THE BIG BOLD LIST OF 55 ARCHETYPES
Utilizing archetypes as grounding for character creation is a priceless and effective (not to mention time-honored) writing tool.
“Using archetypes as a basis for your characters can give them the appearance of weight very quickly, because each type expresses a fundamental pattern that the audience recognizes, and this same pattern is reflected both within the character and through interaction in the larger society.” – John Truby, storytelling guru and author of The Anatomy of a Story
Q: But do I really need to use archetypes, I mean really, why, oh why, should I use them?
A: Here are some good reasons:
Makes a story feel fully developed. Knowing the archetypes can help your world feel complex and real. It contributes to identifiability. People will feel they know someone “just like that.”
Assists with writing believable group dynamics. If you want real group dynamics, take a handful of archetypes and throw them in a room together and let them duke it out.
Conflict between archetypes creates tremendous dramatic tension.
Archetypes perform essential functions that may be necessary for your story. You may need a character to point your protagonist in the right direction or the wrong direction. You may need a character to offer advice, provide wisdom or present specialized knowledge. You may need a character to push the protagonist into facing his fears. You may need a character to be the voice of temptation, faith, logic or purity. All these voices stem from archetypes.
It’s a grounding force. When we see/read an archetype though he may look a particular way, the audience is grounded in knowing who he is in some deep, unexplainable way.
Q: How can I avoid writing stock types or stereotypes?
A: Stereotypes are different than archetypes. A stereotype is a generalization and often rears its head out of prejudice. An archetype comes not from superficial judgment but out of the collective consciousness, what we as human beings see in one another and have for many, many years on the planet.
Q: How do I work with the archetype to make it my own, original character?
A: Three answers.
- Find the archetype you think is a good fit (or something you can play with). Use it as a grounding force, a launching point, as inspiration. Let your creativity take over from there.
- Go against expectation. Place the archetype in an unexpected role. Examples: Put a child in the role of antagonist. Put a clown in the role of mentor. Put a trickster in the role of protagonist.
- Combine two archetypes.
Following, you will find my big fat list of 55 Character Archetypes. Select the one that most represents your character, or ones that you want to play with. Experiment and see for yourself whether or not it gives your character more weight.
THE BIG 55 Character Archetypes From A–Z
Artist: Sensitive, withdrawn, expressive, dramatic, self-absorbed, temperamental, romantic, visionary, full of passion, creativity and intensity, spontaneous, loving, loves to impact change, trouble controlling emotions, takes things to extremes, unaware of boundaries.
Beast: Physically unattractive but with humanity, or physically attractive but without humanity, a representation of the primitive past of man.
Boss: The leader of the pack, the “go-to person,” the solver of problems, may be overbearing and controlling, competitive, stubborn, aggressive, status-seeking, can be chronically rude.
Career Criminal: Commits crime with high stakes, smart, suspicious, may be highly skilled, plans carefully, may move often, can be charming, feels like an outcast, creates their own morality.
Child: Can be young in age or spirit, loves adventures, seeking play and playmates, potential, innocence, rebirth, salvation, believes in good vs. evil.
Clown/Joker: Uses humor to cope and avoid tough emotions/intimacy, serves as happy distraction, makes others happy by joking around/diffusing the tension, may be sad inwardly, does not show this to outsiders, thinks he is helping people by relieving stress. (Note: A more pure form of this archetype is The Jester, always lighthearted and joking but pure of heart and truly caring for others, like Kramer in Seinfeld.)
Doer/Achiever: Focus is on success, often has experienced success, frequently building a track record, great ability and ambition, at times cannot see the bigger picture and loses out on love/family/living in the moment due to single-mindedness. Organized, driven and often needs to be seen as a winner. Rarely stands still.
Emotionally Sick: Mentally unhealthy, dependent, sometimes the focal point of the family, can create chaos, draining on others.
Enabler: Maintains group balance by rescuing the irresponsible one and smoothing things over. Often faces a dilemma: If they do not bail the irresponsible one out of a bad/dangerous situation, the irresponsible one could do serious harm to self or others. May be contributing to the irresponsible behavior by continuing to rescue and cover up—but believes that they are simply being helpful.
Father: Source of authority and protection, powerful, strict, often induces fear, protects loved ones fiercely, wants to win, can be an activist, very physical, motivated by survival, can be career focused, sometimes fails to think things through.
Feminist: The female cause is her cause and fighting for equality for all. In extreme cases, the masculine side is just as strong as her feminine side, intuitive, instinctual, task-oriented, self-sufficient and goal-oriented.
Femme Fatale: Seductive, charming, loves being in control, loves the thrill of the chase, often provokes jealousy, has star quality, fashion conscious.
Flamboyant/Show Off: Extrovert who likes to be the center of attention, extreme need to display intelligence, talent or body, often deeply insecure, overcompensates for a deep need to be loved/find connection, can be dramatic and easily upset, flaky.
Fool: Still a little boy or girl inside, seeks to play/find a playmate, wanders off in confusion with faulty directions, creates chaos for others, cares for children, takes risks, avoids commitments and responsibility, fears boredom, loves freedom, can be charming.
Girly Girl: Innocent, feminine, focused on beauty and all things girly, can be extremely naïve, helpless or dependent, idealistic and coy, nurturing, passive, difficulty expressing anger or dealing with conflict, boosts men’s egos, may doubt own adequacy, flirtatious.
God or Goddess: All powerful, source of magic, can provoke fear, awe, humility, the Great Mother or Mother Earth.
Guy’s Guy: Masculine in an exaggerated way, rugged, tough, fearful of weakness, adventurous, aggressive, worldly, sexually experienced, ambitious, needs to win, risk taker, may have rocky relationships with women.
Imposter/Pretender: Takes advantage of situations, intelligent, verbal, delights in deceiving people, looks for weakness to exploit it, may make a career out of deception, makes his own rules, rationalizes his life choices.
Investigator/Thinker: Withdrawn, intense, cerebral, perceptive, innovative, secretive, isolated, can become obsessed/highly focused on a goal. Finding what is hidden/unknown brings creative joy.
Irresponsible: Avoids commitment, dedicated to the moment, to his freedom, fears being chained down to a schedule, can turn to drugs and alcohol, lives life on his terms, discounts societal rules, selfish, narcissistic, creates chaos by acting on desires, destabilizes the group.
Journeyman/Hero: Journeys on a quest, champion, defender, rescuer, travels on journey to realize his/her destiny, can lose sight of all but the journey, often reluctant to go on journey, to be a fully realized hero he must face his greatest fears and flaws.
King: Ruler, sees the big picture (often avoiding the details), cares for the whole village, can be authoritative, lacking emotion, can be an addict, craves self-esteem and self-respect, confident, strategist, needs a kingdom, can be controlling, fear provoking, stoic, unable to express emotions.
Know-It-All: Superior attitude, can be self-absorbed, tries to come across as having it all together but often just seems silly, full of it, low self-esteem, needs to be seen as an expert, may try to change others or the situation.
Loner: Isolated, struggles to connect with others/socially inept, avoids conflict, invested in his or her rich inner world only, fears the world, usually intelligent, reliable, loyal, trusts few, can have a large imagination, feels alien to others.
Lover/Love Interest: Romantic, sincere, dedicated to object of his or her affection, often poetic or artistic, often the symbol of home base or security, believes in the protagonist, the person the protagonist can vent to.
Loyalist: Strong ability to support others, bonds and stays, can lack self-worth, doubts abilities, tends to isolate when not with specific loved ones, bighearted, can get behind a cause.
Magician or Shaman: Offers an elixir, explains the mysteries of life, may provoke fear in others, spiritual, powerful, often loves to be alone/dislikes the spotlight.
Maiden: Innocent, full of desire, pure, often searches to be rescued, inexperienced and naïve, often self-confident, playful, takes risks, may want to party and have fun, can be sexy or child-like.
Manipulator: Charming, intelligent, ability to read the needs of others and use the information, sly, deceitful, crafty, may appear attractive at first or on the surface, ability to pull others in, can play the role of the backstabber.
Mentor: Advisor, expert, intelligent and wise, wants to be in protagonist’s life, cares for protagonist, can be positive or negative force in protagonist’s life, may be in a competitive relationship with protagonist, and mentor may be struggling to let go.
Mother: Source of nurturing and comfort, calming, center of the hearth, offers guidance, can be over-controlling and full of worry, sense of duty to help others is strong, can be needy, a martyr, passive-aggressive.
Narcissist: Self-absorbed, inability to see the needs of others, draws the attention back to himself, often a show-off, low self-esteem, lacks empathy for others, needs to be admired, will express his grandiose sense of self, often a politician or religious leader due to ready, admiring audience.
Nemesis/Challenger: A friendly troublemaker, has a surface-friendly relationship with the protagonist, but his or her main goal is to mess up the protagonist’s life, often jealous, the nemesis loves to hate the protagonist—in fact, it’s part of their life’s purpose.
Observer: Watches all but often quiet. Usually a deep thinker and when he or she does speak, it’s something of importance, insight or gravity. Will withhold judgment until all the evidence is in. Can be fiercely loyal to the protagonist or his tribe. Has trouble letting loose and having fun.
Peacemaker: Tries to be the force of peace, dislikes conflict, easygoing, self-effacing, receptive, reassuring, agreeable, complacent.
Perfectionist/Conformist: Needs precision, pressures others to reach for the best, hard on themselves/others, can be rigid, purposeful, finds it painful to live outside society’s expectations, cares deeply what others think, anxious, can be a team player, finds meaning and stability in rules and regulations.
Pessimist/Depressive: Glass half-empty point of view, pulls others down, self-absorbed, “Debbie Downer,” will offer disapproval, “why try?” attitude, will take no risks, spreads doubt, defeat, confusion. Ruled by depression.
Psychopath: No conscience, amoral, inability to feel or care for others, no sense of guilt or consequences, can be a source of fear, easily bored, motivated by money, impulsive, irresponsible, no sense of belonging, no strong emotions, rationalizes their behavior.
Queen: Ruler, willing to sacrifice herself for the greater good, can be stoic, has masculine qualities, can be the bringer of harsh truth, stands up for beliefs, protective, loyal, wants to keep order, strong, can be boastful.
Rage-Filled: Goes from irritated to fury quickly, violent, can’t control temper, dislikes most people, often self-loathing, loyal. Ironically, when calm can be loving, likes to laugh and be passionate.
The Reformer: Rational, idealistic, principled, purposeful, self-controlled, often a perfectionist.
The Robot/Intellectual: Hides in their knowledge, intelligence trumps feelings, may struggle socially, low-communication skills, high abilities, strength can lie in their objectivity. The “techie” version of this archetype hides in technology, has little contact with people and the outside world.
Scapegoat: The one to blame when things go wrong, the person who acts out in a dysfunctional family, often the one who receives all the negative attention. (The acting-out teen sent to therapy who deals with drunken father nightly but is seen as the “sick one.”) Can be rebellious, perhaps antisocial, “juvenile delinquent.”
Scaredy-Cat/Fearful: Worrier, anxious, brings fear/panic to others, hides from life and new experiences, the member of the group who will bring up what might go wrong in any scenario. Ruled by anxiety.
Trickster: Troublemaker, liar, rascal agent that pushes us toward change, self-absorbed, can be entertaining or charming.
Troubled Teen: Hates rules, defies authority, can be depressed, self-centered and angry, loyal to fellow criminals, feels above the law, vulnerable (cults and drugs).
Upside-Down Hero/Anti-Hero: Motivated by base or lower-nature drives, driven by pursuit of power, sex, money, control, need to fill his or her appetite, which is big and often all that matters. Can be selfish, anti-social, power-hungry, materialistic. (By examining the dark side of an Anti-Hero, the audience may be able to explore/come to terms with their shadow side.)
Warrior Hero: Takes action, takes on causes, fights for what he believes, single-minded, leads the pack, craves blood and battle, most in touch with rage/anger as primary emotions, takes risks to compensate for loneliness, doesn’t expect to live long.
Wild One/Flamboyant/Rebel: Cares little what others think, walks to the beat of her own drum, often likes to shock/display her different/offbeat worldview, against the grain of society.
Wise Old Man/Woman: Sage, guide, keeper of profound knowledge, offers wisdom, has “seen it all.”
Wizard/Psychic: Eccentric, possesses knowledge about hidden secrets of the Earth and the spirit world, often sought out when magic or transformation is needed. The Psychic may possess knowledge of other worlds or the future.
Woman’s Man: Loves women above all else, women love him and are drawn to his inspirational, passionate qualities, smooth talker, motivated by love and belonging, yet may have trouble committing, searching for impossible ideal, can be irresponsible/flighty, sensual and erotic, can be seen as a dreamer, chivalrous, gentle, driven by experiences.
Vampire: Uses people for his or her needs. Passionate, sometimes romantic, experiences life in a heightened way, strong emotions, self-absorbed, can be dominating and secretive.
Victim: Often adopts a “poor me” mentality, believes he will always suffer, looks for evidence that life is working against him.
Zombie/Monster: Half human or not human at all, provokes fear, panic, sometimes has human qualities/elements. Sometimes the monster has more humanity than the humans that surround him/her.