In Jayne Anne Krentz's book DANGEROUS MEN AND ADVENTUROUS WOMEN: ROMANCE WRITERS ON THE APPEAL OF ROMANCE, she explores the archetypal myths or fairy tales behind the most successful romances. She believes that “Beauty and the Beast,” “Cinderella,” and “Snow White” are often the core plot and emotional energizers for romance novels.
But there's more to the archetype than just the fairy tale, and this extra element can vitalize a writer's work and give it greater depth.
The archetype is also a symbol or image which has a strong emotional resonance for humankind. The archetypal image can raise the hackles (absolute darkness), slow the heartbeat (a babbling brook), or turn the stomach (maggots on a rabbit's carcass). The archetype image can help us push the reader's emotional buttons so we can make them feel what we want them to feel.
Horror writers already know the importance of the fear archetype, and they use it to great effect. Stephen King, for example, can go for the archetypal jugular vein with relentless certainty. It is his greatest strength as a writer. His layering of images provokes an emotional response greater than mere words.
The archetypal image can also be manipulated to express changing emotions. In an unpublished novel of mine, the hero and innocent heroine end up in bed. Afterwards, the hero sends her a dozen white roses, the symbol of pure love and innocence.
As the days pass and the hero doesn't get back in touch, the heroine watches the roses fade as her hopes fade. When she finally realizes that the roses that meant “forever” to her mean “thanks for the great sex and good-bye” to him, she smashes the vase.
Her innocence and love have faded completely, her heart is as crushed as the roses on the floor.
A writer's subconscious is busy planting things the writer is blind to at the moment, and that's particularly true of archetypes.
When I rework a novel, I'll find lots of foreshadowing of events I didn't think I'd planned until the moment I wrote it, and I'll discover that certain types of metaphors or images have kept appearing that fit a theme or event I didn't know was coming.
Part of the trick in editing is going back over the work and building on the bread crumb hints left by the subconscious so the images create a resonance within the novel.
The danger with archetypal images is their overuse. Horror and paranormal writing is awash with archetypal images that have become cliches-- the baying wolf, the bat, the open grave. You must discover new old images to bring freshness and creativity to your writing.
Go through dream dictionaries since dreams are filled with archetypal images. Study books like A DICTIONARY OF SYMBOLS by J. E. Cirlot. Read books on Jung's studies of the archetype and the unconscious to get a broad overview of the emotional significance of these images. Notice the images that good writers use to push your emotional buttons.
And, especially, consider your own dreams. For they are your most fertile creative garden. They are the true home of the archetype.