Monday, September 15, 2014

Magnum as Tigger, P.I.: Why Archetypes Work

Remember Magnum? Thomas Sullivan Magnum, private investigator, Thursday night staple throughout the 1980s, remember him?

I confess, when I watched the show as a kid, I just loved the sheer visual noise of it. Mike Post and Pete Carpenter's theme song still plays in my head as the ultimate car chase accompaniment.

I thought I remembered Magnum. Those dimples! That Ferarri! The mustache! But lately, WunderGuy and I have been bingeing on Magnum, P.I. I discovered I'd forgotten many aspects...

I'd forgotten what an anti-hero Magnum is. He suffers from PTSD. He's essentially homeless -- or he would be if he wasn't in Robin Masters' good graces. He commits several murders in cold blood (All with good reason, of course. "Did you see the sunrise this morning?"). He's cheap. He's manipulative. He's not above lying to his friends to get what he wants. And yet... his irrepressible optimism trumps all. Thirty years later, he's still loveable.

Magnum's a Tigger. His friends are his real family. When he blunders into trouble -- which is often -- his first instinct is to get physical. Whatever he does, even if he does it badly, he does with gusto.

"My dear Pooh," said Owl in his superior way,
"don't you know what an Ambush is?"
If Magnum is Tigger, Higgins is Owl. He's erudite, a bit narcissistic, and pontificates at the drop of a hat. He is the star of every story he tells.  He looks down his nose at Magnum's lack of decorum. He is continually dismayed by Magnum's lack of refinement.

However, Higgins isn't all blowhard. When the chips are down, he is quick to help -- though that help often comes with a rather wordy soundtrack.

T.C.? Well, T.C. is Pooh, of course. He's all heart. He'll do anything for his friends, but he has his own interests, too.

He's more grounded and less volatile than Magnum. While Magnum spends his free time training himself for competition, T.C. spends his coaching kids. His sense of loyalty will never let him turn down a request from a friend -- even if he knows from past experience that the request will probably lead to trouble.
Pooh was just beginning to say that it was
all right now, when he found that it wasn't.

At least once an episode, what I call the "Oh, bother" scene occurs, where Magnum wrangles T.C. into doing something both of them know T.C. would be better off not doing... Still, like Pooh, T.C. can never say "no" and make it stick.

And what about Rick? He's Rabbit. Knows everyone. Extremely hard working. Knows the rules and expects people to follow them -- though he's often guilty of ignoring them himself.

"Hallo, Rabbit," he said, "is that you?"
"Let's pretend it isn't," said Rabbit, "and see what happens."
Rick likes numbers and lists, which makes him a good manager as well as a bookie. He can be judgmental, unethical, and bitter. He tends to be rather harsh. He likes a good fight every now and then, but if given the choice would always prefer to be known as the Brains rather than the Brawn. Though he's not above making a scene, he's easily embarrassed, and can hold a grudge for a long time.

Once, at a dinner party, a friend of a friend waxed eloquent on his theory of how the whole world is peopled with characters from Winnie the Pooh. I've often had reason to think about his theory and wonder if he's right. A.A. Milne understood the importance of archetype. In the denizens of the 100 Acre Woods, Milne created a few that endure.

There is a reason archetypes work. They help writers keep characters consistent. They allow the audience to get an immediate feel for a character. As the relationship grows, the characters eventually amass their own history, their own quirks, and take on a life of their own. But the underlying archetype -- Good Guy, Pontificator, Life of the Party, Hard Ass, Bigot, Softie -- remains, providing the foundation for the rest.

My friend, the lovely Yi Shun Lai (@Gooddirt), blogged about lessons learned from bingewatching Magnum this summer.

Me? My big takeaway is the fact that the wonderful thing about archetypes is Magnums are wonderful things...

Monday, September 01, 2014

"Flying is Just Impossible" - Thoughts on My Daughter's Sixth Grade Goals

My darling daughter breezed into the car after the first day of sixth grade, fired up and ready to take on the world. She loves school. Her day was great! Her teacher is awesome!

"What did you do today?" I asked.

"We set goals for things we want to accomplish this year!"

Curious, I asked for more information about these sixth grade goals. With my daughter's kind permission, I have posted them here:

And now, I am exercising my parental prerogative to offer some thoughts on the list... ~ahem~

First, I love the self-portrait. Too many of us make grandiose plans, listing our goals and hopes and dreams, without stopping to indulge our Inner Artist. I am smitten by the idea of drawing a selfie to head every list of goals I create in the future.

1.) "Learn how to care for pets."

Actually, dear Daughter, when you told me your list, you said your goal this year was "To learn more about zoology."

"Why did you write 'pets,' instead," I asked.

"I wasn't sure how to spell 'zoology,'" was your reply. Which only makes me wish you'd put "To learn more about spelling" on the list, but I know better.

I heartily approve of this item. How can I help? Perhaps if I stop saying "Does your guinea pig have food and water?" every night, you will learn what happens to said pig if you *don't* feed and water it every day. The same holds true of the parakeet.

What would you like to learn? How much keeping a pet costs? I would be happy to contribute to your achieving this goal by allowing you to assume responsibility for your dog's expenses, including food, license, shots, fluffy stuffed chew toys she can shred into dust particles, and vacuum cleaner bags for storing the roughly 3.7 pounds of black fur she sheds daily.

Efforts to teach computer skillz continue...
I can't complain about how you are taking care of the two cats you're catsitting. I have never had to remind you to feed or water them, or to clean out their litter boxes. The only thing you have left to learn about them is how to say good-bye gracefully when their owners return to claim them in December. That's going to be a tough one.

You do a good job caring for your parakeet. You also willingly help feed and care for the horses, chickens, ducks, Quakers, and the other dogs and cats that share our home.

Why do I suspect that this item is cleverly disguised code for "Acquire MORE pets?"

Allow me to reiterate: No hedgehog. No. While I'm at it, no foxes, no otters, no snakes, and no hamsters. We already live in a zoo. So I would like to add "I already have" as a qualifier to the end of #1.

2.) "Work on computer code."

Your father can help you on this one. He's the computer guru. I know enough about html coding to know that I'd rather have anesthetic-free oral surgery while hearing the audio book of Snooki's novel than sling code for extended periods of time. ::shudder::

You do love your otters, don't you?
This is a good example of a non-quantifiable goal. It doesn't have a clear, identifiable end for you to know when or if you have achieved it. When I asked you why you wanted to learn coding, you told me you wanted to build an interactive website "Like Animal Jam, only cooler."

I suspect it's because Animal Jam has recently added otters (no doubt at your suggestion), but they are only available to paying members, which you are not, because I said you had to use your own funds if you wanted to throw money away on online gaming.

I find acquiring a skill so you can do-it-yourself admirable. When I told you about Code Academy, you immediately looked it up and bookmarked it on your phone. I'll be interested to see if you follow through with this. I hope you do.

3.) Know Christ more.

That, my dear, is between you and your maker. I'll do everything in my power to help you achieve that goal.

Very well... Carry on...

4.) Study LSAT's again.


You are the only eleven-year old I know of who thinks reading "How to Prepare for the LSAT" books is fun. I know you want to be a lawyer -- and the good Lord knows you are a world-class arguer. But kids your age are generally not even thinking about the PSATs yet, let alone concerning themselves with getting into law school.

You've wanted to go into law for as long as I remember. Why? So you can work with environmentalists to save endangered species, especially otters. I don't generally admire lawyers. I also don't generally admire vipers or electric eels. But they serve a necessary function. As long as you keep #3 on your list, you'll make a great lawyer.

So, go ahead. Keep on reading that LSAT book you keep checking out of the library. I have ten years to figure out how to pay for law school. Maybe by then, your mastery of #2 on your list will have paid off...

5.) Write a book.

Good for you! You write and illustrate manga books all the time, when you're not filming movies starring your LPS creatures or reading. Why not take the leap and focus solely on telling a story with text?

I told you about National Novel Writing Month in November. You've lived through the madness with me. Now, you can experience it for yourself.

As your Number One fan, I can't wait to read what you've written. I hope you'll include me as a beta.

But a caveat, Dear One. If you want to regularly put food on the table, and be able to feed the critters you love so much, may I humbly suggest following either #2 or #4 as a career path? Because I can tell you, when #5 is your calling, it makes you rely a WHOLE LOT on #3...

One day's worth of reading. Yep. That's about right.
6.) Read all of 2,000 books.


That IS ambitious.

This is the only truly quantifiable goal in the list, but have you done the math here?

If you're going to finish 2000 books by the end of the school year, that's over 10 books a day. Which is totally doable for you; I just wanted to make sure you realize the scope of what you hope to accomplish.

"I know it's ambitious," you told  me when I pointed out the magnitude of the goal. "What I wrote down first was 'learn to fly.'" But, while that would be so cool, flying is just impossible. I don't have wings. So I wrote this."

Ah. I see.

Sometimes a goal appears doable as a whole, but when one begins picking away at the reality of achieving it, one becomes overwhelmed at the sheer scope. Still, what overwhelms one may motivate another.

(Case in point: #MadWritersUnite -- wherein writers pledge to write 2 full books, between 70K and 90K words, total, during the month of September. I hope they do it! I wish them every good thing. But as for considering something similar myself, I can't even...)

You read like a fiend. You read all the time. You love to read, and I can't find fault with that. So, as long as this goal doesn't interfere with your chores ("I can't clean out the dishwasher; I'm reading" is not an acceptable statement in this house) or your health (You will go outside and play every day. Seriously. Go.), I'll support it. You've already finished the Junior section at our local library. I'm not sure they have 2000 books there that you haven't yet read...

My dear, you have set some high bars for yourself this year. I'm proud of your enthusiasm and your ambition. I'll be interested to revisit this list in a month or so, and see where you are on it. Let me tell you: whether or not you have wings, if you stick to it and see these goals through to the end, you WILL fly.

My daughter's friend (and my godson), in the same class, said: "My goals are to be more helpful and keep my mouth shut more."

Any thoughts I may have had on his goals are moot. Before I could offer any observations--

He paused. He sighed.

"I'm not optimistic."