As behavior changes more swiftly than personality, growing up is often a matter of establishing new patterns to layer upon a consistent baseline. The self-focus and poor impulse control of youth is tamed by external awareness and self-discipline. Our passions focus into goals and responsibility for the people and things we value. And yet… Somewhere deep down in many of us, smothered under etiquette and the fear of consequences is the instinct to chase our desires.
I believe that it is this instinct that draws us to empathize with and admire rebellious characters. After all, reading is an emotional exercise that allows us to experiment with experiences that we would avoid in our own lives. While many people yearn for change, they are reluctant to face the consequences of trying and failing. Open rebellion is the most extreme form of these desires, so reading about characters in that situation serves as a dry run for our own, smaller scale changes and challenges.
As a writer, I love the rebel archetype as those sorts of characters tend to believe fiercely and be incredibly active. They drive plots forward and force everyone around them to react to their actions. As such, they tend to make excellent protagonists and unpredictable antagonists. Organized rebellions often draw conflicting personalities together into a crucible. Additionally, the archetype is incredibly flexible in the ways it can be executed.
Even though rebellion against a government or some other oppressive Big Bad is the most common sub-trope of the archetype, a rebellious character can be working against any restrictive situation or force. For example, I have read compelling stories about characters struggling against the momentum of their own beliefs, expectations, and plans. Additionally, the struggles and consequences of rebellion are excellent catalysts for character growth. A rebellious nature can lead the character down a darker path or into a brighter future, often both in the same story. Either way, change is imminent. Finally, typically only one party survives an outright violent rebellion. In so doing, they have a free hand with writing the history of the conflict. Only in fiction can a reader be exposed to both sides and get a true accounting. By flipping the perspective from antagonist to protagonist, rebels can transform from violent radicals to noble crusaders.
In order for a work of fiction to be a true emotional exercise, the struggles and choices faced by the protagonist must be more significant than those faced by the reader. As such, I have found it essential to ensure that a rebellious character’s Crusade is not only significant to their world, but also meaningful to their development as a person. The rebel archetype is classic because it is effective and empathetic. However, true rebellion is a process, not a static state. For the reader to be satisfied with the archetype, change must happen on both sides of the rebellion.Tags: Sequence 05: Tropes and Archetypes