Archetypal Character Arcs, Pt. 2: The Maiden Arc

The First Act of the human experience—roughly the first thirty years—may be thought of as a period of Initiation. It is a period of integrating the parts of one’s self. In many ways, it is a period in which the overarching, symbolic antagonist may be thought of as Fear. We use the arcs of this period to overcome Fear and discover our own empowerment as individuals within the world.

As with all of the three periods that encompass these archetypal “life arcs,” the First Act is made up of two partner arcs, each leading into the other, each vitally important to mature development. The second of these arcs is perhaps the most popularly known of any archetypal character arc—the Hero. But the Hero Arc cannot successfully launch the youthful person into adulthood unless it is founded upon the lessons learned from a completed Maiden Arc.

Because the Hero Arc is told almost to the complete exclusion (at least consciously) of the other life arcs—particularly the feminine and “elder” arcs—we don’t find a wealth of study in writing these other arcs, which is a deep shame since it means that both society and the individual misses out on the guidance of stories from other equally vital parts of life. It also means writers often feel they have but one primary model upon which to build stories. Instinctively, I think we all reject this—and yet where are the other models?

The answer is that at least some of them are now arising (or rather reemerging). The feminine arcs in particular are beginning to find voices. Within the last half century, more and more writers, psychologists, and social historians are offering models for these under-explored female arcs. I want to quickly reference some of these to indicate where I believe their models line up with the six life arcs. Some of these books were written for writers, some not.

  • First, we have Maureen Murdock’s The Heroine’s Journey—which I see as basically a female perspective on the Hero Arc.
  • In her book 45 Master Characters, Victoria Lynn Schmidt presents her own take on essentially the same approach as Murdock’s.
  • Recently, paranormal romance author Gail Carringer wrote a book also titled The Heroine’s Journey. I see her discussion lining up nicely with the Queen Arc, which we’ll be exploring later in the series.
  • And finally, and more to the point of this specific post, screenwriter Kim Hudson examines the feminine counterpart to the Hero’s Journey, which she calls The Virgin’s Promise.

Aside from attributing some of the sources I’ve found invaluable in studying this subject, I highlight this primarily to indicate that there are different feminine arcs just as there are different masculine arcs. It’s also worth noting that there is often crossover in the models of these archetypal arcs and sometimes even in the arcs themselves. This is not an exact science. What I’m presenting in this series is simply my take on the subject—what I’ve found rings true for me in my own life’s journey and in writing my characters’ journeys. As ever in all things story theory, you should always heed your own instincts (which understand archetypes much more deeply than any of our rational minds do anyway) in reconciling any parallels or inconsistencies.

Now before we officially get started, I want to include two important reminders, which hold true for all of the arcs we’ll be studying.

1. The arcs are alternately characterized as feminine and masculine. This is primarily indicating the ebb and flow between integration and individuation, among other qualities. Together, all six life arcs create a progression that can be found in any human life (provided we complete our early arcs in order to reach the later arcs with a proper foundation). In short, although I will use feminine pronouns for the feminine arcs and masculine pronouns for the masculine arcs, the protagonists of these stories can be of any gender.

2. Because these archetypes represent Positive Change Arcs, they are therefore primarily about change. The archetype in which the protagonist begins the story will not be the archetype in which she ends the story. She will have arced into the subsequent archetype. The Maiden Arc, therefore, is not about becoming the Maiden archetype, but rather arcing out of it into the beginnings of the Hero Arc—and so on.

The Maiden Arc: Coming of Age

The Maiden Arc is the fundamental coming-of-age story. It is the story of a character who has left behind the Child archetype (which we will discuss later in the series when we reach the Flat-Arc or “resting” archetypes), but who has not yet individuated away from her family and into her own autonomy.

The Maiden represents sexual awakening and conscious burgeoning. Hers is that fraught period—recreated in so many YA novels—when the person is learning who she will become and, perhaps most poignantly, what she is willing to risk to become that person.

There is no guarantee she will accept the risk. As with all of the arcs, there is no promise she will fully commit to and complete her arc. Although we all grow up physically and assume adult responsibility, the inner arc may remain uncompleted long into our lives. The obstacles the Maiden confronts are vast because true individuation is often perceived as a threat by the tribe in which she exists.


Stakes: Individuating From the Tribe

Because the Maiden is so young—just on the cusp of adulthood—she will still be perceived as a Child by her tribe. This is why, symbolically, the tribe is usually represented by her own family in some way. Symbolically, she has not yet ventured beyond the walls of her home. But that home, which once seemed to be all the world, is beginning to seem very small. And the love of the parents, which once seemed so all-fulfilling, now begins to seem confining to her growth.

In The Virgin’s Promise, Kim Hudson introduces the primary dilemma of the First-Act arcs by saying:

Virgins and Heroes are symbols for the universal need to stand on your own…. Each time a social organization places someone at odds with their true nature, the Virgin archetype provides guidance towards becoming authentic.

Inherent in this dilemma we find the stakes of the Maiden Arc. The childhood life she has so far led is no longer proving to be “enough” for her—and so she must find the courage to risk giving it all up in some way (if only symbolically) in order to grow up.

Antagonist: Facing the Predator and/or the Too-Good Mother

I absolutely love Hudson’s structural presentation and highly recommend her book. However, the beat sheet I’m offering for the Maiden Arc (below) varies from Hudson’s Virgin’s Journey. Partly this is for the sake of variety and because I wish to encourage people to read Hudson’s excellent work, but also it is because I believe there is room within the concept of the Maiden Arc for several very important archetypal antagonists, which Hudson does not directly discuss.

These antagonists are the Predator, the Too-Good or Devouring Mother, and the Naïve Father. Although any of these may be literally represented within the story (and often are in fairy tales and fantasy), they can also be symbolically represented or can be presented for what they truly are: psychic aspects of the Maiden herself.

The Predator, representing a toxic animus or masculine force within the Maiden, is the part of her, whether externally represented in the conflict or not, that would destroy her from within, blocking her consciousness, her individuation, and her true empowerment. In analyzing the classic Bluebeard story (about a Maiden who marries an older man and discovers all his previous wives murdered in a locked room) as symbolic of the Predator in her book Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés says:

Perhaps most important, the Bluebeard story raises to consciousness the psychic key, the ability to ask any and all questions about oneself, about one’s family, one’s endeavors, and about life all around. Then, like the wildish being who sniffs things out, a woman is free to find true answers to her deepest and darkest questions. She is free to wrest the powers from the thing which has assailed her and to turn those powers which were once used against her to her own well-suited and excellent uses. That, is a wildish woman.

Although, again, the symbolic possibilities are endless, the Predator is often represented as a destructive or devouring force apart from the parents or authority figures—and yet one to which, for “perfectly good” reasons the parents often sacrifice the Maiden. Estés also comments on both the Too-Good Mother and the Naïve Father, from whom the Maiden must individuate in order to escape the Predator (and, again, these are fundamentally internal antagonists within the Maiden herself, even if they are represented externally within the conflict):

To gain a little distance from the sweet blessing of the too-good mother, a woman gradually learns to not just look, but to squint and to peer, and then, more and more, to suffer no fools…. But, in a woman’s psyche, even though the father bumbles into a lethal deal because he knows nothing of the dark side of the world or the unconscious, the horrible moment marks a dramatic beginning for her; a forthcoming consciousness and shrewdness.

One of my favorite examples of some of these archetypes is in the Cinderella adaptation Ever After, in which the protagonist is literally sold to a predatory old man because her naïve father married her devouring stepmother.

Ever After (1998), 20th Century Fox.

Another amazing example comes from the original Terminator movie, which in so many ways is a symbolic representation of the feminine journey to power—externally representing both her inner Predator and Protector. She eventually internalizes the Protector’s power and destroys the Predator.

The Terminator (1984), Orion Pictures.

Theme: Growing Into Potential, Power, and Responsibility

Although you may choose to represent the stakes in a Maiden Arc as life or death (as in Terminator), they are most literally represented within quiet coming-of-age stories that are simply about growing up. The challenge of the Maiden Arc is whether or not the protagonist will awaken to and accept her potential, power, and responsibility as an individual.

This may be represented by a character who is literally a child on the cusp of adolescence such as Walter in Secondhand Lions.

Secondhand Lions Kyra Sedgwick Haley Joel Osment

Secondhand Lions (2003), New Line Cinema.

Or it may be represented by an adult who rejected this initiatory challenge at the proper time in his own life, such as the protagonist in Nick Hornby’s About a Boy.

About a Boy (2002), Universal Pictures.

The Maiden’s story is foundationally one of a fight to empowerment. But whatever the external forces may be, it is foremost an internal struggle—whether the Maiden is willing to let go of the carefreeness of childhood in exchange for the terrible freedom of adulthood. Will she continue to cling to her own ignorance and naïvety, her own blissful lack of consciousness? Will she listen to what Estés calls the Devil?

[The Devil] wants the maiden to obey these tenets: “Don’t see life as it is. Don’t understand the life and death cycles. Don’t pursue your yearnings. Don’t speak of all these wildish things.”

Or will she rise up and confront the truth of Alice Walker’s words?

The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.

If she does rise up, she will be able to complete her arc with the following revelation as spoken by Estés:

These negative complexes are banished or transformed—your dreams will guide you the last part of the way—by putting your foot down, once and for all, and by saying, “I love my creative life more than I love cooperating with my own oppression.”

Indeed, Estés sums up the whole arc:

…the maiden represents the heartfelt and formerly sleepy psyche. But a warrior-heroine lies beneath her soft exterior. She has the endurance of the lone wolf. She is able to bear the dirt, grime, betrayal, hurt, loneliness, and exile of the initiate. She is able to wander the underworld and return, enriched, to the topside world. Although she may not be able to articulate them when she first descends, she is following the instructions and directions of the old Wild Mother, Wild Woman.

Key Points of the Maiden Arc

For easy reference and comparison, I will be sharing some scannable summations of each arc’s key points:

Maiden’s Story: An Initiation.

Maiden Arc: Innocent to Individual (moves from Protected World to Real World)

Maiden’s Symbolic Setting: Home

Maidens Lie vs. Truth: Submission vs. Sovereignty.

“Submission to authority figures is necessary for survival.” versus “Personal sovereignty is necessary for growth and survival.

Maidens Initial Motto: “We, the clan.”

(This is via Spiral Dynamics’ “Purple” Meme. If you’re not familiar with Spiral Dynamics, this probably won’t mean anything, but I was fascinated to realize the six arcs line up perfectly with the “memes” of human development as found in the theory of Spiral Dynamics.)

Maiden’s Archetypal Antagonist: Authority/Predator

Maidens Relationship to Own Negative Shadow Archetypes:

Either Damsel finally owns her Potential by embracing her Strength.

Or Vixen learns to wield her true Potential with true Strength.

Maiden’s Relationship to Subsequent Shadow Archetypes as Represented by Other Characters: Inspires Coward or outwits Bully.

The Beats of the Maiden Character Arc

Following are my proposed structural beats for the Maiden Arc. I am using allegorical language in keeping with the tradition of the Hero’s Journey (and honestly because it’s so powerful). However, it is important to remember that the language is merely symbolic. Just as the Maiden need not actually be a “maiden” in any sense, neither do any of the other mentioned archetypes or settings need to be interpreted literally.

This is merely a general structure that can be used to recognize and strengthen Maiden Arcs in any type of story. Although I have interpreted the Maiden Arc through the beats of classic story structure, it doesn’t necessarily have to line up this perfectly. A story can be a Maiden Arc without presenting all of these beats in exactly this order. Check out some of the previously mentioned resources (especially Kim Hudson’s The Virgin’s Promise) for other interpretations of the Maiden’s beats.

1st ACT: Protected World

Beginning: Provided For But Unprepared

The Maiden lives still on the border of a seemingly blissful childhood. Even if all is not perfect in the home of her parents, she continues to experience a division between the perceived safety and providence of her childhood home and the dangerous—or at least unknown—world beyond.

But even as a part of her remains complacent in her ignorance of the larger world, change is beginning to stir within her, and this change is reflected outwardly as aspects of the world beyond begin to slowly penetrate and change the Protected World of her childhood.

Up to this point in her life, the Maiden has been following the rules of her world in order to a) be rewarded by having her needs met and b) avoid being punished. But the rules’ requirements are beginning to cause her pain or constriction. The walls that are supposedly there to protect her are in fact preventing her from recognizing or defending herself against the Predator when he shows up.

In Bend It Like Beckham, Jess lives at home with her parents, whom she loves but who do not understand or support her desire to play soccer (football). (Bend It Like Beckham (2002), Fox Searchlight Pictures.)

Inciting Event: Predator’s Proposal

The Maiden’s quiet home world is interrupted by the arrival of a new force from beyond. This force may be obviously a representation of the dangers her parents always warned her she wasn’t capable of confronting. Or it may disguise its danger with a mask of seduction that she is not yet wise enough to perceive. Or this interruptive force may in fact be dangerous not so much literally but symbolically—in that the awakening of the Child into the adult world does indeed risk many dangers—as, for example, when the Maiden falls in love for the first time or is offered a “grown-up” opportunity.

Whatever the case, this “Predator” will at least seem to offer a way out of the restrictive world in which the Maiden is confined. He proposes to her—or to her parents. The Maiden herself isn’t yet wise enough to recognize that the Predator is just a dangerous extension of the same power that rules her Dependent World. As symbolic extensions of her own naïvety, the Too-Good Mother and Naïve Father likewise do not see through the threat and/or are eager to accept the proposal for their own gain and/or at least do not see how to avoid sacrificing their daughter to save themselves. 

In a Maiden Arc, the love interest can represent the devouring Predator just as often as the Protector. In Jane Eyre, Mr. Rochester rather surprisingly represents the Predator. Even though he is redeemed in the end, he spends most of the story trying to bend Jane to his will in exchange for his love. (Jane Eyre (2006), WGBH/BBC.)

2ND ACT: Real World

First Plot Point: Inspired or Compelled to Fit New Identity; Protector Arrives

The Maiden accepts the Predator’s proposal, either out of trust for her authority figures or out of her own true but misguided instinct to move forward into a larger consciousness. Whatever the case, she takes a first and irreversible step out of her childhood Protected World and into the Real World of the adults. In so doing, she spreads her wings for the first time and begins to experiment with new identities and desires.

No longer entirely confined by the rules and protection of her childhood, she dares to explore. As the Predator’s betrothed, she is still playacting, trying on this new role and believing she is maturing without realizing that she is still acting out the beliefs and expectations of others. However, she is also beginning to discover truths about herself: who she was and who she has the potential to become.

At this time, the Protector arrives. This may be in the form of a literal Protector of some kind (often a Hero), but it may also be simply the rising of the Maiden’s own inner Protector—the healthy counterpart of the Predator. Even if a human Protector arrives (and even if he literally rescues her at some point in the story), he is not her savior. Whether a Lover or a Mentor, he represents merely a catalyst to prompt the inner change she herself must enact to reach autonomy.

In Secondhand Lions, the young protagonist Walter finds surprising allies in his eccentric and cranky great-uncles, with whom his mother has abandoned him. (Secondhand Lions (2003), New Line Cinema.)

First Pinch Point: Predator Sees Through Disguise

The Maiden continues to explore her awakening consciousness into adulthood, but she does so in a sort of shadowland, avoiding the full awareness of those who remain back in her Protected World. Whether she is aware of the Predator’s true and tyrannical nature, or whether she still partly believes in the seductive promise he seems to offer, she is becoming less and less subject to him—and therefore more and more threatened by what he offers.

As she secretly grows away from the identity he has assigned to her, he becomes suspicious and sees through her disguise. He recognizes she is not entirely a guileless, defenseless Maiden any longer but is on the cusp of breaking away from him. He will threaten or punish her in an attempt to bring her back under his power. She is deeply frightened—well aware of all she stands to lose if she departs her Protected World for good.

In Titanic, Rose is reminded by both her predatory fiancé Cal and her desperate mother that the good of the “family” depends upon her marriage to a wealthy man whom she does not love.(Titanic (1997), Paramount Pictures.)

Midpoint: Identities/Loyalties/Wants Conflict

A Moment of Truth arrives when the Maiden is confronted by the divide that has grown between who she used to be—and still tries to be—in the Protected World and who she is becoming in the Real World. Whether symbolically or literally, she is forced to confront the two realities represented by the Predator and the Protector—and she must choose which identity to internalize for the future. She may do this by allying with an actual person representing the Protector, or merely symbolically by stepping into this role for herself and venturing into the Real World in an irrevocable way. She embraces her emerging self and the exciting Truth of who she has the potential to become, and she demonstrates true responsibility for her own choices in some significant way.

In Spirited Away, Chihiro comes into her own by saving a river spirit. No longer just a clumsy, scared little girl, she proves she can hold her own amongst all the workers and guests at the bathhouse. (Spirited Away (2001), Studio Ghibli.)

Second Pinch Point: Unmasked

Eventually, her choices and actions at the Midpoint are discovered, and she is unmasked. Her new identity fully emerges to everyone back in her Protected World. Whether well-meaning, controlling, or both, the people she has previously relied on are shocked by her transformation. Depending on their own symbolism, they may be alternately threatened, grieved, and/or proud.

Regardless, there are stakes to pay off. The Maiden’s tribe will not fully relinquish her into the Real World without a struggle. There will be people who do not want her to change and leave, and these people will do whatever they can to keep her in the Protected World “for her own good.”

In Ever After, Danielle’s step-family realizes she has been lying about her identity and spending time with the prince. They punish her by locking her in a cellar. (Ever After (1998), 20th Century Fox.)

3rd ACT

False Victory: Bride Price

The Predator returns with a more seductive or threatening offer than ever. He still wants his bride, and he is not willing to lose her. He ups the bride price and/or threatens the Maiden’s family. Those around her beg her to consider what is best for the family that has always protected her. She herself is deeply conflicted. The stakes seem far too high. Can she really sacrifice everything she has ever loved—and perhaps her own survival—for the chance at this true life she has now glimpsed? She begins to think that perhaps this redoubled bride price is worth the exchange.

In Titanic, Rose is given the chance to escape the sinking ship on a lifeboat, but only if she will leave Jack to die and return to the restrictive life she hates. (Titanic (1997), Paramount Pictures.)

Third Plot Point: Marriage Treaty Threatened, Wanders in Wilderness

The Maiden resists her impending enslavement to the Predator, and the Predator grows more and more threatening. The stakes rise, and her family’s well-being appears to be at stake. Her once seemingly serene Protected World is now in an uproar. She withdraws and “wanders in the wilderness” (Hudson’s term, which I love).

She is caught now between worlds, and she can never go back. Never again can she be the innocent, protected Child she once was. To sacrifice herself to the Predator, as her tribe demands, would be to turn her back on the burgeoning new self she has discovered and doom herself to an imprisoned half life—neither Child nor adult. To throw off the Predator and grow beyond the tribe also demands a sacrifice, but only this death will offer the chance of a rebirth into something new.

After fleeing her failed wedding to Rochester (when she discovered he was already married), Jane Eyre literally “wanders in the wilderness” to the point she nearly dies. (Jane Eyre (2006), WGBH/BBC.)

Climax: Fights Back Against Predator

Even right at the door of the church, the Maiden fights back against her marriage to the Predator. She will not surrender what she discovered. She will not hide her newly won understanding of her own potential, power, and responsibility. She will fight. She will declare herself (in Jane Eyre’s words) “a free human being with an independent will.”

In Secondhand Lions, Walter refuses to help his mother’s abusive boyfriend steal his uncles’ money. He stands up for them and fights back. (Secondhand Lions (2003), New Line Cinema.)

Climactic Moment: Comes of Age

And she will triumph. She will overcome the Predator, perhaps with the help of the Protector and others whom she has inspired with her courage and independence, or perhaps alone having internalized their support. If the Predator is truly evil, she will banish him forever from her family’s home. If the Predator is representative only of the overprotective forces that would “devour” her out of misguided love, then she will at least attempt (and likely succeed) to make peace with them. She is an adult now—an equal—and she will treat others as such, receiving from them their respect in return.

In The Terminator, Sarah watches Kyle (her externalized Protector) die for her. She internalizes his strength and the tactics he has taught her to destroy the Terminator. (The Terminator (1984), Orion Pictures.)

Resolution: Kingdom Is Renewed for Another Generation

Restrictive elements (such as the Predator and the Evil Step-Mother) will be cast off and banned from the Kingdom. Other characters, who prove themselves willing to embrace and benefit from the Maiden’s courageous growth, will be renewed. By coming of age, she ensures the tribe will continue into a strong new generation.

In the classic Bette Davis movie Now, Voyager, she ends triumphantly transformed and ready to nurture the next generation. (Now, Voyager (1942), Warner Bros.)

Examples of the Maiden Arc

Examples of the Maiden Arc include the following. Click on the links for structural analyses.

Tangled (2010), Walt Disney Pictures; Tuck Everlasting (2002), Walt Disney Pictures; Ever After (1998), 20th Century Fox; Titanic (1997), Paramount Pictures; Jane Eyre (2006), WGBH/BBC; The Terminator (1984), Orion Pictures.

Stay Tuned: Next week, we will study the Hero Arc.

Related Posts:

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Can you think of any further examples of stories that feature the Maiden Arc? Tell me in the comments!

Go on the journey with your characters! Check out the Archetypal Character Guided Meditations.

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. I really like this! Thank you. I believe my current story is a Maiden Arc. One thing that worried me early on (and that I finally had to just tell myself `that’s how this story goes. Ignore the outside voices) is that my hero’s journey really has been about finding a protector to help him leave his old, abusive situation. I felt like as soon as I realized that the main conflict was going to be an internal one -who will my hero trust? Where are his true loyalties when things get really bad and the personal costs are high- suddenly all the writing advice out there was about how the protagonist had to be the one whose actions were most important to the climax, or why was he even the protagonist? Since my story is semi- allegorical, meant to be a picture of how people need to rely on God, I felt very strongly that to have my main character fight his own enemies, by himself, in the end would undermine the whole point of the story. It is nice to know that there is a plot structure out there where finding a protector while trying to learn who `you’ really are is not considered a cop-out.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      One of the valuable things about recognizing a larger cycle of “journeys” is that you begin to see how the “older” archetypes are important characters in the “younger” stories. There’s a reason the Mentor is a staple in the Hero Arc.

  2. Eric Troyer says

    Most excellent! I read The Virgin’s Promise and found it fascinating. My WIP has a female protagonist, so I thought maybe it was really a Virgin arc. I tried to apply that structure, but it didn’t work at all. My story is definitely a Hero arc. That really helped me understand the difference.

    • Eric, stories determine structure except when structure helps with evaluating depth and planning. Your instinct is spot on, in making your choices.

      Kim’s work is not limited to female characters or in any way inapplicable to fiercely male characters. It is a deeper and very inclusive perspective and not just across this dichotomy. That I feel is her gift — eight or ten years ahead of zeitgeist catching up with this book that I feel is destined to be a classic.

      One can find echoes of hero or virgin in a single story that was written without knowing either paradigm.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, sometimes just seeing the different options is enough to really help elucidate a story.

  3. Very interesting. I’ll give you another example of this: Arthur in the movie “Arthur” from 1981. A hilarious movie worth the watch, or at least I found it so.

    I think there’s a lot of potential for this in sports stories. “The Cutting Edge” and “Vision Quest” would likely be other examples, but there are always contagonists and the athlete struggling with the question of “is it worth it?” with people pulling on either side of maintaining the discipline vs. having a social life. In fact, as I think about it, I believe quite a few sports stories about youth do follow this arc.

    Interesting stuff. Definitely giving me insight on character arcs. I think that you’re putting together a reference that a thoughtful artist can use for creative story telling.

    Looking forward to you hurting my head again next week!


  4. I read and will reread this article with interest. I have just referenced it in my recent “Coming of Age” blogpost and had this to say as well: “In the process of psychological integration, we need interaction to support our growth and cultural tools to overcome fear. In [my WIP novel] The Compromise, those interactions and tools provide their own complications. While guiding characters and potentially readers through initiations, novels also regulate cultural identity and train a Western perspective as they adhere to point of view.”

  5. I am so excited for this series! I’ve never been fully satisfied with the Hero’s Journey either, but I love archetypes. It’s also rather timely, as I’m looking for inspiration for my next story. I’ve only got vague ideas so far, but maybe one of the archetypes will help me solidify it.

  6. Sarah Rose Kearns says

    Thank you so much for this! It’s incredibly helpful!

  7. This was enlightening. I am so used to the “Hero’s Arc” that I never considered there could be alternatives to it.
    Funny but one of the panels at this past weekend Boskone was titled “Should We Rethink the Hero’s Journey?” or something like that.
    I think I like the Maiden’s arc for coming of age stories.
    By the way, would you consider Nabokov’s Lolita (the character) an example of the maiden arc?

  8. I don’t know if it’s a Maiden Arc or not, but maybe Kit from “A League of Their Own” because she wanted to venture out and make something of herself, and of course, “Forrest Gump.” His mother kind of fits within the “Too-good mother” role, and Jenny was like “the Protector” as he grew up through his childhood and adolescence during his life journey, helping him reach new heights and to get beyond his mental disadvantages.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Kit’s a good example of a Maiden. I’ll be using her older sister Dottie as an example in the Queen Arc post.

  9. Wow! This opens up a whole new world of study. Thanks for all of your hard work.

  10. some other possible maiden arcs that I can think of…..
    – Truman from the truman show
    – Katniss Everdeen from Hunger Games (over the course of all three books)
    – Moana
    – Troy from high school musical
    – Tris from Divergent
    – whatever the girls name was in tuck everlasting
    – Bella in Twilight
    – My personal best example, Repunzel from Tangled. she had to literally step out of a tower and has a mother that is constantly trying to tempt her along the way to return to what she was because she isn’t strong enough to survive on her own.
    I never would have guessed that the protagonist of my story, an 18 year old guy, also has a maiden arc. He spent his life staying inside his city, listening to the dictator in control, and never leaving until he has to, and learns along the way that he doesn’t need to stick with the ruler especially at the midpoint when his protectors are dying and he needs to solve the problem himself or face the consequences. Eventually he must choose to give up his life’s work or choose freedom. I haven’t gotten to the end of writing it but I guess now I know to look at the maiden arc.

    • Jenny Chasteen says

      Rapunzel from Tangled was the first example I thought of, too! That story really couldn’t line up with this any more cleanly.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Good ones.

      Katniss is tough. I actually decided she was Hero since her story is essentially a Quest (and I think she moves into the Queen in later books). But she definitely has some Maiden qualities as well, showing how the lines between archetypes are sometimes blurry.

  11. This is truly fantastic! I’ve been looking for this kind of approach of different types of character arcs (beyond the heroic journey) for my entire career. I’m a film and tv writer and I’ve written for series for Netflix most recently and all the way back to Xena: Warrior Princess and I wish I had had these insights all along the way. I hope you turn this exploration into a book — I’d be first in line to buy a copy!

  12. I’m excited to delve further into these archetypes. I know now that many stumbling blocks in my writing stem from characters not aligning with traditional beats. It’s a relief to know that they don’t have to. I loved Gail Carriger’s “The Heroine’s Journey”, and now it’s time to get Hudson’s book off the TBR list. Thanks for this highly relatable and thought-provoking post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      And the archetypes I’m presenting in this series are by no means exclusive or comprehensive. There’s much to be explored.

  13. Hi, a couple of movies that sprang to mind as I read your article: One for the Money (Kathryn Heigl) and Uptown Girls (Brittany Murphy and Dakota Fanning).

  14. This is timely. I’m currently editing a fantasy story that can fit in beautifully with this Arc. Thank you for the insights this has shown me.

  15. Jane L Nash says

    this is really good – i realise i haven’t made the most of one of my characters – i will go back to the brainstorming board to see if i can build more into her story – thank you – most useful

  16. How fascinating! I was surprised to see how closely my first novel Restoration Day fits with this arc.
    Looking forward to reading the rest of this series!

  17. Ingrid Bouldin says

    Spectacular and insightful post, Katie! Thank you for this!

  18. No, I haven’t finished it yet, although every scene is outlined to the end…

    After all this time, I think this article clicked with me the most. I always labeled mine as coming of age but often struggled with the structure. Reading this had me see things I hadn’t previously.

    The beginning of this post reminded me of “Catcher in the Rye” I’ll assume you still haven’t read it, so here’s a synopsis

    Holden Caulfield, raised in an upper middle class New York City family in the early 1950’s, is a high school senior in a private school in Pennsylvania. He has a George Carlin type of insight, realizing that he’s just an item on an assembly line, destine to become a Stepford in pre-destined adult life. “They are all phonies” he cries. He tries to break free and experience the counter-culture he’s been shielded from, but in the end the pressure breaks him and he’s left telling his story to a counselor in an insane asylum.

    Your mention of “Bend It Like Beckham” reminds me of the trope of the Indian father who pushes his child to his own great expectations, which is the main antagonistic force in my story – but rather than seeking to break free, my protagonist fears getting pushed out of the nest.

    Joe Long is locked away in his room. A college student, he wants the relationships that have evaded him while fearing leaving home and all that is familiar, but that home is harsh as well, with a father who’s expectations he has failed and who is ready to shove Joe out into the adult world, ready or not. When Joe does fall in love, he has to hide his relationship because his parents would never allow it.

    I see how I have lined up with what you described, their forbidden relationship is unmasked in the 2nd pinch point, and both enter the 3rd act deeply wounded in their own ways.

    But “False Victory” made me realize something that startled me: The story is always told from Joe’s first person POV, but if it’s flipped around, even though Hannah gets much less “screen time” in the third act, it really is Joe being the predator in the conclusion of her maiden story. It fits right in with the lyrics from the song from which my title was borrowed “And knowing what I’ve done to you, With every thought you suffer through…My apology pales”

    Back in the first act, the inciting point is when Joe and Hannah meet. From that point on they each have their own coming of age arc. He’s older but very inexperienced, so they both experiences things for the first time but fro a different perspective.

    Now that I see her maiden arc intertwined with his, it’s got me thinking about the details of that yet to be written third act and how I can massage what’s been already written to make sure I have both their arcs well represented and playing off each other.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Coming of age stories are tough. There’s so much relatability there, but the character’s inexperience can make it difficult sometimes to really create solid and sympathetic motivations and causality.

      • The point I’m getting at here, at the end from reading this post, is how the arcs I have for these two main characters fit your archetypes.

        It’s like this: What if Jane Eyre was told from Mr. Rochester’s POV, starting his story from where they met and divulging parts of her backstory as it progressed?

        That even though it’s told from Joe’s 1st person POV, from the “False Victory” to near the end, the story progresses on Hannah’s “Maiden Arc” even though she’s not on a lot of the pages. I do have her going through all these steps, even if sometimes in retrospect as info enters Joe’s POV.

        Also, hat tip to Usvaldo for a suggestion he made a while ago on their relationship which inspired a very satisfactory finale.

  19. annette Brown says

    Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ll be talking about her a bit next week. Her story has a lot of Maiden trappings, but because it’s ultimately a Quest, I think she’s more properly a Hero than a Maiden.

  20. Dawn M Kravagna says

    Loved the beats for the Maiden Arc. Is this going to be worked into a new book so that I can buy a copy and have it conveniently at hand? Thanks.

  21. Yes! I’ve been working on a screenplay w/these themes! One draft was even titled “The Maiden and the Crone.” It’s about a teenage girl who must expose her wicked step-mother as a murderous witch. I’m looking forward to reading these books (I’ve been working from Jung, Grimm’s Fairy Tales, Greek mythology, Joseph Campbell, psychology (integrating different aspects of the self into who you want to become, individuation, etc.). Thank you for this excellent article 🙂

  22. Clint J. Gibson says

    This post has opened my eyes to where I’ve been going wrong in my own story. I’d put so much emphasis on building a strong back story for my protagonist that when I watched this post I realised…hey Clint, you already have the material you need to create a story based on the maiden’s arc. I mean, I had the overbearing mother and naive father already in place without realizing it. So last night I just jotted down all my thoughts based on the backstory material I had and i managed to structure probably the best story premise I have ever written. So I’d like to say a big heart-warming thank you to you for this post and the legacy you continue to share with us. You’re a legend 🙂

  23. Awesome series, and article! Can’t wait to read more. This is exactly what I talk about with my ramblings about the Seeker’s Journey. It’s traditionally a female arc, but doesn’t have to be, because anyone can seek identity, authenticity and integration of their personas. It’s all about dualities, though conflict exists in it.

    I’m still trying to figure out the relationship between conflict and duality. Conflict is zero sum, but duality is non-zero sum. And while the hero’s journey is structured around conflicts, it has dualities in it too. Dualities in hero’s journeys are represented by different contexts contrasting with each other in different throughlines (as in Dramatica). Perhaps for the maiden’s arc there are different throughlines for conflicting forces of individuation. Perhaps, the past, the future, the present, and the road not taken, are different things haunting her, and actually are not resolvable because they are in conflict with each other, at least she can integrate herself and transform herself into her next stage in life. I will have to think more about this!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Interesting! I definitely think that part of it is that there isn’t always clear-cut definitions between some of these archetypes–particularly the partner arcs within the same life period, such as the Maiden and the Hero. Sometimes the arcs are this clear-cut; other times they overlap.

      • It’s obviously easier to analyse and examine an individual’s sole journey through these developmental arcs. But what about seeing these interplays over time through the lens of a marriage or other forms of long-term relationship? This might uncover further, deeper insights for any multi-arc analyses, though more complex to elucidate in a blog post. Maybe bring this aspect more to the fore in the book compilation you’ve mentioned, Katie?

  24. This is so great. I’ve been studying archetypes for years, and I’m always eager to read more interpretations and analyses. Can never get enough. More please!

  25. This series is à propos for my current novel.

    While my story is coming together, the interaction of the protagonist, antagonist, and the foil are in development. I am hiding weighty moral issues underneath gripping and wrenching interplay and changes among the characters. They are long-standing best friends but fall apart over horrible international dilemmas.

    Your series will help me write these people with understanding. I want to give my readers a significant reading experience.

  26. This is sooo insightful and helpful for me, especially since I’m writing middle grade right now and exploring coming-of-age. While listening to the episode, I was reminded of Jonas from The Giver. You’ve probably read that story… would you say Jonas fits the Maiden arc?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Hmm, trying to remember. Yes, I think Maiden makes sense for him. He doesn’t leave his community on a Quest (or does he?), as would a Hero, and his story is very much about individuating *out* of his childhood community.

  27. Excellent post. I think you’ve outdone yourself. One thing I took from this is the opportunity to show how the maiden’s actions differ throughout the arc when faced with repeated situations. This is true for every arc, but is especially poignant for a female maiden character because of societal expectations.

    Your examples are great, but it seems like many authors (and screenwriters) miss opportunities to show what real people go through by focusing too much on the hero’s journey. I don’t have anything against tradition, but it gets boring when book after book basically tell the same story with different words. You are providing awesome tools to help us break out of writing ruts.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Totally agree. The Hero’s Journey is awesome, and important, but I think we’ve rather muddied our own water in trying to superimpose it onto stories that are in fact about other archetypes.

  28. If we only have time to read one the books you recommended above, which you would say? Thanks

  29. I like the idea of a protagonist’s evolving responses to repeated situations.

    There are interesting tools here to break out of ruts, but also to evaluate our (usually traditional) editors’ and beta-readers’ notes and advice on changing our character acrs. For example, the protagonist must seek to achieve a personal objective. This advice seems culturally biased and boring indeed. To some, the protagonist’s goal should not include holding things together against social forces that are insitutional and beyond control. And, commonly in the status quo, the antagonst must be a character, and not an internal conflict. Without nuance and complexity, we’re all writing comicbooks.

    Where do unreliable narrators fit into the archetypes? I must think about that.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’d say that unreliable narrators are really more of a narrative technique. *All* of the archetypes can present as unreliable, especially in the early parts of their arcs when they may not even know themselves very well. It just depends on how you want to present them to readers.

  30. This was such an insightful post. I love how you always talk about writing being intuitive but this article in particular hit home for me – as I was reading about the Maiden Arc, a character I’ve been developing popped into my head and point-for-point the beats of this arc match the beats I’ve outlined for her story… so I guess it really is true that writing is intuitive; while I’ve seen & read stories with this arc without realizing it (Ever After, Titanic, Terminator, etc.) I’ve only really studied the Hero’s Journey. I’ve caught myself trying to match a story to a pre-existing structure and stopped myself. This is just very cool to me to see how it really works the other way when you let the story tell itself. Great confirmation.
    Thanks for your post, I always look forward to getting your email notification. Looking forward to the continuation of this series.

  31. You are so good! What a terrific read! After reading this, I understand more and more why my first novel never quite fit the structure of the Hero’s Journey. I thought it did until I finished the entire first draft only to realize (now) the main character is on the Maiden’s Arc (first novel…still learning 😉 It’s like in one instant during this reading it made sense. Thank you.

    I’m also thinking My Girl fit’s this arc? But I’d have to think further on who held which archetype.

  32. Excellent post, K.M., I think this series will be amazing!
    I have a question. You said somewhere that archetypes allow for a lot of variation. I’d like to know how much you can change an archetypal arc without turning it in something else.
    For example, I think my WIP follows a Maiden Arc, or at least, I identified several aspects in common. My Maiden is kept isolated by his father, who wants to keep him safe (I guess the father is kind of a Too Good Mother figure). At the inciting incident, the Maiden is taken by some kind of Predator. Over the course of the story, however, the Predator becomes a sort of Protector, while the father reveals himself to be the true Predator (he is the one who takes the Maiden at the False Victory and also the one confronted in the Climax).
    So, can it still be considered a Maiden Arc? Is all this I said even important or am I trying to force order in something that, as you said, is not an exact science?
    Sorry for my bad English and thanks in advance.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You might this post on False Allies/Enemies helpful:

      As long as the character’s underlying archetype remains true (i.e., the father is always the Predator, archetypally speaking, even if the protagonist initially thinks him a Protector–which, frankly, is almost always the case when the parent/authority figure is the Predator in a Maiden Arc), then the underlying structure doesn’t change. In short, even if there is misdirection going on in the beginning, the Predator is always the Predator from an archetypal standpoint, and the Protector is always the Protector form an archetypal standpoint.

      A decent example of this is Terminator, in which Sarah starts out thinking her Protector Kyle is a Predator as well.

  33. I love this so much! Will you be releasing a book of the whole series?

    I’m an editor and writing coach, and I’m helping a client with a memoir right now. I can see the maiden arc in the first part of her story, in a very literal sense, with a period in the wilderness included as she decides what to do next! This is really helping me support her as she plans the next stages in her book, so thanks.

  34. Elizabeth L Richards says

    Jo in Little Women comes to mind. Could there be a better definition of a too good mother than Marmee?

    Are there books that combine multiple archetype character arcs? Perhaps starting as Maiden and then transforming to hero? Or a cradle to grave story that progresses through all six? Just exploring….

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’m sure there are, although I’ve not thought of a specific example. I think we’re more likely to see the entire cycle over the course of a series.

  35. One for the Money is a film of the book of the same name by Janet Evanovitch. She’s still writing that series about Stephanie Plum, who maybe veers between Maiden, Hero and, well, Clown? Is there a Clown arc? Maybe a development of the Fool/Innocent archetype?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      There’s a lot of the Holy Fool in the Mage, but I’d say the Clown is an immature version of that.

  36. “Women Who Run With the Wolves” is a favorite of mine. I think I’ve read it three or four times. I just finished my second WIP and sent it to an editor. Now after reading your timely post, I realize it is the Maiden’s Journey. And have ideas on how I might make some changes. I enjoy writing for the 20 to 40’s age group as they journey through the lost world of becoming an adult.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, I think one of the reasons adults enjoy YA so much is because it helps us “clean up” archetypal stuff we maybe missed the first time around.

  37. Another fascinating and helpful post! I’ll revisit this one for sure.

  38. I love your analytical analysis of writing. This post on character arcs enabled be to find my problem at the end of my story. I’d just read a book and didn’t care for the ending, it was a little taadaa. That story had the same problem as mine-character arc fizzle. So looking forward to the next post.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Surprise endings are a double-edged sword. If the twist doesn’t end up feeling even *more* right than the expected ending, it can fall flat.

  39. I’m trying to not tie myself to the gendering of the “Maiden” arc, and as I was listening, I hit on what I think might be a solid example: Neo from “The Matrix”. He starts in a literal protected world, and rather than being on the cusp of a sexual awakening or consciousness burgeoning, he’s driven to answer a question: “what is the Matrix”. Finding the answer to this causes him to literally leave worlds, the red pill transporting him from the comforting illusion inside the Matrix to the post-apocalyptic reality of the real world.

    Furthering the analogy, Agent Smith, as a literal agent of the Matrix, seeks to put Neo back in his place (can we even retell this story without hearing Hugo Weaving’s voice in our heads as he sneers “Mr. Anderson”) and deny Neo’s agency, as he comes to understand just what Neo and his power might represent. I’m not sure if the rest of this squares perfectly with the theory — are Morpheus and Trinity the parents or the protector — but it’s nice to think of a big budget action movie *not* as the usual Hero’s Journey, but in this very different paradigm.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Interesting. I think you’re right. There are a lot of trappings of the Hero Arc there, but ultimately I think they distract from what you’re pointing to as the heart of the story.

  40. I really liked this post. The idea of the Maiden character arc reminded me of the term of “maiden voyage.” A real ship would be safe and comfy in the dock, but then it would have to go out and sail. Then, it would have to be tested and need learn how to navigate with the stars and deal with storms.

    The beats of this arc was also really interesting. I’m excited to read more. All of these different character arcs makes me want to write a series where the protagonist experiences many of these positive arcs in succession. I already have a ton of ideas for it…I’ll write them down after school. 🙂

    Thank you! Have a great day!

  41. Carl Kjellberg says

    I think I can see where you are going. To some degree or other, all stories and story arcs are about the struggle between the individual and society. Throughout life, we shuttle between wanting to belong to the wider group and wanting to be our own individual selves. During the first phase of our lives, learning to be part of a group is all important. As young children we are dependent on those around us for our very survival. However, we cannot remain a child. During the adolescent years we begin to explore who we are as individuals. This, as you mention in your blog, can be seen as threatening to those who act as our parent figures. We are seen as ‘willful’, ‘uncooperative’ and ‘disobedient’. This creates tension. The reality is that we are just trying to find out who we are. We can get stuck in this rut of rebellion, gaining our sense of belonging from a group of likeminded individuals, such as a gang or we can surrender the struggle. Neither of these two solutions leads to growth. Growth only comes as we come to see ourselves as being both separate from society and part of society – we begin two integrate the two elements that have previously been in tension.

  42. There are a handful of stories over time that I have felt so drawn to, that felt like maps to me. I could never articulate why. But, these specific stories fit this model and your analysis sheds so much light. I feel like I’m finally looking at the whole puzzle from afar and seeing the whole picture. Greater than this, I can definitely see now how each journey is sewn together, and not separate entities. It makes so much sense. Both in story and in my own life. It also makes me curious to pay attention to which points I’m most interested in a story, according to their prescribed archetype along a continuous journey, and if my personal corresponding archetype journey in that moment is the causation of that interest or disinterest. This is fascinating to me. Looking so forward to your future posts on this! Thank you =)

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Absolutely! I think it’s as interesting to look at the archetypal journey in our own lives as it is within the lives of our characters.

  43. Hello, again =). Correct me if I’m wrong, but I also just finished watching season 1 of Designated Survivor. I feel like President Thomas Kirkman represents the Maiden Archetype here. Have you seen it? Is that accurate? I don’t know what future seasons hold, but this is my impression.

  44. I will do some writing this year again, but I am also watching someone who lives in Bali who I have not meet before so I am doing this for right now.
    Also I have been sad and not the written muse because one of my dear friends died this week.

  45. Abigail Welborn says

    I am so looking forward to this series! Thank you for digesting so much story theory and laying it out for us.

  46. I suppose they could be called Yang and Yin

  47. So, I read 45 master characters years ago and while it was cool the format (or my maturity as a writer) was not as helpful as I had hoped. This article on the maiden arc alone has been eye-opening. I have realized my protagonist is the maiden and seeing these character types as a progression of each other is a huge help to my second book! Thank you so much for doing this! It has come at the perfect time!

  48. Brilliant! This series is illuminating such important elements of story theory and structure that has been the secret or intrinsic formula for great writers for years. I find your treatment of this so well structured and presented that it makes for such easy understanding and application. This series is a very valuable to the canon of story theory.

  49. Your description of the arc made sense. Thank you!

  50. Irene B Colthurst says

    Thank you for this post; it’s really thought-provoking. I wonder though, what if we have (or are developing) a protagonist who does not come from a secure, nurturing/smothering childhood home? Is something like the Maiden arc still possible for a ruffian child or urchin as she grows?

    Thanks again!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Oh, definitely. We *all* go through the individuation of adolescence to some degree or another. Even if our parents were perfect, we still have to grow up and leave home at some point.

  51. HI! I’m loving this series and wanted to print off (for reference) the maiden, hero, and queen arc plot summations. However, I’m not understanding how to do that. If I just highlight it takes all the pictures and links from your blog. Is there an easier way that I’m missing – when you say scannable?

    I’m in the middle of planning a series and I would love to have these as I look at how I want my character to progress. I was thinking it would be a hero’s arc through the series, but now I can see the value in progressing her from maiden to queen and splitting that into the series.

    Thank you so much for your detail. I enjoy it very much!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I’ve had trouble with the print button functioning with my site template. I’m sorry about that. I recommend copy/pasting the text into a Word document and printing that instead.

      • Thanks for getting back. It’s not a problem, that’s what I did. I’m not the most techie person so I thought I might have missed something 🙂

  52. I so appreciate that you are doing this. It gives me more to think about than I had when I was relying solely on the “Hero’s Journey.”

  53. Such a great series! This is my third time reading through it, and now taking notes and laying them all out next to each other. I’ll admit, I misread at first, and thought that the Predator, Too-Good Mother, and Naive father were all potential “Big Bads.” But reading this again, I am wondering if while the predator represents the Big Bad, do the Too-Good Mother and Naive Father really represent juxtaposed “options for escape?” Does the Maiden therefore have the option to either defeat the Predator, or embrace a mask of Naïveté, or Strong-but-Jaded Wife to the Predator? Either is a defeat if the later two are chosen.
    At the same time too, in light of the Heroine’s Arc, integrating the Masculine and the Feminine, does defeating the Predator then require the Maiden integrate her choice of the “innocence” that the Naive Father provides, or the “Strong Will” of the Mother with the Maiden’s individual and new identity?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think all of these are valid approaches. A Maiden’s story won’t necessarily feature all three of these antagonists, and they definitely don’t have to be presented as “big bads.” The parental figures, obviously, are often very caring (if still limiting) personalities within the protagonist’s young life. And the Predator simply represents the “dangerous adult world.” He may be portrayed as truly predatory (in which case he may or may not be redeemed), or he may merely represent the harsh realities of life ahead.

      • Most definitely! I kept thinking of Brave as an example. However, in this case the predator (Mordu) is second to the Too-Good Mother (Elenor), and the Naive Father (Fergus.) and her mother goes through her own Queen Arc coming to terms with her daughter’s coming into adulthood. In the End Merida units all the threads, and probably more conclusively arcs through several stages.

  54. Tier net from The Grace Year by Kim Liggett. What I lived about that novel was the ending. Spunky Non-conforming girl wins, but not in the traditional way. You talk put that book in perspective for me—especially the idea that a character can choose to move on to the next archetype or not. You don’t really know what she is choosing until the very end.

  55. I enjoy this series immensely. I can definitely see one of my characters fitting the Maiden archetype and one of the my favorite stories ever is Tangled. I have a question regarding Tangled, though.

    In Rapunzel’s arc, who is the predator? Is it the devouring mother Gothel? Or is Gothel simply that – the devouring mother, and the predator is something else entirely, something I’m not seeing?

    I assume that Flynn/Eugene is the protector in Rapunzel’s arc. Or he ends up as one, because, for me, it kind of seems that he starts off as the predator:

    “The Maiden’s quiet home world is interrupted by the arrival of a new force from beyond. This force may be obviously a representation of the dangers her parents always warned her she wasn’t capable of confronting.”

    This aligns with Flynn climbing up into the tower while running away from his pursuers. He represents the forces and danger from beyond the tower that Mother Gothel warned Rapunzel about. He also offers Rapunzel a “grown-up” opportunity, even if technically she’s the one forcing her hand and blackmailing him to take her see the “stars”.

    When they leave the tower, Flynn at first is also the nagging voice that keeps telling Rapunzel to go back to her Protected World.

    But I think, after the midpoint, when Flynn reveals his true name and Rapunzel shows him her magic, he’s no longer Flynn the Predator, but Eugene the Protector.

    Mother Gothel catches up to them and now takes on the active role of the Predator who wants to drag Rapunzel back to the Protected World. She unmasks Rapunzel and is threatened by her change, but as a devouring mother she will not “fully relinquish her into the Real World without a struggle”. Gothel challenges Rapunzel that everything she thinks she has learned is a lie, and to think otherwise just proves that Rapunzel is still a powerless Child. Mother Gothel gives Rapunzel the crown so that she can see for herself how wrong she is.

    I think I will stop here, because subsequent story beats are where it gets confusing for me. I would like to hear alternative interpretations that would either confirm my speculations or prove me wrong.

    Also, I would love to know what arcs do Flynn/Eugune and Mother Gothel go through themselves? I assume Gothel is the Wicked Witch? Does Flynn go through the Hero’s Journey, though?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I haven’t seen the movie in a long time, so this is just going off my memory. I see Flynn as representing the Predator (albeit a pretty lightweight one) in the beginning and being “redeemed” by Rapunzel by the end.

      I’d say Gothel is probably representing the Sorceress, which is the aggressive shadow archetype of the Queen.

      And Flynn… yeah, I’d say he’s probably sketching a Hero Arc, since his story seems to be largely about reintegrating with society and finding something he loves enough to sacrifice for.

    • This podcast episode made me think of Tangled too! the whole time I thought “This is definitely about Rapunzel”.

  56. Anthony Pero says

    This found me at exactly the right moment, as I am entering into a revision phase or my current WIP. My B plot, which I was struggling with thematically, lines up very nicely with this structure. This article sparked a number of ideas to increase both the punch of the arc itself, and tie it more tightly to the A plot (the father of the b plot’s main character is on his own Heroic Quest.) Specifically, there is a dagger that the daughter possesses that I can more intentionally use to represent both the predator within the Maiden, and the naivety of the Father, which can be used to strengthen his own internal growth in the A plot. Thank you for this wonderful series. I’m working my way through the rest of it now.

  57. David Snethen says

    Hi. Sorry this one is so late, and maybe it’s already been said, but whenever I listen to this episode, I think of Amy from Fly Away Home.

  58. Hi KMW, I’m wondering how the lie and truth of an archetype relates to story-specific lie and truth. Are there 2 lies and truths? Or should the lie that I have for my story be related to the lie for their archetypal character arc?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The suggested “archetypal Truth/Lie” is more of a broad umbrella theme under which you can slot more story-specific thematic premises.

  59. Finding this article was a godsend for me.
    I now realize that I tend to structure a lot of my ideas on Maiden arcs. A more normal example is a group of people who discover magic, start messing around with it, but then get drawn into danger by accidentally making enemies through their naive use of magic. The turning point then comes when they go from messing around, to becoming serious and using the less pleasant/more dangerous aspects of magic to fight back against the aggressors whose interest they caught.
    The other one is a bit more out there: An entire version of humanity in a sci-fi universe that basically goes through a collective maiden arc.
    In fact, now I wonder whether the two Independence Day movies could be interpreted in that vein, as well.

    Either way, I now have a good indication of how to tighten my stories up. I had trouble getting them off the ground because I was meandering too much, but now I have more of an idea of what it is that I am trying to convey.

  60. The Maiden Arc is Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side… as told from his perspective, in which the Jedi are predators and Palpatine is his protector.

    Anakin lives out his childhood in a protected world: On Tatooine as a slave along with his mother, both subservient to their owner Watto.

    One day, the “Predator” Jedi arrive. Their proposal is for him to join the Jedi Order. Anakin’s mother accepts because it is his chance to finally escape slavery.

    Anakin agrees and enters the Real World of Coruscant, where he explores his new identity as a Jedi, but begins to realize he is still a slave to his Jedi master Obi-Wan, who is holding back his true potential.

    Enter the “Protector” Palpatine, who offers the Sith as an alternative to the Jedi. Anakin begins to explore the Dark Side in secret, and Anakin is forced to make a choice between the Jedi or the Sith, ultimately allying with Palpatine and embracing his Dark Side powers.

    Obi-Wan discovers Anakin’s new allegiance and begs him turn him back to the light side, but Anakin resists, as the two engage in a duel which cements Anakin’s allegiance to the Dark Side.

    Subsequently, with the help of Palpatine, Anakin is reborn as Darth Vader, and the Jedi are banished forever from the Galaxy.

  61. Roger Magnusson says

    I am very sorry if this comment comes of aggresive or as an attack, it is not my intention. It is simply that im trying to express complex thoughts and ideas that my limited knowledge of english will not truly allow me, and things come out wrong.

    As I listened to your post, i realised I got a little bit frustrated, and I didnt understand why at first. But then i figured it out. Its because that the myth of female victimhood has permeated our western culture to such a degree that even the Archetypical Journey, wich is, or atleast should be in my opinion, about EMPOWERMENT, instead enforces ideas of the polar opposite. Atleast in this version. There can be no empowerment without accounttability/responsibility, the two are intrinsically linked togehter. Language matters, and to authors, it matters doubly.

    I would rather describe it like this to focus more on her agency;
    The guardians are keeping the maiden confined in a safe cell, and she feels increasingly unhappy about that. She is longing for the endless possibility of freedom, and when the Seducer (not the predator) comes along, she jumps at the chance. (its Beatrice choosing the anarchy of Dauntless over the discipline of Abnigation).

    Her motivations and focus at this stage are contrarian, they are more about breaking the rules rahter than to express her true and authentic self. (which she has yet to discover). She needs to learn (by painful misstakes) that just doing the opposite of the ”rules”, ie teenage rebellion, is not true freedom, is not growing, and more importantly, is not good for her or the ones she love.

    Its a painful lesson, but finally she can understand the purpose of the original rules set by the Guardians, tonedeaf as they may have been, and merge them with her newly won insights. She still need rules to steer her ship, but only the ones that she set for hereself.

  62. To what extent can the Maiden and Hero arcs overlap/be combined? My WIP features elements of both arcs and neither feels right on its own.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You can overlap them (Dorothy Gale comes to mind), but you can also start with Maiden and build into the Hero. Obviously, you wouldn’t be following the beat sheets exactly in those instances, since you still need to present a story with a solid structural throughline. The beat sheets I share in these posts would only be appropriate for a story that chooses to tell a complete archetypal arc within one book.

  63. I’ve been working on a book that I believe follows the maiden arc.

    My protagonist is trying to become free from her devouring mother’s control. Her father is naive to the protagonist’s struggle as he gets caught up in his work and doesn’t have time to witness the conflicts taking place.

    I’ve tried to create characters that fit the predator profile, but I’m always drawn to a “Flynn Rider” redemption arc which makes them feel washed out and not powerful enough to be called a true antagonist in the first place. (My protagonist’s mother is worse than he could ever be and when he finally sees it for himself, he has a revelation that the protagonist needs help getting out of her situation just as he did when he was younger. He didn’t receive that help, but my protagonist’s desperation to break free is motivation for him to do better.)

    And then there’s my protagonist’s father. I keep finding him sneaking his way into a mentor’s role as the story continues to progress. I don’t know how well it fits with my protagonist’s goal being to separate herself from her mother’s controlling tendencies and become autonomous. Hence, this long comment!

    I love your takes and advice on writing stories and creating believable characters, so I hope you can find the time to offer some. (and maybe ease my doubts!) Thank you for having this blog and your podcast! It has been uber helpful as a first time writer! Much respect! – A

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The Predator can show up in varying degrees of antagonism. He doesn’t have to be a true antagonist. Redemptive arcs are common for Predators with whom the protagonist is in a romantic relationship (such as Mr. Rochester in Jane Eyre). What’s important in these instances is that the Predator creates circumstances that necessitate the protagonist becoming her own Protector, as she learns the savviness necessary to guard her own best interests.

  64. But…
    Doesn’t this arc make the parents a type of villain? Like they’re trying to hold her back from who she’s supposed to be?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Villain is a strong word. It is important to understand that “antagonist” and “villain” are not synonymous. The term “antagonist” has no moral connotation. (The antagonist could, in fact, be the most moral person in the story, whilst the protagonist is the least moral.) The term “antagonist” merely describes whatever opposes the protagonist’s forward momentum and, therefore, catalyzes their growth.

      However, archetypally, it is true that the parent/authority *is* a psychological force that the young person needs to overcome, at least internally, on their way to individuating into a fully independent adult.

      • But don’t you think that’s already overdone in modern stories? It makes it sound like their parents are an obstacle instead of a potential guiding force.

        • I’m not trying to start a debate, but I am seeing way too many stories with parents as just an obstacle. It’s demeaning to parents and it gives the wrong message to teenagers and kids. I understand the need to not believe everything “just because Mom said it” but at the same time parents are meant to be a guiding force for the kids to make up for their inexperience.

        • Andrew D Meredith says

          In all of KM’s examples, each antagonist is an “archetype.” So the Parent-as-Antagonist is an archetype. They fulfill the role of “Here is the correct way to enter society.” They can just as easily be a Teacher, Boss, older classmate, or grandparent. Regardless, they offer an opportunity to conform, or an opposition to be non-conformist. The character in a Maiden’s Arc learns that the marriage of the masculine and feminine halves of their self have to be understood in order to be united so they can “discover who they are.”

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Depends how you handle it. But psychologically, the parent is the first “guardian of the threshold” a young person must overcome within themselves, via individuating, in order to become an autonomous and independent adult. This does not necessarily mean the parent or other authority figure is “bad.” Often, their representation of the status quo is simply an attempt to continue protecting a person whom they still perceive as a relatively helpless child.

          Just as the child goes through a rite of passage in coming of age, so too do most parents/authority figures go through their own initiations in learning they must *allow* a child to grow up. Indeed, this is in many ways the essence of the Queen Arc.

          Only if the Authority Figure refuses to allow the Maiden to come of age do they become a villainous character, bent on obstructing the freewill of others. See this post:

  65. The Maiden Arc is an interesting idea to ponder. I love how you use different stories (both book and movie) to illustrate the different plot points and characters. That is the part of your teaching I find especially helpful. I can see some of the story ideas sitting on my back burner might be greatly served by this particular approach. Thank you. I look forward to the next of the series!

  66. K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

    Yes, I’m re-examining some of my back-burner stories in all of all this as well!


  1. […] Archetypal Character Arcs, Pt. 2: The Maiden Arc […]

  2. […] Characters are the spine of our stories. Stavros Halvatzis does character arc structure at a glance, Dr. Craig Wynne has 4 tropes and cliches to avoid when writing characters who are single, Rebecca Sacks lays out how to keep track of your characters with index cards, string, and a lot of clothes pins, Emily Wenstrom reveals how to get away with murdering a character, Melissa Donovan looks at archetypal characters in storytelling, while K.M. Weiland dives deep into the archetypal Maiden arc. […]

  3. […] getting a fair amount of inspiration for both their arcs from this article by KM Weiland. The idea of the Maiden Arc fits really well with where I want both of them to be, and how I want […]

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