Thursday, April 7, 2011

Character Archetypes

This is something I've been playing with a lot in the Mysterious Other Novel that I'm working on right now. There's something really fascinating about studying, shuffling and perverting these different archetypal images.

A few:
  • The Child
  • The Hero (warrior, lover, or scapegoat)
  • The Anti-Hero
  • The Great Mother
  • The Witch
  • The Sage (or Wise Old Man)
  • The Trickster
  • The Fool
  • The Devil
  • The Scarecrow
  • The Mentor

There's no hard and fast list of character archetypes, but it is easy to recognize the way that the same characters show up over and over again.

Take The Book Thief, (since I just finished it):

Leisel is a Child/Hero. Plays a lot with the concept of innocence, longing for innocence and innocence destroyed.

Hans Huberman is the Mentor.

I'd argue that Rosa shifts over time from being the Witch into the Great Mother. (This is what primarily interests me. Archetypal shifts.)

Death is the Sage.

Hitler is the Devil (as he deserves).

What about Max? I'm not sure where to place him. Originally I thought Victim, but the book makes a big point of not relegating him to that status.

The truth is, we all have a collection of archetypes within us. It's not always as easy as pointing a finger and giving a name. Still, I like these labels as jumping off points, expectations to twist and explore.

What about you? When you're writing, do you find that you return to the same archetypes over and over again? I tend to have a Mentor in most of my work and Sages poke their dirty heads in from time to time. Moosh is a bit atypical for me, in that it embraces most of the negative archetypes and manages to turn the one potential positive into a negative. That's just my warped sense of humor, I guess.

Is this something you think about when you're writing, or merely a facet you discover after the project is done? Do you have a favorite archetype in fiction or film?

Reader's log:
32. Paper Towns - John Green


  1. I think this is a deeper question than it looks like at first. I had to think ^_^

    I always return to the anti-hero. The person with few redeeming qualities that isn't interested in changing, but is a perfect match archtype I don't see up there.

    The cynic. Is that a valid answer? Even in fiction, the anti-hero (think half of 'Sin City') is my favorite.

  2. In reading your comment I suddenly remembered that we have another type that has emerged more predominantly in recent years. Manic Pixie Dream Girl! I wonder if it is true that types emerge and disappear over time.

    I think the Cynic works as a sort of Anti-Hero subtype. They share a lot of the same characteristics. I agree, Anti-Heros are fascinating, (especially when you're dealing with a seemingly irredeemable Clint Eastwood sort of character).

  3. I definitely have variations of the same in my stories. My MC tends to switch around, but minor sec-characters must all have the same mother or something. :)

  4. Love this! Some of my characters are based off of these but I've tried to make variations on those so they are different. Love this list!

  5. So you saw my Byronic Hero post then Sarah. This is fascinating n'est pas?