Have you ever wondered why the classic stories seem to have so many elements in common? We see the same types of characters in everything from eighteenth-century literature to contemporary novels and modern film and television. And yet, each story feels so fresh and engaging, like we're seeing it for the first time. That's because of archetypes: the timeless set of characters that have stuck with us for generations because they've been proven to create effective stories.
Character archetypes are successful in literature because they reflect genuine human truths that exist within each of us. Let's look at what archetypes are, some of the classic character archetypes that will populate your work, and how you can use your character archetypes in bold new ways.
What are character archetypes?
A character archetype is a recurring type of character that represents something universal in our human experience. Archetypes create an immediate sense of familiarity, even in an unfamiliar story, because they are types of people we meet again and again. Even though we've seen them and their stories hundreds of times, they still have the power to surprise us.
By using archetypes in our writing, we can connect with the stories our readers grew up with and immerse them in the world of our own story from the very beginning. Then our readers can see how we've used these character archetypes in amazing new ways.Create dynamic multi-layered charactersthat drive our history.
character archetype vs. History-Archetype
Two different types of archetypes are heard in literature: character archetypes and story archetypes. These two literary devices represent universal patterns that we can see in almost every story from every culture throughout history.
The difference is that whilecharacter archetypesRelate to the individual characters that populate the world of your story, such as heroes, villains, mentors, and others that we'll explore below.story archetypesthey refer to the patterns of events and themes that bring the story to its conclusion.
What is the difference between archetypes and stereotypes?
Character archetypes and stereotypes have many similarities, but the main difference is that character archetypes representtruths inherent in human nature, when representing stereotypesa pattern of (usually negative) characteristics attributed to a particular gender, culture, or type of person. Stereotypes often stem from a small truth, which may have been true only for one person or a small group of people, which then becomes a large generalization. These generalizations are shallow, uninteresting, and lack the beautiful complexity that humans have as individuals.
Examples of stereotypes include things like a giddy prom queen, a shy nerd, a dimwitted jock, the girl next door, an absent-minded teacher, a starving idealistic artist, or a schoolyard bully.
Stereotypes rarely do anything other than make your story flat, uninteresting, and clichéd. Stories filled with stereotypical characters are usually forgotten once the book is closed, rather than becoming a story that will stay with its readers for generations. As a writer, you have the entire landscape of human existence to sculpt your characters. It's exciting and inspiring, and a cliché creeping into your story is nothing more than a missed opportunity to create a dynamic and real character.
Why use character archetypes in writing?
Although the character archetypes that we are about to show you are all very different, they have one very important thing in common: they each represent a bit of ourselves, of what it is to be human. Everyone has the ability to be a hero, a mentor, a lover, or even a villain. By creating stories based on these universal character archetypes, we speak to a very real truth that our readers will recognize because those truths exist within them as well.
As a writer, a big part of your job is to create characters that feel real to the reader. Using archetypes is a wonderful place to start, but you also have to ask yourself how someone like you can become someone like your characters. Actors are great at this. When the theater asks you to play a villain or someone with very different ideals than you, you need to find out what circumstances and cultural influences would lead you to become that person in your own life. That's what drives an actor to give a believable performance, by finding a way to make it real for him. The same goes for writers. No matter how outlandish or controversial your characters are, a part of them will exist within you.
As you begin to build your story out of character archetypes, start with a structural framework that reflects the full spectrum of human existence. You can then expand that framework with context, themes, and other literary devices to create a story that will resonate with any reader.
All 16 Classic Character Archetypes
Unlike stereotypes, which are extremely limited in scope, character archetypes give you a base structure from which to start building the personas in your story. Here are the 16-character archetypes to use in your writing.
1. The hero
The hero is the axis around which a story revolves. They often find themselves in extraordinary circumstances beyond their control, forcing them to fight for a single goal. Along the way, the hero's strength will be tested in various ways, perhaps physical, mental, spiritual, or moral.
These tests will reveal exceptional strengths that will set them apart from other characters in the story. This could be things like supernatural powers or a significant birthright, or it could be something simple that stems from their humanity: remarkable compassion, iron determination and self-awareness, great courage in the face of outrageous terror. The heroes aren't flawless (pro tip: they'd be pretty boring if they were), but the strength they show in tough times will make your reader believe in them and follow them to the end.
One of the oldest universal story patterns in literature is called "The Hero's Journey." Nicknamed the "Mono Myth," the hero's journey follows the protagonist through a cycle of adventures as he navigates an irrevocably changed world, undergoes initiation or comes of age, achieves a goal, and returns home to rebuild from a new beginning. Although your hero is the lynchpin of your story, he doesn't carry it alone (even though he sometimes thinks he does). Along the way, the hero will encounter many of the character archetypes listed below, some as obstacles and some as friends.
Examples of hero archetypes in literature include Wonder Woman, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and Sir Gawain.Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
2. The shadow
The shadow archetype is a dark image of the hero. They could show us the hero's weaknesses that they struggle to hide, or what could become of the hero if he allowed those weaknesses to consume him. In many ways, we all have this "shadow personality" (which Carl Jung called "Id"), but in literature, the shadow archetype will be an external character, reflecting the hero's darker traits and potential, or a very distinctive facet of the hero: for example, when they are under the influence of drugs, manipulation, or an external force, they completely change their personality. Very often you will see these characters take two different names due to their opposite polarities, like B. Angel and Angelus in the TV series.buffy dies vampire.
Other examples of shadow archetypes are Gollum inLord of the Ringsand Mr Hyde inThe strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.
3. The friend
Sidekicks were popularized by the comic book medium, but the idea has been around much longer. The sidekick's main task is to provide the hero with a way to stay grounded despite all the obstacles he faces. The sidekick lacks any of the core values that put the heroes on their path, maybe they're not as brave or as strong or not the "chosen one", and they don't carry the weight of the world on the same path. what shecanprovides a light in the darkness as your hero begins to lose a major part of himself. Your friend prevents the hero from getting too close to the edge.
Quite often, sidekicks in literature serve as a character opposite the hero. This means that they confront the hero to draw attention to certain aspects of his personality. A great example of this is Batman & Robin, where everything about Robin's colorful costume, talkativeness, and positive energy is contrasted with the darkness of the Batman character.
Other examples of sidekicks include Friday fromRobinson Crusoeand Ron Weasley outharry potter.
4. The villain
The villain archetype isthe great villain of your story– the challenge to which all roads lead. This character has a goal that is in direct conflict with the hero's, and in order for him to achieve his goal, he must ensure that the hero cannot achieve it.are. This can be done by killing them, humiliating them, discrediting them, or forcing them into submission.
The villain always has a reason for doing the horrible things he does, even if that reason goes beyond what we can comprehend in our own perceptions and values. The best villains in literature are the ones who genuinely believe they are doing the right thing, but have allowed their vision of "right" to be clouded by greed, fear, or pain.
Some iconic villains in literature come from Valentinethe mortal instruments,Professor Moriarty from the stories of Sherlock Holmes and Shere Khanthe jungle book.
5. The lover
In a story, the lover archetype really just wants everyone to get along. They are usually a "good" character in the sense of a working moral compass, but they lack the courage, sense of injustice, and capacity for self-sacrifice that the hero has. Although lovers are guided by the needs of their hearts, they tend to take the path of least resistance that does the least harm to themselves and their loved ones. Many traditionally artistic characters fall into this category.
In a way, the lover is a reflection of the trickster archetype, which we will explore next. They both try to stay out of trouble and have a limited range that is worth fighting for.
Some great archetypes of lovers in the stories are Dustfingerjingleand pippin outLord of the Rings.
One of the most important character archetypes in the hero's journey, the mentor archetype is older (sometimes), wiser (always), and possesses knowledge and experience beyond the hero. They may also have supernatural powers or particularly specialized abilities. The mentor serves to give the hero a little nudge (or a big nudge) on his path and to highlight the potential of what will become of that hero.
The mentor archetype is also a great tool to immerse and introduce your reader to your story. As the mentor teaches the hero about his world, the threats he will face, the steps he can take to overcome those threats, and the development of the skills necessary to do so, his readers will learn everything they know about the world of he. right next to them.
The best-known mentor archetype in modern literature is the wizard Gandalf.Lord of the Rings. Haymitch Abernath ausThe Hunger Gameshe is another mentor figure, as is Merlin from the King Arthur stories.
7. The mother
Made famous by the godmothers of classic fairy tales, the mother archetype represents a supportive and caring presence in the hero's life. They won't always be a literal mother (although they can be), they don't even necessarily have to be women. The mother figure is strong and wise, but differs from the mentor archetype in that she does not give the hero the tools he needs to advance his journey; rather, they give the hero a safe place to come home to, a place to heal.
Depending on where the hero is on their journey, there may be more than one character that fills this role. Aunt May from Spider-Man and Nokomis fromHiawatha's songare examples of mother archetypes.
8. The Common Man
Everyman's character is a projection of the reader. You are a perfectly normal person who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances and you are adjusting to the situation in the same way as any of us. They usually say what's on their mind and say things that don't make sense, and their normality can make them strangers in a world where very abnormal things happen. This archetype serves to give the story some perspective and make the plot more understandable to us as readers.
The Everyman could be an unwitting hero, or he could be a sidekick or other supporting character who acts as a liaison between the hero and the reader.
dr. John Watson of the Sherlock Holmes stories is an everyman: faced with a brilliant best friend and some equally brilliant villains, he brings a reassuring coarseness to his world. Other examples of the Everyman archetype are from Arthur Dent.The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxyand Simon Lewis outthe mortal instruments.
9. Maid dies
The iconic damsel in distress is one of the most well-known literary tropes, but this archetype can take many forms across all ages and genres. They are sometimes called "innocents" and represent naivety, inexperience, and trust. The Maiden is like Everyman in that she sees everything with new eyes; But unlike Jedermann, Maid never gives up on the idea that there is good in the world. She clings to her innocence even when the events around her threaten to take it away from her. Unfortunately, this determined positivity can land them in sticky situations that often require the services of a hero to save them.
In a story, this archetype reminds us that there is always hope and wonder in the world. Examples of classic Virgo archetypes in literature include Alice fromAlice in Wonderlandy Tiny Tim von Dickens'a christmas song.
10. The Trickster
Imposters are perhaps our most enduring character archetype, even more so than heroes. Before the storytellers would repeat the stories of Beowulf and King Arthur, they would gather around the fire and listen to stories of Coyote, Raven, Loki, and the spider god Anansi. Cheaters are neither good nor bad, but use cunning and intelligence to achieve their own ends. They can help or hinder the hero, depending on what best suits his own agenda.
The trickster spawned one of our favorite modern archetypes, the anti-hero. Anti-heroes are often impostors who have reluctantly invested in more than just their own survival. They then have to reconsider their goals, which sets them on a new path to becoming heroes.
Famous impostors in literature are Shakespeare's PuckSummer night Dream, the Weasley twins of theharry potterSeries and Loki from Norse mythology.
11. The Guardian
The Guardian archetype is someone who stands at a threshold, preventing the hero from continuing his journey. Guardians are often quite determined and obsessed with their goal of keeping two worlds, people, or experiences apart. Sometimes it could be someone guarding a literal gate, like the Sphinx from Egyptian mythology; other times it may be a new phase of life, like B. An admissions officer standing between a student and his dream school.
The Guardians challenge the hero to reassess his situation and see things from a different perspective. If the hero continues to use the same forces, tools, or techniques as he did before, he will fail to cross the threshold. They'll have to try something different, probably something less comfortable, and practice a new skill to keep moving toward his goal. By the time they get over the hurdle, they will have grown because they have pushed the limits of what they can be.
Examples of guards in the literature are wall guards.star dust, the Guardian of the Emerald City inThe Wizard of Oz, and the three-headed dog Fluffy from theharry potterSerie.
12. The Herald
The Herald is a character who predicts a major change, usually at the beginning of the story. After they appear, nothing will be the same for the hero. An example of a herald is found in the classic fairy tale Cinderella, where he appears to announce that the king is looking for a mate for his son or daughter, setting the plot in motion.
Although the Herald's job is to set the events of the story in motion, they can also stick around to play a different role in the story. InThe HobbitFor example, Gandalf starts out as a herald knocking on Bilbo's door, then morphs into a mentor figure once the story is underway. Other heralds in literature include Effie Trinket inThe Hunger Gamesand the three witches insideMacbeth.
13. The Scapegoat
In literature, the scapegoat archetype is someone who takes the blame for another person's misdeeds. This often works a bit like a reverse guard: defeating him clears the way for the villain to close in on his target. Using a scapegoat allows your characters to unite against a perceived common enemy, thereby (temporarily) defusing tensions that have been brewing. This is a useful literary device to take the plot in a new direction.
de daphne du maurierthe scapegoatexamine this idea in depth and examine how one might deal with the burden of another's wrongdoing. Scapegoat archetypes in literature exclude SnowballTierfarmand wilmer outmaltese falcon.
14. The Outlaw
The outlaw's greatest strengths are his independence and self-confidence, which prevent him from giving in to the limitations of society. That doesn't always make them great friends, but the ones that do make them loyal and share the same ideas about what's important in life. The outlaw is often romanticized and popular, but other characters may annoy her with their envy of the outlaw lifestyle and freedom of expectations.
The outlaw is an important archetype in both The Adventures of Robin Hood and the original.SpidermanComics in which the outlaw's antagonists, the Nottingham sheriff and journalist J. Jonah Jameson, express their hidden envy for a life they could never have. Sometimes this animosity sets the outlaw on a new path, making him a hero when his independent existence begins to unravel.
Other outlaws in literature assume RouxChocolateand Maurice Leblanc's character Arsène Lupine from the series of the same name.
15. The Revolutionary
Also called rebel, this archetype embodies the "chaotic good"; They have a cause and they are not afraid to burn some bridges or cities in its name. The revolutionary sees something profoundly wrong in his society and takes it upon himself to change it because no one else will. The revolutionary archetype is fiercely protective of those he loves, but tends to alienate all but the most devoted due to his seditious ideas.
The revolutionary is a born leader, and his passion for his cause draws people to follow him. That passion knows no bounds and transcends petty annoyances like common sense, which means this archetype can be a hero, a villain, or a third prankster somewhere in between. Some revolutionaries in literature are Katniss Everdeen datingThe Hunger Games, Atticus Finch ausKill a Mockingbirdand Lyra Belacqua ofhis dark materials.
16. The ruler
The ruler is a natural leader in a position of power, such as B. a monarchy, a government office, or the head of a powerful corporation. In contrast to the leadership qualities exhibited by the revolutionary character archetype, the ruler archetype thrives on order, stability, and tradition. They can be a force for good or evil, but they usually come into conflict with the hero for one simple reason: the ruler likes the way things are and doesn't want them to change.
While each of us has the ability to lead in times of conflict, not all of us are very good at holding a position of authority. Power corrupts, and even good characters can be tested if given too much power too quickly. Because of this, many ruler archetypes find themselves in conflict with their peers.
Some ruler archetypes in literature are King Uther from Arthurian legends and Miranda Priestly inThe Devil Wears Prada.
How to use character archetypes in your story
As you can see, the character archetypes represent a range of human types from across literature. He doesn't feel like he has to limit the characters in his story to just one of these archetypes; sometimes characters fill more than one role in a story, or their role changes. Let's look at some things to keep in mind when using archetypes to create your characters.
1. Give your characters room to grow
While character archetypes are useful building blocks, they essentially represent a static blueprint. In a good story, your characters will change over time as they learn, make mistakes, go through difficult experiences, and come out stronger on the other side. When you start with a character archetype, don't feel like you have to stay within its boundaries throughout the story. Give your characters permission to surprise you, break out of their old patterns, enter a different archetype down the road, or evolve into something entirely new.
For example, maybe you made a perfect companion for your hero. But what happens if the hero dies in battle? How will the guy deal with an irrevocably altered reality where his role is not what he thought he would be? Or maybe your character is a lover who stays away until he sees or hears something he can't turn his back on. Let the story take your characters in unexpected directions.
2. Undermine expectations
Many of these character archetypes have classic biases that have taken root in our minds over time. These are things like the hero as a burly man wielding a club; the maid as a slender doe-eyed blonde; or the mentor as a grizzled sage in the twilight of his life. These clichéd and overused ideas have fallen out of favor in contemporary literature, and writers are constantly finding fresh new perspectives on these classic archetypes. See how you can take the characters you know from literature and twist them a bit off-center.
Instead of writing a 180 year old mentor that looks like your typical wizard costume, why not try something new? Perhaps her mentor is a fourteen-year-old girl whose experiences as a hacker have made her wiser beyond her age. Or maybe your mentor is an award-winning ballet dancer who secretly trains her understudy. If you want a Virgo archetype in your story, perhaps your Virgo is the hero's chronically ill, perpetually optimistic little brother, rather than a giddy love interest to your hero. See how far you can take these character traits to give your story a new look.
3. Combine archetypes to create something new
Sometimes a character fits more than one archetype. As we saw earlier, the anti-hero is a perfect example of this composite character archetype, simultaneously fulfilling the roles of hero and trickster. See what else you can piece together to create exciting new characters for your story. What happens when it turns out that your hero's mentor is also the villain? If the villain was the one who gave the hero the tools and impetus to complete his journey, what was the real goal in the end? Suddenly, your antagonist and her relationship with the hero are filled with complexity.
What happens when your lady becomes a hero? How will someone who is used to being taken care of deal when she suddenly has to take care of others? How does your determination to see the best in the world affect your need to make tough decisions? By combining different archetypes, you can generate new questions and new ideas about your characters, adding a deeper dimension to your story.
Character archetypes are an easy way to structure your story.
Generations of writers and storytellers have honed these character archetypes in literature, recognizing that they are facets of each of us. While you don't have to limit your characters to just one archetype, they give you a reliable place to start building from scratch, a place your readers will recognize as old friends from having met them in a different incarnation before. Your characters will all be as unique as you are, but are also born from a rich narrative heritage.