know.

8. The Mother–who is good and wise and kind and all the stuff a mama should be.

9. The Goddess–see above, but throw in beautiful and sexy.

10. The Saint–innocent and pious.

11. The Nymph–a flirt.

12. Bitch–so I really need to tell you the characteristics of a bitch?

13. Temptress–often the whore with a heart of gold, but can be nasty.  Her main claim to fame is selling her favors.  And I don’t mean party horns.

14. God with Feet of Clay–almost always a male figure, he seems supreme and wise, but in the end he doesn’t measure up.  A female hero often falls for him and may become either her mentor or lover.  Might even be the Evil One.

15. Shapeshifter–any of the characters can be a shapeshifter, changing their mood or look behaviors. 

Writers need not use this entire motley crew. 



   And these folks can be combined, such as a Bitchy Nymph, or a Croney Rival.  (Now THERE’S an interesting twist.)

We’ll leave poor Shane sitting on the Spanish Steps, his head on his knees, wondering what will happen next.


About Lisha Cauthen

Lisha Cauthen writes YA novels for guys that girls like to read too.

Posted on October 9, 2008, in hero's journey, writing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on for writers: the hero’s initiation in the magical woods, and 14 characters plus one he might find there.

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