The Five Most Common Character Archetypes

What is one tool you can use to craft well-liked, relatable characters? It's something you probably already use subconsciously.




What is a character archetype, you ask?
First off, when you think archetype, don’t think stereotype. You can have an archetype without having a stereotype. This confused me when I was first learning about archetypes, because they do sound like stereotypes! Here’s a quick definition of the two:
  • Archetype: Simply put, an archetype is anything that recurs in literature, like settings, symbols, themes, or characters.
  • Stereotype:  is defined as “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.“
So think of it this way. An archetype is like a picture frame. It’s something that’s been tested over the years and is known to work. However, your job as the author is to give that frame a picture: your unique character.
Twisting the cliché.
Think of a mentor figure. What comes to mind? A grizzly old man or woman? CLICHÉ ALERT. I’m not saying an old man shouldn’t be your mentor, because in real life, mentors are typically older. More life experiences lend them more wisdom. I’m just saying you should probably carefully assess that character to make sure he’s not a clichéd character with no real depth or personality. Because everyone’s mentor is an old person. What distinguishes your character from others? If necessary, give him some quirks that will round out his character and make him more memorable.
But, what if your mentor isn’t an old person at all? Say you make your mentor… a cricket? (Pinnochio)) See, now you offer your readers something fresh, something new, while still using the tried and true foundation.
So here’s a few of the most common character archetypes. Since I just mentioned him, let’s talk about the mentor first.

The Mentor

The mentor is the one who gives our hero advice throughout the story. He typically trains and prepares the hero for the battle to come, especially in fantasy. Often, his only assistance to the hero is indirect (through training or advice and what-not), but in drastic circumstances he may intervene directly. Gandalf is a classic example, but also Yoda (Star Wars).


The Hero

Everybody knows this one. The hero is typically the protagonist (main character). He’s the one we want our readers to be rooting for throughout the story. The hero is pursuing a goal (or many goals) throughout the story, but there will be many obstacles in his way. The hero normally overcomes his obstacles and achieves his goal by the end of the story. You can probably name plenty of examples on your own, but a few are Beowulf (Beowulf), Louis Zamperini (Unbroken), and Hiro Hamada (Big Hero 6).

The Villain

Ah, yes. We can’t forget this very important character. The villain is our primary source of conflict; he strives against the hero as the hero tries to achieve the goal. Many times, the villain is the foil to the main character, meaning his primary flaw will mirror the hero’s primary attribute. Villains are often power-hungry, self-serving individuals. But your villain should be evil for a reason. What from his past made him who he is today? If you have no answer to this question, you may want to go back and give your villain some backstory.
Examples of villains abound. El Macho (Despicable Me 2), Charles Kemp (Beyond the Mask), and Captain Hook (Peter Pan)

The Everyman/Everywoman


These characters are exactly what they sound like. Normal, ordinary people you would bump into on the street. At some point, they face extraordinary circumstances and find themselves in situations they have no control over. Unless your hero is also an everyman/everywoman (mine is), then these characters are just trying to get through life’s difficulties. They have no moral obligations to complete a goal.
These guys aren’t nearly as easy to spot, but if you’re on the lookout, you’ll find them. One good example of a hero/everyman blend is Alladin (Alladin).


The Innocent

These characters are sweet, kind, and compassionate. They are pure in every way, incorrupt though surrounded by hard or dark circumstances. They often are child-like or children, which is great, because it gives you an opportunity to twist the cliché! What if you made your innocent a robot? (Walle-E) Or a teenage girl with a dream? (Tangled)


That’s not all, not in the least bit! Those are just the five most common ones. Here’s a list of a few others one  I found.
  • the lover
  • the outcast
  • the damsel in distress
  • the hotshot
  • the dumb brilliant blonde (Ahem. Ahem.)
  • the town drunk
  • the gentle giant
  • the town bully
Every character is different, and the options are boundless. So don’t let character planning be a boring, rushed-through sort of thing that you have to do before you can start writing. Have some fun with it, and twist those clichés!

(BTW it took me FOREVER to format all of that, so I hope you enjoyed! :P)

~Jonathan

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3 comments:

  1. Jonathan, Thank you for your hard work in formatting as I certainly enjoyed this! What a great reminder of character types. Well done, young man. Write on!

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    1. Thank you so much for your feedback, Mrs. Payne!

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  2. This was fun to read. Good job formatting it. ;)
    (BTW, it's Aladdin. Sorry, I'm kind of a spelling freak.... *sheepish grin*)
    I love character things like this. ^_^

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