Character Archetypes

Not to be confused with a character arc, character archetypes were first brought to the world’s attention by psychologist Carl Gustave Jung.

The definition of an archetype is complex, but it is essentially certain common human behavior patterns that cause them to react in a certain predictable manner. Jung defined 12 basic archetypes, and divided them into three categories, Ego, Soul, and Self.  Archetypes evoke deep emotions, which is why we apply them to our characters when we write.

Here are some examples of archetypes. You may want to use the info to get inside your characters’ heads.

  1. HERO – (EGO) The hero is the archetype with whom we are most familiar as writers. Always the protagonist, and although traditionally male, the hero is a female in the romance genre. The hero has a specific goal she desperately needs to achieve, usually one that requires courage and inner strength. She has to overcome multiple obstacles on the way. She is basically good, even when tempted to do wrong, and stays true to herself no matter what, which is a heroic trait. She is brave and bold and often saves others in one way or another.
  1. REGULAR PERSON — (EGO)  This is your average Joe. Someone who doesn’t want to stand out in a crowd, and is solid, down to earth and reliable. The hero often relies on the steadfastness of a character like this. This character finds it hard to connect on an emotional level with others, and has a basic need to belong, which is why he is so devoted to the hero.
  1. DREAMER – (EGO) This person wants to be the hero, (Walter Mitty comes to mind) but lacks the essential characteristics. Their greatest fear is to be caught and punished for doing something wrong, and their lack of boldness can make them boring.
  1. CAREGIVER – (EGO) Their main goal is to protect and help others. They are compassionate, generous and selfless. They would hate to ever be thought of as selfish, or to miss out on an opportunity to help someone.
  1. INDIVIDUALIST – (SOUL) This character needs to be free to find her inner self through exploring the world. She is ambitious, and seeks a better, more fulfilling life. She fears being trapped, or not finding the fulfillment she desires, and may wander aimlessly at times.
  1. REBEL – (SOUL) This is one of the bad guys—or a bad boy. We’re all familiar with him. He’s often a criminal or a revolutionary. He defies convention, breaks rules, and often seeks revenge for something, or tries to right something he sees as wrong. He likes to disrupt and destroy and would hate to be powerless or ineffectual.
  1. TEAM-BUILDER – (SOUL) This is the devoted friend who works hard to fit in and be relied upon by his co-workers, or an individual. He does all he can to make himself indispensable as well as physically and emotionally attractive. Like the Regular Person (otherwise known as everyman), he fears being alone or unwanted.
  1. INNOVATOR – (SOUL) Her motto is, if you can imagine it, it can be done. She has a strong desire to create something impressive and enduring. This archetype is often a writer, artist, or musician, and sometimes a dreamer, but she dreams big. She hates to fail, or for her work not to be recognized.
  1. JOKER – (SELF) We often write this person into our stories. He’s the one who plays tricks and practical jokes on people. He’s a fun character because he lives in the moment and enjoys life as long as his humor is appreciated. He works hard not to be boring, but sometimes wastes the time of others (and slows the pace of the story) with his pranks.
  1. EXPERT – (SELF) Detectives may fall into this category. This person needs to know the truth, and will stop at nothing to find it. She is intelligent and diligent and works tirelessly, both physically and emotionally to achieve her goal. Her weakness may be that her attention to detail makes it more difficult to reach her goal. She fears being duped or misled, and would consider it a sign of weakness.
  1. VISIONARY – (SELF) Sometimes in the form of a healer or shaman, this is a deep character, whose main objective is to understand the fundamental laws of the universe and live by them. He likes win-win situations and would love to make everyone’s dreams come true. He fears negative results from his actions, and can be manipulative.
  1. RULER – (SELF) This can be the boss, the manager, the king, the queen, politician, etc. and can be an antagonist or a protagonist. Their goal is control, and to exercise their power to create or maintain something they consider worthwhile. They may be authoritarian and hate to delegate. They fear losing their power.

Those are the twelve basic archetypes per Jung’s studies, but you will come across many others both in real life and in your stories. Someone has built a wonderful list of them and put it on Wikipedia, which shows how they’ve been used in movies and literary works. Hope it helps.

Trish Jackson grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe, Africa, and lived through some crazy adventures that sparked her imagination, including having to keep a loaded UZI by her side every night in case of an attack by armed insurgents. She writes romantic suspense and romantic comedy, and loves all animals and often includes them in her stories.

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About Trish Jackson, Author

I grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe, Africa, and lived through some crazy adventures that sparked my imagination, including having to keep a loaded UZI by my side every night in case of an attack by armed insurgents. I write romantic suspense and romantic comedy, and love all animals and they seem to worm themselves into my stories, which are mostly set in country locales.
This entry was posted in Soul Mate Publishing, Trish J's Mid-Week Jam!. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Character Archetypes

  1. Great info, I printed it because it is worthwhile to apply one or more of these archetypes to your characters.
    Tema Merback
    Writing as Belle Ami

  2. Commented, Fb’d & Tweeted

  3. aliceakemp says:

    yes — very nice concise summary. Also will print and save.

  4. Nancy Fraser says:

    Great article…lots of useful information. It’s obvious you put a lot of work into this. Much appreciated.

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