Writing Masterclass: Character Archetypes

This week I would like to look at some of the most common character archetypes which will hopefully prompt you and inspire new and exciting characters. By no means is this breakdown constricting, please do not limit your characters to one archetype, mix and match, make your characters yours.

The term archetype is used here to determine a character’s leading personality trait. This type can be entwined with other motivations to create interesting a realistic characters that will interest your readers. Archetypes were first conceptualized by psychologist Carl Gustav Jung. He created a list of twelve basic traits that became his archetypes.

  1. The Innocent- “Free to be you and me.” Example: Pippin Took (Lord of the Rings)
  2. The Orphan – “All men are created equal.” Example: Oliver Twist
  3. The Hero – “Where there’s a will there’s a way.” Example: Harry Potter 
  4. The Caregiver – “Love thy neighbour.” Example: Primrose (The Hunger Games)
  5. The Explorer – “Don’t fence me in.” Example: Star-Lord (Guardians of the Galaxy)
  6. The Rebel – “The rules were made to be broken.” Example: Voldemort (Harry Potter)
  7. The Lover – “You are the only one.” Example: Rogue (X-Men)
  8. The Creator- “If you can imagine it, then it is possible.” Example: Wednesday (The Addams Family)
  9. The Jester – “YOLO.” Example: The Genie (Aladdin)
  10. The Sage – “The truth will set you free.” Example: Morpheus (The Matrix)
  11. The Magician- “I make things happen.”Example: Magnus (The Shadow Hunters)
  12. The Ruler- “Power isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Example: Darth Vader (Star Wars)

Vladimir Propp came up with a similar solution. After exposure to hundreds of fairytales, he created a basic list of seven character types.

  1. The Villain
  2. The Doner
  3. The Helper
  4. The Princess
  5. The Dispatcher
  6. The Hero
  7. The False Hero

So how can we apply these character types to our story?

At the basis of your story, you should have established a conflict. It creates a realistic dynamic and makes the plot more interesting. The easiest way to create conflict is to have two opposing characters who have very different motivations and end goals. From this idea, we can pick conflicting character traits from above and establish our characters.

For instance, in my current manuscript, my antagonist Artyom’s main motivation is to free his brother. Artyom is a rebel and fights against the rules imposed on him by his employers and is, therefore, a problematic and chaotic character. He is entertaining to write and the words come flowing from me, effortlessly.

My protagonist is a struggle. I want her to be likable, I want her to be friendly and powerful but her character is just… dull. So I scrapped 20,000 words and re-wrote her character, made her a developing innocent archetype with plenty of faults and flaws. Suddenly her character was roaring with life and although sometimes I hated her, I could clearly see her motivations morphing, as she transformed into this Sage/ Explorer archetype.

Today’s exercise is to develop those characters that we first established back in our plotting stage. I would like you to look at your characters motivations and see which category they fit into. Really look at their hopes and desires and give them a purpose, give them an archetype because once you have a clear understanding of who they are and what they want, you will be able to see their story laid out in front of you like a yellow brick road.

Published by Kirsty Allen

Kirsty Allen is a writer who specializes in lifestyle blogging & fiction writing. 'The Ramblings of a Madwoman' can be found at her website theroamblogger.com

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