What is an archetype?
- An archetype is a blueprint for building well-defined characters. Archetypes are used to figure out our character’s nature so you can build other traits around it.
- An archetype usually has a set of motivations, fears and cares that move the character. Family, culture, class, and age shape how the character expresses this nature.
Archetypes vs. Stereotypes
- A stereotype is an oversimplified generalization of people/characters stemming from a prejudice. It is usually an individual’s perception of someone and not a whole group of people.
- An archetype on the other hand is formed from the entire human race’s experience of people.
Archetype: Willing Hero (Eragon), Unwilling Hero (Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins), Sidekick (Ron and Hermione), Innocent Child (Alice from Alice in Wonderland)
Stereotype: magical sword, popular mean girls, nerdy kid
Longer explanation on archetypes vs. stereotypes here.
Working with Archetypes
Expand your vision with your main character:
- Imagine your character physically – face, skin, hair, age, body type, style
- Figure out the basic personality elements of your character — this will help you see what archetype they belong to:
- Introvert or extrovert?
- How do they solve problems — instincts, logical thinking or emotion?
- Does he/she want to change the world?
- Where does he live? Describe his bedroom.
- How does she feel about her appearance?
- Family? Children? How is his/her relationship with them?
- What type of friends do they have?
- What does he consider as fun?
- What do other characters say when they leave the room?
- Does he take life seriously?
- Where would they spend a Sunday afternoon?
Character profile sheets are best used at this stage of character planning.
How to use archetypes
After you’re done putting in your character’s traits, it’s time to color their personality. In choosing an archetype, there are four questions.
- What does your character care about?
Each archetype has a different set of values that dictate what they care about. Common questions to ask to know this are “If your character was stranded on a desert island, what three things would he want to have” or, “What would she miss the most if his house burned down?” These doesn’t have to be material objects — it could be something abstract, like independence, or love. Knowing what your characters care about helps you figure out obstacles for them by placing these things in danger. However, don’t let the archetypes dictate your plot — just keep your character’s desires in mind and it will filter into your plot as the story goes on.
- What does your character fear?
If your character heard a noise in the middle of the night, how would they react? You can start digging into your characters’ pasts to figure out what these fears are and put in those information in the story as you reveal more of the character.
- What motivates your character?
Motivations explains what drives the character and what is at stake when they don’t get it. Common motivations are:
- Safety and Security
- Love and Belonging
- Esteem and Self-respect
- The Need to Know and Understand
- The Aesthetic
- How do other characters view your character?
How would your character’s clothes and physical appearance fit in with their archetype? How would we recognize your character on the street? What do other characters say about your character behind his/her back? How do they read his actions and opinions?
Archetypes are meant to be guides and they shouldn’t dictate everything in your story. Be creative. The archetypes will show how your characters will react on the elements of your plot based on their nature.
Remember to pick an archetype that has room to grow in your story. They must learn something from the experiences you give them so they become more than their archetype.
You can also combine archetypes, but there will always be a dominant one. Maybe something happened before that made them develop that kind of nature. Fill in your character’s backstories to see how they could have that kind of nature.
* You can see the 45 Master Characters list in the book and more information here (warning: TV Tropes link! )