Forget the Rugged Individual Archetype
Lesson time 18:24 min
Find out how to give yourself freedom in the kind of stories you tell and create characters that reflect the world you live in.
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Topics include: Writing an Antithetical Rugged Individualist • Rugged Individualism Is Propaganda • Serve an Underserved Population • Characters in The Fifth Season
LECTURER: What we end up with is a restriction of the kinds of stories that we tell as a society, the kinds of stories that we value, the kinds of stories that readers get to read. And there's a whole slew of people out there who would love to read stories about people just like themselves overcoming adversity. Let's talk about a really common archetype that we see in American literature-- the rugged individualist protagonist. This is the lone character, usually male-- always male, actually. The lone character who doesn't need help, who solves problems with his fists or his gun. We see this character everywhere in American literature, and we love this character. This is John McClane from "Die Hard." This is John Wayne in pretty much everything he did. This is all the old westerns, and so on. And these are great stories. We tend to enjoy them because they're the story of a person overcoming adversity just by being super tough and super interesting and super powerful and amazing. And you know, this is not a bad archetype in and of itself. The problem is that rugged individualism so permeates our media and so permeates the stories that we have been told over the years that it's almost started to become the only way that one can safely or lucratively tell a story. To the point that stories of people overcoming adversity in different ways-- with willpower versus with a gun or their fists, with endurance rather than just shooting something-- these kinds of stories are less told and are actually considered less valuable or important in our society. And what this ultimately ends up sort of turning into is, you know, because the rugged individualist tends to be a very masculine-centered archetype, what it means is that the stories of women, when women are overcoming adversity, either tend to frame them in a very masculine way or tend to ignore the ways in which women actually do overcome adversity. Because those aren't-- you know, she's not punching something, so it's not important. And so what we end up with is a restriction of the kinds of stories that we tell as a society, the kinds of stories that we value, the kinds of stories that readers get to read. And there's a whole slew of people out there who would love to read stories about people just like themselves overcoming adversity. Wouldn't a wheelchair user like to read a story in which they overcome adversity, but it's not just about them getting up from the wheelchair or suddenly developing a miraculous cure. It's about them also shooting something. You know, or overcoming problems with their fists. We don't usually see those kinds of people treated as rugged individualists, either. Rugged individualists are always able-bodied, middle-aged cishet men. So it's a little bit restricting. And what it means is that you are trapped by this constriction. You don't have as many stories. You don't have as good stories out there available to read. A protagonist tha...
About the Instructor
The winner of the Hugo Award for three consecutive years for her Broken Earth Trilogy, N. K. Jemisin has sold millions of books and created new cultures and histories. Now the acclaimed science fiction and fantasy writer is teaching you how to create a world from scratch, develop compelling characters, and get published. Build your craft and share your voice with inclusive fiction that reflects your experience.
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N. K. Jemisin
Bestselling sci-fi and fantasy writer N. K. Jemisin teaches you how to create diverse characters, build a world from scratch, and get published.Explore the Class