Fictional Character Archetypes
When writing a novel series, one of the problems that an author faces is that the characters all start to appear the same especially in a saga like the one that I am writing. They become predictable because the writer rehashes the same character type over and over and that character reflects the writer. To guard against this, I like to return to something that I learned in one of my college psychology classes from the teachings of psychologist Carl Jung where I learned about archetypes.
Archetype comes from the ancient Greek. Achein means “original or old” and “typos” means “pattern model or type” making the complete word to mean “original pattern” where similar people objects or concepts are derived, copied, modeled or emulated. According to Jung, archetypes represent fundamental human motifs of experience and evoke deep emotions.
These archetypes symbolize the basic human motivation of the character. Each archetype has his or her own set of values, meanings and personality traits. There are three different cardinal sets of archetypes ego, soul, and self.
Within each of these sets are four different archetypes. Although there are many different archetypes, Jung defined twelve primary types that symbolize basic human motivations. Each type has its own set of values, Types in each set share a common driving source. The Ego set are driven to fulfill ego-defined agendas. The soul set fulfills soul-defined agendas, and in the last, the self drives the values.
Most, people have several archetypes and so should each of your characters especially the protagonist and the protagonist, however, one archetype should dominate the personality. A study of the people around us can help us gain more insight into behavior and motivation so that we can demonstrate this in our fictional characterizations.
The four Ego types are the innocent, the regular guy (or orphan), the hero and the caregiver.
The innocent believes that we should be free to be who we are. This person’s desire is to get to paradise, he or she just wants to be happy. This person’s greatest fear is to be punished for doing something bad or wrong so this person always wasn’t to do the right thing. This person’s talent is faith and optimism. The problem with this person is that they bore those around them. Often people use this archetype as the “good guy”. Labels that we can give this person can include Utopian, traditionalist, naïve, mystic, saint, romantic, and dreamer.
The orphan or regular guy archetype believes that all men and women are created equal. This person’s driving force is to connect with others so that they can belong. This individual’s greatest fear is that they will be left out or will stand out in the crowd. This person’s life strategy is to develop solid virtues, to be down to earth, they believe in common sense as the deciding factor. This person’s weakness is that they lose a sense of self in the effort of blending in for the sake of superficial relationships. This person is empathic, and lacks pretense. This regular person is also known as ‘the good ol’ boy’, everyman, the person next door, the realist, the working stiff, the solid citizen, the good neighbor, the silent majority.
The next ego-archetype is the hero. The hero believes that if there is a will, there is a way. This person’s core desire is to prove through courageous acts that expert mastery improves the world. This individual fears vulnerability and weakness he braces himself to be as competent and strong as possible. This person’s weakness is that he is arrogant and always needs another battle to fight. The hero is also known as the warrior, crusader, rescuer, superhero, the soldier, dragon slayer, the winner, and the team player.
The last of the ego-archetypes is the caregiver. This person believes that you should love your neighbor as yourself. This individual desires to protect and care for others. This person fears selfishness and ingratitude. This person is always doing things for others. (often a female archetype, but not always). This person is often martyred and exploited because they are compassionate and generous to the core. The Caregiver can also be characterized as: The saint, altruist, parent, helper, supporter.
The Soul archetypes include the explorer, the rebel, the lover, and the creator.
The explorer doesn’t like to stay in one place. He is looking to find out who he is by exploring the world around him. His goal is to experience a better, more authentic and fulfilling life. The biggest thing this person fears is being trapped and conformed and feeling empty inside. If this person is physically oriented, he is seeking new lands and people. If he is intellectual, he is seeking new information and looking for ways to challenge his search for the unknown. He has the potential for wandering aimlessly and not fitting into society. He has a talent for autonomy, ambition, and being true to himself. The explorer archetype is also known as the seeker, iconoclast, wanderer, individual, or pilgrim.
The rebel archetype believes that rules are made to be broken. His type wants revenge or revolution. He wants to fix what isn’t working. His biggest fear is that he is powerless to make a difference. He makes a difference be disrupting, destroying or shocking others into opening their eyes to what the rebel sees. His weakness is that he can easily fall to the dark side or a life of crime. The rebel is also known as the outlaw, revolutionary, wild man, misfit, or iconoclast.
The next soul archetype is the lover. Intimacy and experience is his soul desire. To him, you are the only one. This individual’s goal is to be in a relationship with people, work, and environment that they love. Their strategy to accomplishing this is by becoming more physically and emotionally attractive. They have compassion, gratitude, appreciation and commitment. There’s nothing that they fear more than being alone, a wallflower, unwanted or unloved. This fear leads to their greatest weakness in that their outward-directed desire to please others puts them at risk of losing their own identity. The lover can also be described as the partner, friend, intimate, enthusiast, sensualist, spouse, and team-builder.
The last of the soul archetypes is the creator. This person believes that if you can imagine it, you can make it happen. This person’s core desire is to visualize and create things that last. Their greatest fear is that their vision or execution of that vision will be mediocre so they develop artistic control and skill to create culture and express their own vision. These people have a propensity for perfectionism and may often come up with bad solutions, but their creativity and imagination help them work through those mistakes. Other names for the creator is the artist, inventor, musician, writer or dreamer.
Finally we come to the self types. The self types are the jester, the sage, the magician, and the ruler.
The jester believes that you only live once. His person lives in the moment and doesn’t see beyond the current moment’s pleasure. He wants to have a good time and lighten up the world. He fears being bored or boring to others. To avoid this, he tells jokes, tries to be funny, and plays. He is always happy, but his weakness is that he is frivolous and wastes type. Other names for the Jester are: The fool, trickster, joker, practical joker or comedian.
The sage archetype believes that the truth will set you free and this person’s goal is to find that truth through intelligence and analysis. This person’s biggest fear is to be duped, misled or found ignorant. He avoids this by seeking out information and knowledge and reflecting on himself and how he understands thought processes. This person analyses things to death and might not never act because there might be something that he or she missed. The sage can also be called the expert, scholar, detective, advisor, thinker, philosopher, academic, researcher, thinker, planner, professional, mentor, teacher, contemplative.
The next archetype is the magician. The magician is the person who says he can make it happen. His core desire is to understand the fundamental laws of the universe. He develops and vision and lives by it. He has a talent for finding win-win solutions, but however, he can become manipulative. Other names for the magician are the visionary, catalyst, inventor, charismatic leader, shaman, healer, or medicine man.
The final self archetype is the ruler. The ruler believes that power isn’t everything, it is the only thing. There’s nothing the ruler want more than to be in control. His goal is to create a prosperous and successful family or community he does this by exercising power. Naturally, his greatest fears are chaos and being overthrown. He is often authoritarian and has difficulty delegating. He has a talent for being responsible and being a leader. Other names for ruler include the boss, aristocrat, king, queen, politician, role model, manager, or administrator.
Donna Brown is pastor at Faith in God Church 1 1/2 miles south of Brandsville, Missouri on Hwy 63. Sunday services are at 10 am and Wednesday night Bible Study at 6:30 pm. As Author Cygnet Brown, she has recently published her first nonfiction book: Simply Vegetable Gardening: Simple Organic Gardening Tips for the Beginning Gardener
She is also the author of historical fiction series The Locket Saga. which includes When God Turned His Head and Soldiers Don’t Cry, the Locket Saga Continues, and most recently, A Coward’s Solace, Book III of the Locket Saga
Her most recent publication were two booklets Help From Kelp and Using Diatomaceous Earth Around the House and Yard. Available in paperback
.For more information about Cygnet Brown and her book, check out her website at http://www.cygnetbrow.com .
Interesting analysis! There is definitely a danger of characters all seeming to be the same….this would help as a reference for any novel writer.
Thanks, Bill! As I am getting ready to start a new novel, it helps me to review these attributes of character creation.