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.

Mastering Character Development

Character development is the most important part of fiction writing, yet the hardest to master.  This article explains why.

by Meg Dowell On a page, you are in control of time. Outside of it, you aren’t. I have read and experienced many fascinating stories in my lifetime. I have also experienced many poorly executed stories. The deal breaker for me are a story’s characters. If, by the climax of a story, I do not care […]

via This is Why Character Development Takes So Long to Master — A Writer’s Path

Meet the Characters – Part 14

We continue to meet the characters of Center Stage.  Today I introduce you to Max.

Full name:  Max Savon Chamberlain

Age: 25

Physical Description: 5’10”, muscular, athletic. Has a 9/11 memorial tattoo on his left shoulder

Hometown:  Chicago, IL. Currently lives in Brooklyn, NY

Family:  Father is the Chicago fire chief.

Education:  New York City Fire Academy

Occupation: New York City firefighter

Hobbies: dancing, swimming, weight lifting, riding his Harley on the open highway

Favorite things:  his 1966 pinhead softail Harley Davidson motorcycle, a good beer, the New York Yankees, Rottweilers, fire engines

Favorite Places: dancehalls, the gym, Harley showrooms, single’s bars

Music Preference: Rock

Relationship Status:  Single

Weaknesses:  Has difficulty maintaining relationships. Struggles to express his emotions.

Character traits:  Caring individual with a protective nature. Goes out of his way to help those in need. Stands up for his beliefs. Humble. Dedicated to his job. Loyal friend. Pie junkie.

For other character bios, see links below.

Lauren    Lacy    Roger    Gabby    Nathan

Meet the Characters – Part 13

With the upcoming release of book 4 in my series, Center Stage, I would like to introduce you to two characters you will meet in this book. The first is Roger Zellers.

Full name:  Roger Alan Zellers

Age: 28

Physical Description: athletic build, muscular physique (body of a dancer), brown hair, hazel eyes

Hometown:  Owego, NY. Currently lives in New York City.

Family:  Father’s name is Gary. Mother is Sharon. Older brother, Peter Zellers.

Education: Took piano lessons as a child, starting at age five. Many years of dance training, voice lessons, and acting classes. Proficient in Standard British, Cockney, Irish, Australian, Brooklyn, and American Southern dialect. Dance styles include ballet, jazz, latin, contemporary, modern, swing, and various ballroom dances. Expert tap dancer. Has had formal stage combat training.

Occupation: Professional theatrical performer. Broadway credits include Newsies, Cats, Radio City Music Hall Tap Extravaganza, Sophisticated Ladies, Memphis, A Broadway Christmas Carol, Les Miserables, Chicago.

Hobbies: playing the piano, dancing, cooking, reading

Favorite things: performing on stage, tap dancing, poetry, classic literature, film noir movies, a good glass of wine, Mexican cuisine, Phantom of the Opera, classic theatre, modern art, sports cars, and fishing. Dedicated NY Knicks, Yankees, and Syracuse fan.

Inspired by: Billy Joel, Frank Sinatra, Humphrey Bogart, Gregory Hines, Bill Robinson, George and Ira Gershwin, Elton John

Favorite Places: the theatre, the beach, Central Park, piano showrooms, art museums

Music Preference: blues, jazz, classic rock, show tunes. Favorite song: Bohemian Rhapsody

Relationship Status:  Single and seeking

Weaknesses:  Forgetful – regularly loses cellphone and keys. Insecure in relationships.

Pet Peeves:  Selfishness, intolerance, and cruelty.

Character traits:  Generous with time and money and regularly donates to charitable organizations. Active in Broadway Cares fundraising efforts. Donates toys, food, jackets, gloves, and blankets to homeless shelters, children’s homes, and children’s hospitals. Genuinely cares about people. Outgoing personality, happy disposition, playful, enjoys life. Randomly dances or sings in public. Well-articulated, poised, confident, charismatic. Supports fellow performers and is knowledgeable about the business end of Broadway. Adopted a Scottish Terrier named Oliver.

For other character bios, see links below.

Gabby   Nathan    Lacy    Lauren    Max

Author Confessions Round 17

All books need characters the reader can relate to, characters who are believable, characters I either want to root for or smack in the head with the book. As I’ve said multiple times now, I’m all about character. To me, characters make or break a story. Characters in books must have unique personalities and speak in their own voice. There is nothing I hate more than picking up a book and seeing the same characters I see in every other book. Or worse yet, all the characters speak the same way or have the same mannerisms and I can’t tell one from the other. People in this world are unique. We all have our own beliefs, unique personalities, and individual likes and dislikes. Characters in books should be the same way. They should be real. They should hop off the page and speak to the reader. Even good fantasy or sci-fi characters have characteristics of people I might run into on the street. They’re relatable, believable, and each is an individual. That’s what character is all about.

Author Confessions Round 16

My least favorite character is Gabriella’s mother. She’s overly critical, unimg_2253-1-16.jpgsupportive, and speaks to her daughter with contempt. Every time Gabby’s around, she goes out of her way to say something derisive, often bringing Gabby to tears. Even though Gabriella is now an adult, her mother tries to control her life. During their graduation dinner, she causes a huge scene, which leads Nathan to finally speak his mind, something he’d been wanting to do for years.

She’s not a very nice person. Luckily, she’s only a side character, but her presence is vital to understand Gabriella’s personality and relationship with the Hansons.

Author Confessions Round 14

Christopher Snow from Dean Koontz’s Fear Nothing and Seize the Night. He suffers from a disease in which ultraviolet light is deadly. Therefore, he lives the life of a night owl. Christopher has a great personality. He’s kind, curious, and has cool friends, namely his dog Orson, his girlfriend Sasha, and his best friend Bobby, all of whom are surfers. Christopher is a down to earth guy who has overcome many obstacles in his life. He faces life-threatening problems throughout the series, but through it all he stands tall and remains humble. I thoroughly enjoyed the Christopher Snow books and have read them several times. I wish Dean Koontz would write another book with those characters. If he happens to be reading this (Ha ha ha, yeah, right), I hope he catches the hint.

Creating Your Own Frankenstein

“It’s alive! Alive!” These are the famous words from a classic science fiction movie and an 80’s movie theme song. Though it meant the creation of both a terrifying monster and a geek’s wet dream, the word we’re looking for here is “creation”. Creating characters within a story is a detailed process for writers. You […]

via Building characters in a story is like creating your own Frankenstein — Mark Piggott | Author of the “Forever Avalon” Series

Author Confessions Round 1

I’ve accepted a 31-day author confessions challenge. The day to day challenges are listed below.

I’ll begin with the first challenge-Who is your favorite character in your WIP?

My favorite character in my current work in progress is my main male, Roger Zellers. Roger has been a professional actor, singer, and dancer on Broadway for the last eight years. He was born and raised in upstate New York and spent his whole life taking dance classes, theatre training, and voice and piano lessons. He’s performed on stage since he was five years old and has earned a couple of Tony nominations, winning one for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical.

Roger is my favorite character in my current book for several reasons. First, he’s a down to earth guy who enjoys life and is fun to hang out with. He’s also multi-talented, has a playful sense of humor, and randomly blurts out showtunes or tap dances down the streets of New York City. Although he’s recognized for his immeasurable talents, he’s humble and goes out of his way to support other entertainers rather than promote himself. Most importantly, he’s benevolent and compassionate. It’s not unusual for him to donate large sums of money to various charities. He’s actively involved in the Broadway Cares Foundation, donates toys to the Toys For Tots program, and is often seen providing food, blankets, shoes, and jackets to the homeless. He sings Christmas songs with sick children at children’s hospitals or the children’s shelter and volunteers his time and talent to various fundraising efforts. He even adopts an abandoned dog to keep him from freezing to death.

Roger does have a past, however, which he doesn’t like to talk about. His biological father died before he was born, he had a bit of a reckless youth, and he’s been in his fair share of bad relationships. He’s friendly and kind, but has a hard time trusting people. It takes a long time to get him to open up to you. Once he does though, he’s loyal and supportive.

Roger is first introduced in the first scene of Center Stage, where he’s returning to the Ambassador Theatre to retrieve the cellphone he had mistakenly left behind. That’s where he encounters Lauren, one of the main female characters in the last book of my series. Here’s an excerpt:

Theater is a calling, an art, and the Juilliard School in New York City was one of the most respected and renowned places in the world to perfect this art. Known for its rigorous program and extensive admission requirements, Juilliard only accepted eight to ten new candidates into the actor training program each year.  Ever since she was a little girl, Lauren Hanson dreamed of singing on a Broadway stage. Gaining admittance into Juilliard led her one step closer to fulfilling that dream.

This year’s incoming freshmen had the opportunity to go on an educational tour through various theatres in New York City. While touring the Ambassador Theatre, Lauren and her classmates were invited to act out impromptu or monologue on the stage if they wanted to. But Lauren didn’t do either of those things. Instead, she confidently stood before an empty house and belted out the song ‘Defying Gravity’ from the musical Wicked.

Roger Zellers, a professional Broadway actor, was backstage retrieving his cellphone when he heard Lauren’s heavenly voice echo through the theatre. He roamed onto the stage wing to investigate. Standing center stage, singing her heart out, was an incredibly attractive young woman wearing a Juilliard tee-shirt and jeans. He watched in rapt attention, mesmerized by the intense emotion she projected through her performance. He had to find out who this woman was.

When the class was about to exit the theatre, Roger intercepted her at the door. “Excuse me, Ma’am?”

Lauren turned around. “Yes?”

“I’m sorry. I know you don’t know me, but I just heard you sing, and you have the most beautiful voice I have ever heard.”

She offered him a small, shy smile. “Thank you.”

“I am correct to assume that you’re a student at Juilliard?”

“Yes, I am.”

He extended an open palm and graciously shook her hand. “I’m Roger Zellers, and if you’d allow me, I’d like to offer my assistance.”

“Assistance with what?”

“I would like to provide you with an opportunity that will help you gain exposure and allow you to meet and work with people in the Broadway community.”

She asked for clarification. “What do you mean?”

“I’m an actor currently doing a show here at the Ambassador. I happen to know that the manager of this theatre is looking to hire theatre arts students as interns. You’ll be behind the scenes during productions, you’ll get to work directly with Broadway performers, and you’ll learn a few tricks of the trade. It’ll get your foot in the door, and people will get to know you. I’d like to give your name to the manager. You certainly captured my attention, I know you’ll capture hers as well. You interested?”

The chance to meet and work with Broadway actors and be backstage during shows was a once in a lifetime opportunity toward fulfilling her dream of performing on Broadway. As excited as Lauren was about this opportunity, she was a bit apprehensive because she knew nothing about this man and didn’t know if she could trust him.

Sensing this woman’s reluctance, Roger offered her an alternative. “Tell you what, why don’t you stop by tomorrow afternoon and talk to her.” He pulled a business card out of his wallet and grabbed a pen to write something on the back. “We have rehearsal tomorrow at 3:30. When you get here, go around the back and enter through the stage door. Show the security guard this card and tell him Roger sent you.”

He handed her the card and she carefully examined it. Printed on the front in huge block letters were the words Roger Zellers, Broadway Vocalist/ Actor/ Dancer. A phone number and website followed.

“So will you stop by tomorrow?”

She smiled with satisfaction. “I’ll be here.”