on July 7, 2007
It has now been about six years since I first signed up to take Jennifer Van Bergen's class 'Act to Write' - an earlier incarnation of Archetypes for Writers. The class was online and so I went into it without being able to meet Jennifer in person. At the time there was no book and I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I certainly had no idea of the impact that this work would have on my writing and in fact, my life.
Immediately I found the material and the class to be riveting. We started with Character Facts and it became clear very quickly that I was not used to separating out what was observable in someone from my own subjective impressions. I was used to describing a person in terms that assumed everyone sees and thinks the way I do. Along with the humbling quality of this discovery, it was also a relief to realize that there was a truth to see when observing people - and that I was being given tools and a framework with which to find that truth.
After that class I went on to do advanced work with Jennifer, both in a small group and individually. I am so glad that there is now a book that encapsulates this work and makes it accessible in a way it was not before. The book is set up to guide the reader through the steps of acquiring the necessary tools and then learning how to use them. What also comes across loud and clear in the book is the generosity and excitement that is always a part of Jennifer Van Bergen's teaching method. You can almost hear her talking to you, explaining things and encouraging you.
Archetype work not only informs my writing - I read differently, I see people differently on the subway and in the grocery store. It is impossible to forget for one moment that everyone has a story. For me, that's where the life-changing part of this work comes in.
on February 27, 2009
Jennifer Van Bergen's unique perspective on the Archetypal realm reminds us that this universal domain is not the sole purview of psychoanalysts. Her professional expertise as a lawyer and a trained Shakespearean actor equips the reader with goggles both telescopic and microscopic, and her assignments challenge us to synchronize such extremes into a wonderful new visioning.
One caveat : For those like myself, Archetypally trained in old school Jungian ways and even older school Shamanic ones, this book would have proven more accessible had I started with Chapter Sixteen, Archetypes, which addresses these modes, and read Chapter Two, Skills & Exercises: Overview, as a Summary after working through the chapters. I found the front-loading of the book with JVB's new, somewhat arch terminology ("nos-anthroing," "isotyping," etc) a bit daunting, and don't believe I'd be alone in this.
So I write this review to encourage readers like myself, for whom such languaging proves cumbersome, to hang in there. And I imagine there are many others for whom JVB's methods will prove just the ticket to enhance not merely their writing, but their Self-expression with a capital "S," as she breathes new life into the universal discipline she re-names "Arkhelogy."
on March 26, 2007
The great jazz saxophonist Albert Ayler sometimes dismissed other musicians whose skills outran their motivations by saying, "He thinks it's all about the notes!" I thought of that as I read this book. This book is a guide, yeah, and it's a guide to creating characters in your writing, but it's not just about that. It's about a technical aspect of writing -- who are these figures that populate the work? -- but its emphasis for me is on something much deeper: Who are *you*? Right now, honestly. What is your history, what are your patterns, your habits, your loves and hates? Only if you can learn - and it must be learned -- to see yourself honestly can you learn to see others honestly. And by doing this you do nothing less than come to life, you wake up. Most of us, most of the time, are asleep.
This book helped nudge me out of that sleep, and may point me toward more consistent wakefulness, so that I might see myself without judgement, see others without judgement, and thereby come into a clearer vision of the world. It's that clarity that Van Bergen is so good at cultivating, all the while helping writers use that newfound clarity to help midwife an existing truth (the *characters* inside you) into the world. She uses terms that those who have read a lot of writers' guides or self-help guides might find strange, even uncomfortable. She writes plainly, and uncompromisingly, because finding your characters and helping make them real through writing them is a matter of life and death. It's not to be taken lightly; it *matters*.
Writing uses words, but in the end it's not *about* words. It contains characters, but it's not merely a field where some arbitrarily chosen personal attributes have been haphazardly thrown together to appear real. Writing is reality. And Van Bergen's book is, in the end, a guide for us to travel through that reality without losing our way.
on March 2, 2007
Where do your characters come from? Who are they? What do they want and why?
In the 3rd week of my Beginning Screenwriting Class at Seattle Central Community College I ask these fundamental questions of my students. And, well, often times they stare back at me, blank faced. They don't really know.
What about the characters in YOUR story? Where do they come from? Who are they? What do they want and why?
Before you start any screenplay, whether it's about talking sheep or space monkeys you need to ask yourself these fundamental questions. "Archetypes for Writers" gets you asking those questions about your characters. And, better yet, it gets you exploring your own mind.
"Archetypes for Writers is an approach to writing that enables writers to discover and use their own, intrinsic character and study archetypes." Writes Jennifer Van Bergen early in the book (page four) and then she goes on to includes six chapters exploring where all this comes from. This is then followed by a handful of chapters than include exercises on how this all works in a practical writer setting.
I had initial problems with this book as the first couple chapters are filled with all sorts of "new agey" type lingo: "Author Self" v. "Core Self," "Universes of Discourse," "Ectypes" and "Isotypes." You can get lost in these pretty quickly (which I did) and it may take a while to claw yourself out. But once you get to the exercises, that is where you master these skills.
First and foremost, you have to observe people. You have to explore. Go beyond the image to the core. What is it about them? What makes them tick? Your co-worker, the mail carrier, the barista?
Then it is a process of drawing them out. Looking at them from a writer's point of view. In other words, detach yourself. Do not prejudge. Listen. Do not give advice. Listen. Be in the moment.
And, while being in the moment, observe yourself. What is it about you? What are you bringing to the table? What are you bringing to your characters? How do you show and not tell?
Then, from there, it is to the "Universal Drives" - what drives people. What do they want? What drives you? The co-worker, mail carrier, barista?
Other than the beginning chapters, the only other issue I have with this book (and it is a common theme in a lot of my reviews) is when do you put the book down and write? At what point do you put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard and explore what it is that makes you (and your characters) tick?
Bottom line: This book goes beyond the nuts and bolts of standard books on screenwriting to a deeper, subconscious level. Allowing the writer to truly explore the world they are creating.
on August 27, 2007
One of last year's films, Pan's Labyrinth, was acclaimed for its powerful story and images. Writer and director Guillermo del Toro has commented, "When you have the intuition that there is something which is there, but out of the reach of your physical world, art and religion are the only means to get to it."
He acknowledged using two levels of thought in his work as an artist: "One is conscious and the other unconscious or subconscious..."
Jennifer Van Bergen affirms that writing "takes place in the subconscious, which actually operates as an independent mind."
In her book, she provides information on how our subconscious works, and details strategies and specific exercises on "doing archetypes" to make more of that "independent mind" available to enrich our writing or other forms of creative expression, and better understand the wealth of our hidden depths.
on March 17, 2007
Isaac Stern once said, "Discipline frees the artist."
Jennifer Van Bergen, a trained Shakespearean actor, a lawyer, political writer and teacher, is no stranger to discipline or art. Well known for her interviews and other reports on Truthout and CounterPunch online, her writing has a vivid muscularity that cuts to the "quick o' the ulcer," turning over the ground of the subject and quickly exposing the honest underbelly.
Archetypes for Writers: Using the Power of Your Subconscious is a call to excellence and a magic breadcrumb trail that leads you there. Early in the narrative, Van Bergen lays bare her revolutionary agenda:
"This approach has little to do with how to "create" characters or plot stories. Rather, it is more about how to find your character and story archetypes, or even how to have them find you. Underlying this approach is the premise that each person carries within them a given set of character and story archetypes."
Not a new-age technique that asks one to "channel" or "visualize" one's characters, Archetypes for Writers contains a deeply organized set of exercises that puts one on a track to unimagined potential.
In the throes of a new script myself, Van Bergen's work came to my attention when I needed it badly. Feeling frustrated with my characters, mired down in the quicksand of my own unwieldy dramatic structure, I was given respite by the opportunity to read the book and by the radical notions contained therein.
Although following an instructional pattern appropriate for a how-to book, Van Bergen's passion for social activism and the connection between personal creativity and mindful existence as a citizen of the world becomes clear.
One reads the book with new eyes. To the writer who approaches the blank page with trepidation and humility, at once elated and dreading the task, it is a godsend. Within the pages of Archetypes for Writers are ancient terms and concepts as old as human thought. What is world shattering is the extraordinary way that Van Bergen frames the information. One feels that one is having a conversation with a great teacher who is also someone with whom one might want to go out and have a beer - and who hasn't had some of his or her most creative moments in such a setting? However, hanging around drinking beer does not get the story made, the play written, the work composed. The discipline of the writer is the discipline of the human being - to delve and pry and wrench the pieces of the puzzle from the depths of our subliminal selves is not for sissies - to live while awake, with thoughtful attention to the details is the fodder that gives great writing its edge. Archetypes for Writers guides us to the knowledge of what we didn't know that we knew. Van Bergen's own lucid and vibrant writing style has created a treasure that one values as much for the beauty of the language as for the groundbreaking information it carries.
Jennifer Van Bergen has demonstrated her own incredible discipline level by writing Archetypes for Writers, a book that synthesizes four decades of her life as an alert, alive, artist, journalist and instructor. This book is much more than a self-help book for writers. It's a self-help book for humanity and the reader receives the potent impression that no one is pulling harder for his or her success than the author, who generously says:
"In order for you to write your own writing, there must be at least one other person who recognizes expressions of your own writing and wants you to do it. That's my role and this book carries it to you."
This extraordinary book is a testament to a remarkable life's work and the discipline and artistry of she who lived it. It is also a gift of insight and skill and those of us who accept it are fortunate, indeed.
on May 18, 2007
You might think that this book is just another retread of the Campbellian ideas popularized by The Hero's Journey, but you'd be very much mistaken. Jennifer Van Bergen resurrects the ancient skill of arkhelogy or `doing archetypes': discovering an imprint of a pattern of human behaviour (=an archetype) in a person we observe.
Arkhelogy is a global skill, with a number of component skills, all of which must be mastered. Doing this will lead you to your deepest places in your being and potentially stretch your writing abilities. The skills are Character Facts (impartially observing facts about someone), Universal Drives (discerning universal drives in people), Discrepancies (noticing differences in a person between words and deeds), Analogues (focussing on similarities between two people or events), Being In The Moment, Universes of Discourse (identifying two different worlds within a film, their laws and points of contact), Emotional Access Work, Ectyping (taking a particular thing and generalizing it) and Isotyping (looking for something similar to the ectype but with a different origin).
Make no mistake, this is a difficult book. Van Bergen invents a lot of new words, and the New Age concepts she uses are hard to understand correctly. They do teach you to observe in a new and profound way, however. Still, to get the most out of them, taking a course or workshop with Ms. Van Bergen or someone who's mastered her theory will probably be most effective. Nevertheless, several of the exercises here will be very valuable to any writer.
on October 8, 2007
In "Archetypes for Writers", Jennifer Van Bergen has created a practical guide that succeeds in helping writers and other artists challenge themselves on a number of levels. The process that she developed evolved from a fusion of the work of many great thinkers, such as Marcel Proust, Carl Jung, and Joseph Campbell. For this reason, the exercises in "Archetypes for Writers" are deeply self-reflective and allow the reader to explore their own psychology and personal philosophies, as well as those of other people, in a way that allows the artist to expand their mind and allow new personalities and characters to come forth.
The techniques detailed in the book are written from the perspective of her experience in teaching them in writing classes. (Incidentally, Van Bergen offers an Internet course on the archetypes process that is quite impressive.) Her method of writing allows each reader to take what they need from the book. It is as engaging for seasoned writers as it is for those who are just starting. Teachers will find Van Bergen's teaching experiences quite useful when incorporating these methods into their own curricula.
"Archetypes for Writers" is the overview for a set of exercises that can take years to master. They are a critical ingredient for individual psychological development, as well as fictional character development. Every artist who reads this book will find the entrance to one of the paths that lead toward full and mature creative work.
Free Voices Magazine
on May 17, 2007
My brother and I are doing the exercises in each chapter and e-mailing them to each other for feedback. (He's a playwright and I'm a screenwriter.) We've found the process to be insightful - both in deepening our craft and as a forum for us to better understand each other's writing styles and shared history.
on May 9, 2007
For all its interesting tidbits about getting to understand your character, and stripping down their personalities, it also manages to truly delve into endless exposition into Arkelogy, and archetypes, and constructing practices about archetypes, and the like.
And it also manages to state the obvious. The writer knows the characters more than most people. Doy. A writer's characters are combinations of the writer's personality, fears, desires, and inhibitions. Thanks for reminding me. I seriously didn't understand that.
But Van Bergen's aspirations are fascinating. She's not only seeking to explore the notion of archetypes, but she also hopes to help the writer use this pit fall to their advantage, while re-defining the concept of archetypes and help their writing flourish. I just wish it was a much better book. While the overall product is fascinating, there are more misses than hits in terms of tone and instruction. The endless explorations into the meaning of archetypes is awfully tiring, and I sadly just had to skip onto section two.
Which is saying a lot because I'm a very patient man. At 270 pages, it's a tight but fascinating read if you're not completely versed in the world of writing and its little tinkerings. Characterization is a difficult thing, and avoiding archetypes, both obvious, and cliché is a problem for even the best of us, and Van Bergen attempts to help the writers topple this obstacle. "Archetypes for Writers" states the obvious more often than I care for, but for writers who aren't aware of what certain workings of the writing world can offer, than by all means, look for "Archetypes for Writers."