Character Archetypes – How to Create Dynamic Characters

With the current chaos going on in my life right now (new job in a new grade level in a new school, getting a new AC unit installed in my house, going solar powered, working on new WIP, etc…), I haven’t written a new post in a while.  My brain has been going 100 miles an hour lately, and I haven’t been able to put anything comprehensive down on paper in weeks. Let’s see if we can fix that today.

Although I’m not a traditional romance writer, about a year ago, I became a member of my local chapter of RWA. This fabulous group of people consists of all walks of life, and not all members are romance writers, myself included. Men and women, both published and non-published, make up this group: Indie authors, traditionally published authors, screenwriters, teachers, students, former attorneys and active military members, technology gurus, mothers, fathers, real-estate agents, and even a woman who writes for Harlequin and had one of her books turned into a movie. Needless to say, the writing expertise within this group is pretty well-rounded.

I originally joined this group for the insights they offer about the craft of writing. Regardless of genre, the information obtained from the many seminars I’ve attended through this group have helped me become a better writer.

The last seminar I attended focused on archetypes. For those of you who don’t know what that is, an archetype is a pattern of behavior that is universally present in characters in classic storytelling. It can be better summarized as the universal personality traits of a character. These personality traits are pretty standard, regardless of whether it is a character in a movie, book, or play or a person in real life.  As I review each one, you’ll probably get images in your head of people you know or literary/ movie characters you’ve seen or read about who portray these characteristics.  Let’s get started, shall we?

There are female archetypes and male archetypes, some of which are interchangeable. Every archetype has positive and negative personality traits, but the best characters do not fall under one specific archetype. They are made up of a combination of these traits.

I’ll go over the female archetypes first.  There are 8 main ones.

  1. The Boss. This girl is a real go-getter. She climbs the ladder of success. Queen Elizabeth is a good example.
  2. The Seductress. She’s an enchantress. She charms those around her to get her way. Scarlett O’Hara is a classic seductress.
  3. The Spunky Kid. This is a woman who is gutsy and true. She’s a loyal friend to the end. Pretty much every character Meg Ryan has ever played can be classified as a spunky kid.
  4. The Free Spirit. This is a person who is an eternal optimist. She dances to her own tune. Phoebe from the TV show Friends nails this archetype.
  5. The Waif. She is the damsel in distress. Sleeping Beauty, Bella from Twilight, and Audrey Hepburn to name a few.
  6. The Librarian. She is controlled and clever. She doesn’t have to be a bookwork or a scholar though. Hermione Granger from Harry Potter and Belle from Beauty and the Beast are librarians.
  7. The Crusader. She is a dedicated fighter. She has a cause and fights for the greater good. Katniss from the Hunger Games and Wonder Woman are crusaders. Go girls!
  8. The Nurturer. She is serene and capable. These are people who nurture the spirit of others (can be animals and plants too).  One person comes to mind with this one: Julie Andrews. She played a nurturer in Mary Poppins and The Sound of Music.

Let’s move on to the male archetypes now.  Again, there are 8 main ones, and you’ll find that some are similar to their female counterparts.

  1. The Chief. He is a dynamic leader and wants to be in charge. He is goal oriented and has time for nothing but work.  Michael Douglas in Wall Street or Captain Picard from Star Trek exemplify this archetype.
  2. The Bad Boy. He’s dangerous to know simply because he walks on the wild side. Danny in Grease or Prince Harry would be considered bad boys.
  3. The Best Friend. He’s sweet and safe and never lets anyone down. Patrick Dempsey in Enchanted and any Tom Hanks character.
  4. The Lost Soul. This man is a tormented being.  He’s a recluse and lives in solitude. The Beast in Beauty and the Beast, Shrek, and Wolverine are lost souls.
  5. The Charmer. He’s a smooth talker. The fairy tale Prince Charming. George Clooney plays these characters. Jack from Titanic was also a charmer.
  6. The Professor. This guy knows all the answers. The Professor from Gilligan’s Island, Frasier, and Sherlock Holmes are considered professors.
  7. The Swashbuckler. This is Mister Excitement. He’s an adventurer and often breaks the rules. Indiana Jones and Han Solo are swashbucklers. (Hmmm, Harrison Ford seems to play these characters a lot). Maverick from Top Gun is also a swashbuckler. I would say Will Turner from Pirates of the Caribbean is too.
  8. The Warrior. He is a noble fighter who acts with valor. Superman and To Kill a Mockingbird‘s Atticus Finch are warriors.

You’ll notice that some of the female/ male archetypes are similar. And there are some male characters who fit into the female archetypes and vice versa, like nurturer. Newt Scamander from Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Mrs. Doubtfire, played by Robin Williams, are both nurturers although they are male characters.  The best characters are dynamic and complex. They don’t fit into one generic mold. They are a combination of one or more of these archetypes, just like each one of us is.

This is a guideline only. Not every character you write will fit perfectly into a specific archetype, but neither do we. As writers, we are observers of life. Use the people around you as inspiration.

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2 thoughts on “Character Archetypes – How to Create Dynamic Characters

  1. Pingback: Creating Characters – ITH & SB

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