“Angels come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. Their presence in movies and culture reflect a desire on our part to believe in an after-life and to acknowledge there are supernatural forces of good working on our behalf… as well as darker entities creating havoc and destruction.”
Those of you who have followed my blog for some time or taken courses with me through Screenwriting Master Class know how fascinated I am with character archetypes, specifically how there are five — Protagonist, Nemesis, Attractor, Mentor, Trickster — which recur in movies over and over and over.
Some might see archetypes as a sort of reductionist approach to writing when in my experience, it is precisely the opposite.
By working with these five Primary Character Archetypes, we can identify the core narrative function of every key character, then use that knowledge as a guide as we build them out in a limitless number of ways.
One approach is to use an extensive array of Character Types available to us. So this month, I am running a series in which we will explore 20 Character Types, and consider how writers can use them to create unique, compelling figures in our stories.
It is surprising how many movies featuring the Angels character type there are. Good Angels. Bad Angels. Wise Angels. Bumbling Angels. Across all genres. Perhaps their presence in films should not be a surprise. According to a 2011 poll, 8 in 10 Americans believed in the existence of these ethereal beings. For those counting at home, that is more than the number of Americans who believe in climate change.
A prominent movie genre for Angels is comedy including noteworthy movies like The Bishop’s Wife (1947), Michael (1996), and Date With an Angel (1987).
Played by Emmanuel Béart, she portrays a classic version of an Angel, complete with wings and heavenly glow, an alluring Attractor which was pretty much the whole point of this high concept movie.
There are other comedic versions of Angels that explore different characteristics such as the bumbling Clarence (Henry Travers) in the 1946 Christmas classic It’s a Wonderful Life, the over-anxious Escort (Buck Henry) in the 1978 romantic comedy Heaven Can Wait, and two angelic renegades Loki (Matt Damon) and Bartleby (Ben Affleck) in the 1999 movie Dogma.
The downward moral spiral represented by the Angels noted above opens the door to the darker side to this character type such as the cursed Angel in the 1998 movie Fallen, the half-angel, half-devil child Little Nicky (2000), and the 2010 action fantasy Legion.
But for my money, the very best Angel movie is the original 1987 German language version of Wings of Desire (Der Himmel über Berlin). The premise: An angel tires of overseeing human activity and wishes to become human when he falls in love with a mortal.
Of course, not all angels have to be supernatural in nature. How many of us have received a grandparent’s compliment, “Well, aren’t you an angel” for some nicety we brought their way? Perhaps the best example of this type of ‘angel’ is Melanie (Olivia de Haviland) from the 1941 movie Gone With The Wind. Generous, kindhearted, long-suffering, and a loving soul even on her deathbed, Melanie provided an angelic counterpoint to the selfish machinations of Scarlett O’Hara.
Angels come in all shapes, sizes, and forms. Their presence in movies and culture reflect a desire on our part to believe in an after-life and to acknowledge there are supernatural forces of good working on our behalf… as well as darker entities creating havoc and destruction.
What brainstorming can you do with an Angel character type?
If the only thing you take away from this post is to consider Angels who are not the typical beatific well-meaning spirits from Heaven, that’s a start. How much fun to consider an Angel as a Trickster, imbued with whatever powers you wish to give them, but instead of seeking to benefit others, out to satisfy their own desires.
In other word, go against convention and do something surprising when working with this particular character type.
What brainstorming can you do with a Angel type?
For more Character Type articles, go here.