Character Archetypes: The Guardian

Hi gang, Craig with you today. This is post number seven in the character archetypes series. In the Hero’s Journey, there are some common characters that are likely to show up in all stories. This doesn’t mean each archetype shows up in every story, and aside from the hero, the rest are kind of optional. Almost every story will have an assortment of them.

This series is to introduce you to them. Once you’re aware of them, you can decide if they can benefit the story you’re writing.

The Guardian has a few different names, the Threshold Guardian, the Gatekeeper, even The Wall. They all mean the same thing. This is another one that can be a character, but can also be a situation or a physical obstacle. Your hero cannot complete the task without conquering the Guardian.

It might be as simple as figuring out the bad boy who gets her motor running isn’t quite the right choice. She can’t figure that out without dealing with the bad boy in some manner. It’s usually more complicated than that.

The most obvious one was played for laughs. Monty Python’s Black Knight protected the path. “None shall pass.”

You’re trucking along, trying to escape the goblin caverns, when you run smack into Gollum. The only way you can get out is to play a game of riddles with him. Gollum is the Guardian.

Frodo couldn’t even get into Mordor without getting past Shelob. Of course all he did was lay there, but Sam showed some real character growth and an ability to back up his words.

Guardians are usually used to block entrance into something, either physical or psychological, but they can also block escape. You’ve snuck onto the Death Star and rescued the princess (who happens to be your sister) but you aren’t leaving without going through Darth Vader.

A Guardian moment can be a good time to make heroes rethink what they’re doing. You can use one to sell the plot back to your audience, because the hero can weigh the merits of going on vs. going back. “Oh, a maze sounds like fun. Wait. Minotaur? What’s a Minotaur?

Guardians can also take the form of well meaning interference, like parents who forbid the character from doing something. Sometimes, another person needs help and it will divert the hero from his/her task. These fork-in-the-road points are golden to fiction. “If I don’t complete my quest, something bad will happen. If I don’t rescue my friend, something else bad will happen.

I recently used physical obstacles in my book, Serang. She had to pass through the frozen desert and the Temple of Wind, while maturing and learning the whole time. Later she had to pass through a cave alone to test her mettle.

If they test your character, and allow for some kind of growth, physical barriers can be Guardians. The story of Moses is full of these kind of Guardians. Banished into the desert, climbing the mountain, etc. After each event, Moses was improved to a degree.

The Potterverse has them, too. Remember Fluffy the three-headed dog?

While Guardians are obstacles to be overcome, I think they work best when reflection, emotion, and growth are involved. Three days after Pearl Harbor, the hero’s mother doesn’t want him to enlist. She’s afraid he’ll get hurt. His girlfriend is willing to take things to the next level, if only he’ll stay with her. His best friend already signed up, and he’s a walking accident. The friend will die if the hero isn’t there to look out for him.

Guardians are as malleable as you want them to be. Some of them become allies. (Little John) Some can only be overcome by specific traits your hero needs to exhibit. These could be sneaking, fighting, reasoning, even etiquette. I remember the old Zorro movie where he couldn’t even get access to the Dons without developing a bit of culture.

You guys have this by now. Will this cause you to look at the turning points for your characters in a different way? Have you written a Guardian, or would you consider it after having read this?

Obligatory traffic signal: The last post was about The Shapeshifter, the next one is about The Shadow.

50 thoughts on “Character Archetypes: The Guardian

  1. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    Craig Boyack has been running a series of posts on Story Empire discussing Character Archetypes. It has been most excellent, and I’ve saved these posts for future reference in my own work. The current archetype under discussion is the Guardian, and this is my favorite of the entire series, so far. Do yourself a favor and check it out. You’ll see what I mean. And as always, please remember to share far and wide so others can enjoy and learn, too. Thanks, and a big thanks to Craig for helping us all improve our writing skills! 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a pretty new writer, I had never once thought about various archetypes until you began this series, Craig. I find each of these posts very well thought out, with easily understandable examples, and I have been able to recognize some of these at play in my own books. I didn’t know I was using them, nor understand how to do so well, but I have a few that qualify, I think. And now that I understand more about them, I can do a better job of being sure they work as effectively as they should.

    This post might be my favorite. (Love the elephant in the road!) I can see exactly how the Guardian can be in the form of a character (well-meaning or evil) as well as an inanimate obstacle. I’m guessing it could also be something less tangible. A force field? A mental roadblock? A phobia or unreasonable hatred holding back our hero? If I’ve understood you correctly, the possibilities are limitless, but the job is pretty much the same.

    I’ve been saving all of this series for reference in my current WIP and in future books, and I’d like to thank you for making these “lessons” so clear and easy to understand. Sharing this today on The Write Stuff. It’s too good not to pass along! Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You have a solid grasp of the Guardian. It can be looked at as a test for main characters. Are you smart enough to bring down the force field? If so, you might be smart enough to do what needs done on the other side. If not, you might need to find the Mentor. Free margaritas at the Golden Baboon Saloon, but you have to get around that elephant to get there.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a good one, Craig. I usually let my plot provide the roadblocks (or my villains), but I don’t think I’ve ever written a guardian before. Well, maybe the mom in my Medici Protectorate series. Two moms, actually. But neither of them was too difficult to overcome, so they probably don’t qualify. (They certainly weren’t Vader-level difficult to pass through.) I think I’d like to try this one.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Moms can work well. It can be as simple as, “You are not going to the bonfire tonight, young lady. Now march up to your room and think about what you did.” Mom is a guardian to whatever the hero has to accomplish at the bonfire. Overcoming the guardian doesn’t have to mean, “pistols at dawn.” Maybe it’s crawling down the drainpipe instead.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I love learning about the different character types. I’m looking back at my series and realizing that I used many of them without even realizing it. Lol! Moving forward, I’ll be able to put more intent into creating characters who serve a better purpose. Thanks, Craig! 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • That makes my day, thank you. We have a lot of instinct for this stuff, and learning about the archetypes isn’t strictly required. I believe it can help us take our fiction to the next level, which is a big motivation for me. So glad you’re enjoying it.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Pingback: Character Archetypes: The Shapeshifter | Story Empire

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