The psychologist Carl Jung believed that we share a collective unconscious within which were archetypal personalities that we use in creating ourselves. While he believed the archetypes were unlimited, he identified a few that are very common. These can be good sources of inspiration for characters.
The list below starts with positive archetypes that may be protagonists, moves along to minor character archetypes, and then lists negative archetypes that may be antagonists. There is no reason you need to use these archetypes in their obvious roles. You may have a story with an anti-hero or an evil archetype who works toward a goal that improves society.
An archetype may do anything. They may be protagonist, antagonist, or a supporting character. Their archetypal character only shows motivation. For example a hero may be championing the legalization of recreational hard drugs or a caregiver may be helping the wounded or emotionally conflicted members of a death squad. The archetypes only explain why characters act in certain ways.
The Thirteen Common Archetypes
May be young and naive or old and cynical. They want to prove their worth through courageous acts. They want to master their goals and make changes that improve the world. Their greatest fear is weakness. They tend to be arrogant and always looking for their next fight. Also known as warrior, rescuer, dragon slayer, team player, or samurai.
Wants the freedom to explore the world in order to experience a full authentic life. Fears being trapped in conformity to a group. Always wants to experience new things. They are often aimless wanderers and misfits. They have autonomy and ambition. Also known as seeker, wanderer, or individualist.
Shows up as needed. They often get the hero started but aren’t around for the main conflict. They use intelligence and analysis to understand the world. Able to keep studying a thing forever without acting. Usually has wisdom and intelligence. Also known as sage, expert, detective, thinker, philosopher, researcher, planner, or teacher.
Wants to develop artistic abilities to the point of being able to create things of enduring value. Is a perfectionist. Also known as inventor, artist, or dreamer.
Wants to love and care for others. Fears selfishness and ingratitude. Is a martyr and often exploited. Also known as saint, altruist, parent, helper, and supporter.
Desires intimacy and seeks to be surrounded by people and work they love. They fear being alone, unwanted, and unloved. They try to increase their physical and emotional attractiveness. Their weakness is their desire to please others.
The Innocent Child
Usually innocent and in need of protection but may also have special powers. May not actually be a child. Wants to be happy and free. Fears being punished for doing something wrong. They are boring because of their innocence. They are optimists. They may be known as mystics, saints, romantics, or dreamers.
The Orphan or Regular Person
Tries to fit into society. Wants to be like everyone else so much that they may lose touch with themselves. They are realistic and empathic. They may be known as everyman, a solid citizen, or the silent majority.
Seeks power and control. Wants to create a prosperous, successful family, group, organization, or society. Fears chaos and being overthrown. Often authoritarian and unable to delegate. Also known as boss, leader, politician, or manager.
Desires either revenge or revolution. They want to overturn an established order that isn’t working. They wish to shock, disrupt, or destroy. They may go over to the dark side. Also known as outlaw, revolutionary, or misfit.
The Shadow or Bad Father / Mother / Child
Usually the villain or antagonist. They may be head of a group. In a more psychological novel, the shadow may be the main character’s dark side.
A character who misleads the hero or changes frequently.
Disrupts the status quo, showing the absurdity of the established order. Wants to live in the moment and have fun. This is often a humorous character. Fears being bored or boring. Also known as jester, fool, joker, or comedian.
When using archetypes in your stories, remember that this is just the basic framework of the character. You still need to develop their individual personalities. That’s my next blog post.
Article by Ivan Izo.