Posts Tagged ‘archetypes’

Character Archetypes: Wrap-up

Well, Squiders, I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at some of the character archetypes. We could go on forever, honestly. Some people denote eight different character archetypes, others twelve. Still others can break down each archetype into another six or eight or ten sub-archetypes.

The interesting thing about archetypes is that, yes, they do seem to be fairly universal. You can look at classic mythology and modern TV shows and find the same character archetypes. And, despite knowing that they’re archetypes, that they’re set up to fit a mold (or inadvertently ended up that way, through the collective unconscious or whatever), they often come across as realistic, well-rounded characters (some archetypes not included).

I also find them interesting because there’s so much you can do to subvert an archetype. People who deal with archetypes on a regular basis call these Shadow archetypes, but I think it’s fascinating to see what people will do to take a classic archetype and try to turn it on its side.

The fact of the matter is, most people–and characters–go through stages. Even if they fit an archetype to a tee at one point, their character arc can drag them into a different one, or several across the length of their journey. A character who is the Hero of their own story can be a Villain in someone else’s.

I haven’t personally tried using archetypes in my own writing, but I bet you if I went back and looked, I would find some anyway. I think that’s true of most writers. These archetypes exist everywhere in the media around us, whether we’re aware of them or not, and so they seep in to the way we view the world and how we think narratives should be structured.

Did you enjoy this look at the archetypes, Squiders? Did I leave out any character archetypes you’re fond of?

Character Archetypes: The Sidekick

Very few Heroes stand alone. Often they are accompanied by a Sidekick, or a few. In some cases, a large number of companion characters will form a different archetype known as the Hunting Group of Companions. Sidekicks help the Hero through their trials and tribulations, but never quite step into the limelight themselves.

Common Aspects of the Sidekick Archetype:

  • Usually loyal to the Hero
  • Tend to have Hero-like qualities themselves
  • Always secondary to Hero
  • Tend to be focused on the Hero and what the Hero is trying to accomplish
  • Can have life outside of Hero to some extent
  • Helps Hero in Quest

Sidekick characters exist to help the Hero. They are your Watsons, your Ron Weasleys, your Samwise Gamgees. They are loyal, competent in their own right, and generally echo the noble and just ideals seen in a Hero character. In some cases, the only reason a Hero can manage to complete their Quest is due to the help of their Sidekick(s).

Beyond that, Sidekick characters can vary widely. Often they are used as comic relief. They tend to be extremely devoted to the Hero, though this depends on the individual character. They may bemoan the Hero always getting the spotlight, but they’ll still have the Hero’s back.

Alternatively, Sidekick characters can be associated with other archetypes. Some Sidekicks are attached to Villains instead. An Evil with a Good Heart character may start out as the Sidekick to a greater evil.

Any Sidekick characters you’re especially fond of, Squiders? (I admit to loving Samwise Gamgee myself.) Have you seen this archetype used in any especially interesting ways?

Next: Wrap-up

Character Archetypes: The Innocent

The Innocent is an archetype that can be used for a number of different types of characters, though if the Innocent is included in the main part of a story, they rarely remain such. Innocent characters can also fall into Hero, Sidekick, and Damsel in Distress archetypes. Often, they may be children.

Common Aspects of the Innocent Archetype:

  • Generally happy, optimistic people
  • Usually naive or inexperienced in some manner
  • Playful
  • May be too dependent on other characters
  • May ignore reality in order to hold onto ideals

The Innocent Archetype may also be called the Child or the Initiate, depending on who you’re talking to. In general, the Innocent is someone who craves love and happiness, and who hasn’t been beaten down enough by the world to give up on those ideals. These tend to be sympathetic characters and, if not the main character, a Hero often feels duty-bound to protect them from the evils of life.

There are also downfalls to Innocent characters. They may purposefully skew reality to maintain their vision of the world, or they may be dangerously childish, ignoring rules and potential risks. They may also unknowingly endanger people around them with their carelessness or naivety.

Some examples of Innocent characters include Kaylee from Firefly, Forest Gump, Pippin (the hobbit), Dory (from Finding Nemo), and quite a few Disney princesses.

Who are your favorite Innocent characters, Squiders? With your favorites, do they also fall into another archetype?

Next: The Sidekick Archetype

Character Archetypes: The Temptress

Ah, the Temptress. She saunters in and gives you a coy smile, her eyes promising that more is available, if you’re willing. The Temptress is a fairly common female archetype though, like the Damsel in Distress, it is evolving in response to people wanting more well-rounded and less stereotypical female characters.

Common Aspects of the Temptress Archetype:

  • Usually female
  • Usually bad news for the Hero
  • Commonly portrayed as being sensuous, but can tempt in other ways
  • Used as an obstacle the Hero must overcome to continue on their Quest

The Temptress, like the Mother and the Damsel, can be more of an idea than a person. The main reason the Temptress exists, especially in a classic Hero’s Journey story, is to be an obstacle in the Hero’s way, something they must not give into, because doing so would prove them unworthy. Getting past the temptation allows the Hero to prove they are just and worthy, and to continue on with what must be done.

Most Temptress characters are women, but they do not have to be. In general, however, a Temptress character will bring a Hero character’s downfall, whether it is purposeful or not. The Temptress character can be an echo of a Hero’s dark side, showing them what they could become if they give up their ideals. But a Temptress is not necessarily evil, or even aligned with the Villain. They exist more as an obstacle and for the character development of the Hero.

Almost every James Bond movie has a Temptress in it somewhere. And the Sirens from Greek mythology are perhaps the most literal example of this archetype, as they lead men to their deaths.

Any Temptress characters you think are well done, Squiders? Like the Damsel in Distress, what are your feelings on this archetype and its use in media?

Next: The Innocent Archetype

Character Archetypes: The Threshold Guardian

I admit I like the name of this one. The Threshold Guardian! It sounds cool. Threshold Guardians are very common in any sort of Hero’s Journey plotline. Threshold Guardians can be good, evil, or neutral, alive or not, and may speak in riddles.

Common Aspects of the Threshold Guardian Archetype:

  • Acts as some sort of gatekeeper (in a literal or figurative sense)
  • Often directly stand in the Hero’s way
  • May have more than one in a single narrative
  • Can be trying to help or hinder, or may appear to do one while doing the other

Threshold Guardians stand between the Hero and what they want–or what they think they want. They may be in the employ of the Villain, they may be guarding their own interests, or they may be trying to help the Hero take the right path.

The Sphinx from myth is a good example of a Threshold Guardian. So is every combination of a pair where one is lying and one is telling the truth. A more comedic example would be the Black Knight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Threshold Guardians can be defeated in a number of ways. Some required outsmarting, some can be bested physically. A Hero or his companions can even get past a Threshold Guardian by blending in. (To continue using Star Wars, Han and Luke get past the stormtroopers to rescue Leia by stealing uniforms.)

Threshold Guardian characters can morph into other archetypes by joining the party or imparting advice. A Threshold Guardian only remains one as long as there is still a threshold to be guarding. Once the Hero has successfully passed (or failed) the threshold, their purpose is done.

Threshold Guardians are numerous and can be found everywhere. I’m sure you can think of half a dozen. Many characters act as one temporarily. Think Inigo Montoya, or Sir Didymus from Labyrinth.

Any truly inspired Threshold Guardians you can think of, Squiders, ones where the solution to get past them was especially ingenious?

Next: The Damsel in Distress

Character Archetypes: The Mother

The Mother Archetype is kind of like the Mentor Archetype, in that Mother characters tend be more idealized and more removed from the action. They often show up only for a short time to provide guidance and nurturing before a Hero is sent on their way.

Common Aspects of the Mother Archetype:

  • Idealized
  • Nurturing; provides comfort and advice
  • Generally female
  • Rarely developed as a “real” person

Mother characters seem to exist purely as a stopping point in someone else’s story. They’re often more idea than person, and often based off the idea of the Earth Mother: matronly, symbolic of fertility and plenty.

Mother characters can also be apparent in their absence, with the idea that a Hero is lessened through the loss of their mother or someone fulfilling the Mother role.

Mother characters do not accompany a Hero on their quest. Often they provide their care on a one-time basis. Fairy godmothers are often considered to be examples of Mother archetypes, and the archetype is extremely common in fairy tales. But often, if you see an older woman show up somewhere, who gives comfort or advice, you’ve found a Mother character.

Any Mother characters you especially like, Squiders? I find it hard to get close to them, since they really are more idea than person.

Next: The Threshold Guardian

Character Archetypes: Evil with a Good Heart

We’re going to move into some of the still common, but less obvious, archetypes now. The first of these is the Evil Character with a Good Heart archetype (or EwGH for short, because that’s a mouthful). EwGH Archetypes are less common than your typical Villain Archetype, but they can still be seen in a wide variety of different narratives. The main difference between this archetype and the Villain Archetype is that a EwGH can be redeemed.

Common Aspects of the EwGH Archetype:

  • Redeemable
  • Usually through the love or morals of the Hero character
  • May have been good at one point in the past

EwGH characters aren’t inherently bad. They’re not being evil just for the sake of being evil. Something in their past hurt them, and they fell from grace. To quote Star Wars again, there’s good in them, I know it.

EwGH characters can be the main antagonist or a side antagonist. A character that seemed like a straight Villain Archetype can become an EwGH through their own character arc. There’s a difference between Darth Vader from A New Hope and Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi.

In some, but not all cases, the Hero character may have some relation to the EwGH that allows them to have more of an influence over them. They could be a relative, or a lover. The Hero displays love and mercy to the EwGH, who realizes what they have done and that it doesn’t have to be this way.

EwGH also often make sacrifices (often of their own lives) to protect the Hero and their quest.

Some examples of EwGH include Darth Vader, Bad Cop from the Lego Movie, Ebenezer Scrooge (in a twist of also being the protagonist), and the Terminator. If you can think of an instance where a Hero manages to talk a bad guy down from their scheme, then there’s a good possibility that that bad guy is a EwHG.

Got any EwGH characters you really love, any redemption stories that have really moved you? Do you feel like this antagonist archetype is more realistic or believable than the Villain, or is it a letdown to have an evil character change their ways?

Next: The Mother Archetype

Character Archetypes: The Mentor

We’re all familiar with the Mentor Archetype. In fact, I would wager that, aside from the Hero Archetype, this is the one that most of us would identify off the top of our heads next. That may be because the Mentor Archetype is so intricately tied into your classic Hero’s Journey. For every Frodo or Bilbo Baggins, there is a Gandalf. For every Harry Potter, there is a Dumbledore.

Common Aspects of the Mentor Archetype:

  • Acts as a mentor or guide to Hero Archetype character
  • Usually old and wise
  • Introduce Hero to knowledge they will need to complete their quest
  • Typically are not present at the conclusion of the quest
  • Can be either gender

But, for all the commonalities and omnipresence of Mentor Archetypes, there are a lot of variations. Sometimes a Hero character has more than one mentor, or a mentor that leads them toward evil versus good. While most mentors disappear from the narrative from some point (often through death), some are there constantly, especially in an ongoing series (such as Alfred from Batman). Mentors can help with the larger quest or only be present for a smaller side quest.

Additionally, Mentor characters can morph into other archetypes as narratives go on. A Hero may eventually learn more than his original mentor, thus becoming the master (to quote Star Wars) themselves. A mentor may become a good friend over time, moving more into a love interest or sidekick role.

Mentor Archetypes are extremely common across all genres and forms of media. Buffy has Giles, King Arthur has Merlin, Luke has Obi-Wan, Dorothy has Glinda the Good Witch.

Who’s your favorite Mentor Character, Squiders? Can you think of examples where a Mentor character has morphed into another archetypal character?

Next: The Evil Character with a Heart of Gold

Character Archetypes: The Villain

Aside from the Hero, the Villain is probably the most common character archetype. After all, without a villain, many stories would not happen. Heroes rise up solely to fight the evil villains bring into the world; with a villain, without their evil plan, heroes probably wouldn’t have destinies, or have lost their families, or be forced into the world. They’d stay on their farms and raise sheep.

The Villain Archetype tends to display the following characteristics:

  • Tends to be evil purely to be evil
  • Don’t care who else is hurt in the process
  • Tends to be complete opposite of Hero Archetype
  • Selfish, egotistical, power-hungry

The Villain Archetype tends to be less straightforward than the Hero Archetype. Many experts consider there to be sub-archetypes within this archetype, such as the Tyrant or the Fanatic. Some people consider them to be evil incarnate, whereas some people consider them to merely be the opposite of whatever the Hero is.

Examples of the Villain Archetype include Jafar (Aladdin), Sauron (though less traditionally), or the Wicked Witch of the West. Often, the Villain Archetype tends to be lacking in character motivation beyond “take over the world,” or even just “be in the hero’s way.” As such, the Villain Archetype tends to get more criticism than some of the others.

Villain Archetypes are used in a lot of different types of stories, from your evil businessman to corrupt politician to religious fanatic. You find them lurking behind TV shows, fantasy novels, thriller plots, and murder mysteries. Done well, they can draw you in, as you wait to see what they get up to next.

Who’s your favorite Villain Archetype? Any one that drives you mad or that you love madly?

Next: The Mentor Archetype

Character Archetypes: The Hero

Perhaps the best known of all character archetypes is the hero. Most stories have a hero, after all, and even non-standard protagonists tend to be labeled by their relationship to the hero archetype: a tragic hero, for example, or an anti-hero. And one of the most common, most universal (at least according to Joseph Campbell) types of plot is the Hero’s Journey.

Common Aspects of the Hero Archetype:

  • Forced to leave home
  • Often an orphan, or discovers his/her family is not really his/her family
  • Tend to be uniformly “good”
  • Tend to see world as a division of good vs. evil
  • Often “chosen” in some way to defeat some great evil (prophecy, royalty, etc.)
  • Often has special powers in some form
  • Usually driven out into the world by some traumatic event

Luke Skywalker is often considered a perfect example of the Hero Archetype. Orphan, raised by remote relatives, has special powers, has clear “evil” to fight, forced to leave home by traumatic events.

Other Hero Archetype characters include Superman, Simba, King Arthur, Harry Potter–the list goes on and on. This is one of the most universal of all the archetypes. I’m sure you can think of a few–or a dozen–more without too much work.

Hero Archetypes are often encountered with Mentor Archetypes (which will will discuss next week), and may also, at some point, suffer from an incurable wound or a moment when it seems like everything’s lost. To continue using Luke as an example, we have his Obi-Wan (and also Yoda, once he loses Obi-Wan), and the end of Empire Strikes Back, when Luke loses his hand and learns that Darth Vader is his father.

Hero Archetypes are common across several genres, including, but not limited to, adventure, fantasy, thriller, and science fiction. They’re easy for most people to relate to and come with built-in characteristics that make for an interesting narrative.

Who’s your favorite Hero Archetype, Squiders? Have you seen this archetype used well or subverted any place that’s really stuck with you?

Next: The Villain Archetype