Last week, I threw about 37 practical tips for using archetypes in your stories. I also told you that I would start compiling a master list of archtypes. Well, let it never be said that I don’t follow through. Here is the beginning of that master list. I have started with about five, and I will continue to add to this list and update this post as time goes on.
What’s the deal with the half archetype? As I said before, archetypes feel like stereotypes because they are shallow, one-sided characters filled with characteristics instead of contradictions. One of the easiest ways to battle this is to mix archetypes into a single character. For instance, a Mentor who is also a Trickster. That’s the half archetypes. Each time I update this, I will detail some new archetypes and give one example (the half) of how you could mix two of these archetypes.
A note on how I compile this list. There are dozens (if not hundreds) of theorists, artists, pyschologists, and others who have searched for archetypes and found them everywhere. Some of the most popular include Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung, Dramatica, and Michael Hauge. There are also archetypes hidden in places like astrological signs, the Chinese zodiac, and Maya calendar. This series will draw from all these places and keep them in one reference.
Finally, let’s remember why archetypes work. We have all been there. We can empathize with these characters, and often fantasize about what it would be like to be them.
These archetypes are some of the more popular (and vanilla or overused) character types. That doesn’t mean you can’t make them interesting, just be aware that we’ve seen all these over and over. Mix and match and flesh them out to make something interesting. Even if these are used a lot, they are still foundational.
1. Lovable Rogue
A person who breaks the law, for their own personal profit, but is nice enough and charming enough to allow the audience to root for them, especially if they don’t kill or otherwise seriously harm anyone. It helps that none of their victims are anyone we know or that they’ve made sure the audience knew they were jerks, which makes it “okay” to steal from them.
The Lovable Rogue is right up there with anti-hero’s, gentleman thief, and scoundrels. They have themselves in mind first. They fight for their own gain. If someone else happens to benefit, that’s great. Don’t mistake this attitude for lack of direction, though. The Lovable Rogue has a compass, a code, that that follow strictly.
At the heart of this archetype is the idea that “the rules don’t apply to me” or even more that “the rules don’t apply to this situation.” They aren’t evil. They aren’t bad. They aren’t trying to hurt anyone. They are just trying to get by. And, probably due to some trauma in the past, they feel like the institution (be it government, family, society, whatever) has failed them. No one else is looking out for them, so they are justified in doing what they must to look after themselves.
That is why this archetype resonates with us. We’ve all been there: lost in the system, failed by the school, a victim of some injustice. In someway, we’ve been let down. No one else looked out for us. So, we dreamed about what it would be like to look after ourselves. The lovable rogue is also special and confident. We all wish we were that confident.
Often, the Lovable Rogue will actually end up doing good for others, but you knew that.
2. Salty Old Soldier
The old soldier has been there and seen that, and has the badass scars to prove it. He or she has been through every war, seen every combat, and has lived to fight and keep on fighting. That is not to say they haven’t been damaged by the struggle. They are cynical, don’t make friends, and deal with a hatred of the enemy that borders on psychotic. The Salty Old Soldier is a complex character. Even with all the conflict they’ve seen, they never shy from a fight. Always in the thick of things, this character is typically the backbone of whatever unit, though rarely in the lead.
Moving on from a military situation, this character type can be used in any situation where there is conflict (and what story doesn’t have conflict). The defining mark is that they Salty Old Soldier has been there and is always ready to go there again. Not particularly likable, but a great source for mentoring and seasoning.
3. Wise Old Soldier
In many ways, this is the yin to the yang of the Salty Old Soldier. He to has been there through countless battles and survived, even thrived, in the conflict. However, the Wise Old Soldier has a calmer, more reflective personality. They see the conflict not as an outlet for their anger, but as an exercise in discipline, mind, and soul. Often, this character truly believes in the cause, whereas the Salty Old Soldier believes in conflict (or cannot escape it). This is your stereotypical (though not accurate) Zenified Samurai.
Don’t mistake the disciple and balance for weakness. The Wise Old Soldier is lethal and unmatched in the conflict. More of often than not, they will go out of their way to train or care for the younger soldiers. Also a great source of mentoring. Again, does not have to be used in war.
4. The Girl Back Home
There have been many recent twists on this age-old archetype. Traditionally, this is a female character who pines away and struggles at home as the hero is off on an adventure. In more modern times, this character has become stronger, living an adventure of her own as her partner is fighting a different (but no more intense) battle.
In all reality, “The Girl Back Home” is a lot more flexible than that. Think about why we use archetypes: We have all been there. How often have we been unable to help in some situation? How many times have we had to see someone else fight our battles? Or, how often have we been forced to do the work for two when the other is off on their own.
This can be a powerful, dramatic element for the adventurer as well. The reason he or she fights. Often, this archetype does not have to be a romantic woman or spouse back home. Children work just as well. As do the elderly.
5. The Book Nerd
This archetype is a writer’s best friend, especially in any situation where you are entering into a world or setting unfamiliar to the reader. J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter) said it best (and I paraphrase): “Whenever I have to tell the reader something, I put it in Hermoine’s mouth. We can just assume she read it somewhere.” But, this character is more than just a repository for information. Often the most identifiable character, the Book Nerd strikes a chord with the part of us that wants to understand how the universe works, and find our place it it. Furthermore, most often, they are somewhat socially outcast for pursuing this part of themselves further than the norm.
How many of us have been belittled in the same way?
The Book Nerd is often a seemingly weak character who actually has a lot of strength. That, also, is an identifying point. Use the Book Nerd carefully, though. It is easy to fall into stereotypes or use the Book Nerd as an easy out for exposition instead of find a better way for the reader to discover information.
And a Half.
As promised, let’s look at how we can build a character by mixing archetypes. In this case, let’s do something really unexpected and create the “Lovable Book Nerd Rogue.”
Characteristics of our Lovable Rogue
- Outside Society
- A hidden, good heart
- Component and confident
Characteristics of our Book Nerd
- Outside Society
- A good heart
Already we see some commonalities and contradictions. Both are damaged, live outside society, and have good hearts. Contradictions exist, too. One is shy, the other confident. Contradictions make better characters. So, it looks like our new character will struggle between acting or being confident while really feeling inadequate around people. They will also be cunning and intelligent and well-read, though perhaps downplay that aspect of them.
Just to put me out of my comfort zone, an non-fantasy example:
Jenna is a political journalist New York City who has made a career by exposing scandals. No one is safe, though. She will expose anyone, and isn’t afraid to break the rules to find her source. She is charming, daring, salty, and hard as a rock in her business-casual suite, wining and dining and manipulating some of the most powerful men in the city. She was a victim of some scandal years ago, but the perpetrator made it away scott free. Now, she hunts everyone.
Her private moments, though? Poetry at a small coffee house in Brooklyn. A chance to unwind and forget about cover-ups and conspiracies. Hey, we all need a break from ourselves, right?
I’m not sure where this story would go, but its an example of how to mix two archtypes. Keep an eye out, this is just the first post compiling a list of archetypes.
Some of My Sources