For many years, stories have included special character types called archetypes. These characters have certain traits that make them easy to recognize. The heroes and villains we see in today’s books and movies are often inspired by the same hero and villain archetypes found in old fairy tales, Charles Dickens’s novels, John Milton’s poems, and ancient Greek play. So, even though stories change, the basic character types have stayed the same over a long time.
This means that the brave and good heroes, as well as the wicked villains, in modern stories, have a connection to the characters from ancient tales, classic novels, and old plays. It’s like these character templates have been passed down through the ages, shaping the way we tell stories today.
What is Archetypes?
An archetype is a recurring emotion, character type, or event that we often come across in our lives. Whether it’s in stories, art, or everyday experiences, archetypes bring a feeling of instant recognition. They create a sense of familiarity, making it easy for people to connect with a character or event without needing to think too much about why it feels familiar.
Our instincts and life experiences play a key role in helping us identify and understand archetypes without requiring detailed explanations. Archetypes are like universal patterns that resonate with us, making the human experience more relatable and allowing us to connect with stories and characters on a deeper level.
Archetypes vs. Stereotypes, Stock Characters, and Clichés
Even though archetypes, stereotypes, stock characters, and clichés may seem similar, they each have distinct meanings. It’s essential to understand that these terms aren’t interchangeable. Generally, archetypes and stock characters offer guidance in creating characters, while stereotypes and clichés are seen as negative labels associated with poor writing or shallow thinking.
Stereotypes: Oversimplifying Characters
A stereotype is a simplified idea or characterization. Some stereotypes are negative, like portraying someone as “the dumb jock,” while others are positive, like depicting a character as “the innocent child.” However, all stereotypes share the common trait of being overly simplistic and are generally considered undesirable in literature. They limit the depth and complexity of characters.
Clichés: Predictable and Boring Elements
On the other hand, a cliché refers to an idea, event, or detail that has been used so frequently in literature or film that it becomes predictable and, frankly, a bit dull. For instance, think of the TV firefighter haunted by the memory of the one damsel in distress he couldn’t save.
Archetypes, in contrast, do not imply predictability or laziness. They suggest that a character or situation resonates with a universal truth. While archetypes are familiar, they aren’t so predictable that we already know what will happen in their story.
Stock Characters: The Middle Ground
A stock character falls somewhere between an archetype and a stereotype. These characters intentionally fit into a narrow, predictable description. Well-chosen stock characters, such as a wise old man or an arrogant military officer, can effectively complement the main character, especially in comedic scenarios.
It’s worth noting that stock characters have their origins in the classic European tradition of commedia dell’arte, where actors would wear masks and portray exaggerated versions of these characters.
Also Read: How to Research a Novel
12 Character Archetypes for Your Writing
Understanding the types of character archetypes can enhance your storytelling. Some archetypes, like the hero, are widely recognized, while others, such as the sage, might be less familiar. Archetypes aren’t limited to specific roles; they can apply to characters of various importance, whether good, bad, major, or minor.
1. The Lover
The Lover is a special kind of character often seen as the romantic hero or heroine, making decisions based on emotions rather than logic. This archetype is known for its strong feelings, beliefs, and deep connection to human emotions.
Strengths of the Lover include a focus on humanity, intense passion, and unwavering conviction in matters of the heart. However, they may also exhibit weaknesses like naivety and irrational decision-making, often driven by their strong emotions.
Examples of characters embodying the Lover archetype include Romeo and Juliet from the famous play “Romeo and Juliet,” Noah Calhoun in “The Notebook,” Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone With the Wind,” and Belle in “Beauty and the Beast.” These characters showcase the Lover’s traits as they navigate love, passion, and the challenges that come with following their hearts.
2. The Heroes
In stories, the hero is the main character who faces a problem and solves it. They are strong and brave, never giving up and always doing what is right. Heroes have qualities like courage, perseverance, and honour that help them succeed. However, they also have flaws, like being too sure of themselves or too proud.
For instance, Achilles from “The Iliad,” Luke Skywalker from “Star Wars,” Wonder Woman from her own story, and Harry Potter from “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” are all examples of hero archetypes. Each of them shows bravery and determination, but they also have moments where they make mistakes because of their overconfidence or pride.
These heroes teach us that even though people can be strong and do amazing things, they are still human and have their own weaknesses. In the end, it’s their ability to overcome challenges and learn from their mistakes that makes them true heroes.
3. The Magician
The Magician is one of the character archetypes who understands the secrets of the universe to reach important objectives. They have special qualities that make them strong, such as knowing everything, having great power, and being disciplined. However, they also have weaknesses like being easily influenced by bad things and being too proud.
Examples of characters with the Magician Archetype include Prospero from “The Tempest,” Gandalf from “The Lord of the Rings,” Morpheus from “The Matrix,” and Darth Vader from “Star Wars.” Each of these characters possesses the magical abilities and wisdom that define the Magician Archetype. They use their knowledge and power for both good and bad, showcasing the duality of this archetype. Whether it’s using magic for positive purposes or falling into the trap of arrogance, these characters embody the complex nature of the Magician.
4. The Outlaw
The outlaw is a character type that doesn’t follow the rules of society. They think for themselves and are known for their strong moral values. This archetype has certain strengths, such as independent thinking, virtuous behaviour, and owning no favours to others. However, they also have weaknesses, as they can be self-absorbed and sometimes engage in potentially criminal activities.
Examples of characters fitting the outlaw archetype include Han Solo from Star Wars, Dean Moriarty from On the Road, Humbert Humbert from Lolita, and Batman from The Dark Knight. These characters embody the essence of the rebel, showcasing traits like individualism, moral integrity, and a refusal to conform to societal norms.
While their independence and virtue make them stand out, their self-centred tendencies and potential for criminal behaviour add complexity to their personalities. The outlaw archetype, represented by these characters, challenges conventional expectations and contributes to the diversity of storytelling.
5. The Explorer
The explorer is a character who has an innate desire to go beyond what is usual and venture into the unfamiliar. This archetype is known for being curious, motivated by self-improvement, and always seeking new experiences.
Strengths of the explorer include a natural curiosity, a strong drive, and a constant motivation for self-improvement. On the flip side, they may struggle with restlessness, unreliability, and a perpetual sense of dissatisfaction.
Examples of characters embodying the explorer archetype are Odysseus from “The Odyssey,” Sal Paradise from “On the Road,” Huckleberry Finn from “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and Sherlock Holmes from the “Sherlock Holmes” series. These characters share a common trait of pushing boundaries, embracing the unknown, and embarking on journeys that lead to personal growth and discovery.
6. The Sage
The Sage is one of the character archetypes that represent a knowledgeable character who shares wisdom with those seeking guidance. Often, this archetype is embodied by a motherly figure or mentor in various narratives.
Strengths associated with this archetype include wisdom, experience, and insight. These characters possess a wealth of knowledge that proves valuable to those who approach them for advice. However, their cautious nature can be a weakness, causing them to hesitate when it comes to actively participating in actions or events.
Some well-known examples of characters embodying the Sage archetype include Athena from “The Odyssey,” Obi-Wan Kenobi from “Star Wars,” Hannibal Lecter from “The Silence of the Lambs,” and The Oracle from “The Matrix.” These figures play crucial roles in their respective stories, offering valuable guidance to the protagonists based on their accumulated wisdom and insights.
7. The Innocent
The innocent character, often portrayed as a child, embodies moral goodness with only positive intentions. This archetype is defined by strengths such as a strong sense of morality, kindness, and sincerity. However, they possess vulnerabilities, naivety, and a lack of skill.
Examples of the Innocent Archetype include Tiny Tim from “A Christmas Carol,” Lennie Small in “Of Mice and Men,” Cio-Cio-san in “Madame Butterfly,” and Buddy the Elf in “Elf.” These characters serve as illustrations of moral purity, kindness, and sincerity, showcasing the archetype’s positive qualities. Despite their genuine intentions, they are often portrayed as vulnerable and lacking in worldly experience or skills.
In General, The Innocent Character archetype represents individuals, usually children, who are morally upright and well-intentioned. While their strengths lie in their moral compass and kindness, their weaknesses include vulnerability, naivety, and a general lack of skills.
8. The Creator
In stories, the creator is someone full of motivation and vision, bringing art or structures to life within the narrative. Their strengths lie in their creativity, strong willpower, and unwavering conviction. However, they also face challenges such as self-involvement, being too single-minded, and a lack of practical skills.
Creators can be found in various tales, and some examples include Zeus from “The Iliad,” Dr. Emmett Brown from “Back to the Future,” Dr. Moreau from “The Island of Dr. Moreau,” and Dr. Victor Frankenstein from “Frankenstein.” These characters showcase creative visionary traits and the ability to bring forth new ideas, whether it’s through the creation of worlds, inventions, or life itself. Their stories often explore the consequences of their creative pursuits, revealing the intricate balance between inspiration and the challenges that come with playing the role of a visionary in the narrative.
9. The Ruler
In stories, there’s a character known as the Ruler. This character holds authority over others either through the law or emotions. They have strengths like being all-powerful, having a high status, and possessing abundant resources. However, they also have weaknesses, such as being distant, not liked by others, and sometimes being out of touch with reality.
Examples of the Ruler archetype can be found in various tales. Creon in “Oedipus Rex,” King Lear in “King Lear,” Aunt Sally in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and Tony Soprano in “The Sopranos” are all instances of characters embodying the Ruler archetype. These characters showcase the complexity of leadership, with both strengths and weaknesses shaping their roles in the stories they inhabit.
10. The Caregiver
The Caregiver is one of the character archetypes that consistently helps and gives up personal needs for others. They are known for their honour, selflessness, and loyalty, always putting the well-being of others before themselves. While their strengths lie in their noble and sacrificial nature, they may struggle with a lack of personal ambition or leadership qualities.
Examples of the Caregiver Archetype can be found in characters like Dolly Oblonsky from “Anna Karenina,” Calpurnia in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Samwell Tarly in “The Game of Thrones” series, and Mary Poppins in “Mary Poppins.” These characters embody the essence of the caregiver archetype through their unwavering support and willingness to make sacrifices for the benefit of those around them.
11. The Everyman
The Everyman Archetype represents a character that anyone can relate to because they seem like someone you might meet in your everyday life. These characters are down-to-earth, ordinary individuals who feel familiar to us.
Strengths of the Everyman Archetype include being grounded and relatable, like the kind of person you might encounter in your community. However, they typically lack special powers and often find themselves unprepared for unexpected challenges.
Examples of the Everyman Archetype in stories include Bilbo Baggins from “The Hobbit,” Leopold Bloom in “Ulysses,” Leslie Knope from “Parks & Recreation,” and Winston Smith from “1984.” These characters embody the qualities of the Everyman, making them accessible and relatable to a wide audience.
12. The Jester
The Jester is one of the character archetypes that embodies a humorous and mischievous character, often serving as a source of comic relief while occasionally imparting significant truths. Known for their funny and insightful nature, these jesters possess strengths that lie in their ability to disarm and entertain. However, they are not without their flaws, as they can sometimes come across as obnoxious and superficial.
Examples of the Jester Archetype abound in literature, poetry, films, and theatre. Characters like Sir John Falstaff in “Henry V,” King Lear’s Fool in “King Lear,” and the quirky duo of Frank and Estelle Costanza in “Seinfeld” perfectly encapsulate the essence of the Jester. Even in the realm of science fiction, the iconic R2D2 and C-3PO from “Star Wars” showcase the versatility of this archetype.
There are 12 character archetypes, each with clear characteristics, that we often see in our books, poems, movies, and plays. Archetypes are like typical patterns or roles that characters take on in stories. They’re easy to recognize because they have distinct qualities.
Imagine these archetypes as familiar characters you find again and again in different stories. They help create variety and interest in the books we read, the poems we enjoy, and the movies and plays we watch. For example, you might have a hero who’s brave and determined, or a wise mentor who guides others. These archetypes give stories a kind of blueprint or structure.
So, when you notice certain traits in a character, like someone being really brave or always helping others, it might be because they’re following the pattern of one of these 12 archetypes. It’s like a way for writers to use familiar elements to tell unique and engaging stories.