Sometimes my Path of the Storyteller students get that furrowed-brow look. They’re trying to invent, trying to write well, trying to get to the end of a draft, all the while knowing that many revisions will be in store before the book is “done.”
That’s when we talk about the need to be playful. We’re just making stuff up here, people! We writers have total power over what happens on our pages, and a boundless capacity to invent, toss, and invent again. If we do our jobs well, we will have created something that never existed before. A new story! What could be better? There ought to be much joy involved.
It’s a good writing practice, too. As your story picks up pace and builds in intensity, a few well-placed moments of levity are always welcome. This is where a bit of trickster energy might be just the banana peel you’re looking for.
The trickster is one of the common character archetypes that appear in stories throughout history and across cultures. (As ever, I’m indebted to the work of Joseph Campbell and others for their foundational work on these concepts.)
The trickster can provide much-needed comic relief, but like all archetypal energies, its true role is to provoke the growth of the hero.
How does a mischief-making force of chaos contribute to a profound journey of spiritual transformation? By helping your hero surmount the biggest obstacle to change there is. Yes, I’m talking about the ego.
People have so much in common! We all hate to admit we’re wrong. We all resist change. Our current definition of self wants to preserve the status quo. When change comes knocking, the perceived threat to our cherished identity can feel like a personal attack.
We dig in heels, get defensive, project, blame. In story terms, it's a refusal of the call, and it may happen many times over the course of a tale.
All that rigidity and resistance is a hero’s ego at work. And nothing pops the balloon of an overinflated ego like a sharp jab from a trickster.
From King Lear’s fool, to Bugs Bunny, to the latest SNL skit, the trickster fearlessly speaks truth to power and adds a quality of playful wit to the proceedings. Like all archetypal energies, this essential function might be expressed by characters who also play other roles. Gandalf, a classic mentor figure, is surely being a trickster when he invites a gaggle of dwarves to Bilbo’s house for dinner without telling the host! But loosening the knot of BIlbo’s ego is an absolute prerequisite for getting him to say yes to his adventure.
And this archetypal vibe needn’t be expressed by a character at all. A well-placed banana peel has cut many a pompous ego down to size!
Is there some trickster energy lying around your story, waiting for a job to do? Use it to remedy what ails your hero most — the brittle, fearful ego that won’t let change in the door.
TIP: Old ways of being have to be let go of in order to make room for the new. Use trickster energy to keep your hero’s ego in check and create space for growth and change.