An Easy Way to Use Archetypes to Enrich Your Characters

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Archetype is defined here as a type of person whose typical behaviors are the same as those of others of the same type. For example, cowards exhibit some typical behaviors. They fear danger, lack courage, and avoid or quit dangerous situations.

Before I list 79 archetypes and a way to use them, here are some of their benefits in fiction.

Why Archetypes Are Useful in Building Character

 

They can help to

  • define the roles of characters.
  • narrow our characters so they’re not like all the other characters in our story.
  • expand and deepen our characters so they are multidimensional.
  • add interest to a character when using a distorted version of an archetype.
  • make a character original when choosing an unexpected archetype.
  • make realistic and identifiable characters because archetypes are built on real typical behaviors.
  • create conflict, tenderness, and tension when characters appear together in groups because each has a unique mixture of archetypal behaviors.
  • remind us to make characters act, react, and make choices in accordance with or occasionally the opposite of their archetypes.
  • bring out flaws in a character that he can conquer by story’s end.

Story Characters

image by Voltordu

 

  • Protagonist
  • Antagonist
  • Love Interest
  • Mentor
  • Sidekick
  • Other Character

 

 

An Easy Way to Use Archetypes

 

  • For each character above, choose two to three archetypes from the list below. Mix up archetypes across characters.
  • Start with the Protagonist and understand from his combination of archetypes, how he thinks, acts, and reacts and what he dislikes in others.
  • For the Antagonist, perhaps he’s the epitome of what the protagonist dislikes. Or they have characteristics from a same archetype that helps them understand each other.
  • Since readers like the idea that opposites attract, choose at least one archetype for the Love Interest that’s opposite to one of the Protagonist’s.
  • The Mentor doesn’t have to be wise. Possibly, he’s accomplished in the area where the Protagonist is weak.
  • The Sidekick could be a combination of archetypes, some the Protagonist likes and others he tolerates. Possibly, the only thing that makes them a team is how loyal the sidekick is.

 Archetypes

 

Addict

Hero

Masochist

Rebel

Survivor

Analyst

Heroine

Masquerader

Reformer

Teacher

Anti-hero

Imposter

Mediator

Revolutionary

Tempter

Artist

Innocent

Messenger

Rival

Thief

Benefactor

Introvert

Monster

Rogue

Thrill-Seeker

Betrayer

Invalid

Mother Figure

Ruler

Trickster

Bully

Investigator

Narcissist

Sage

Tyrant

Rule Keeper

Jester

Outlaw

Samaritan

Victim

Corrupter

Know-it-all

Parent

Scapegoat

Villain

Coward

Leader

Peacemaker

Scholar

Waif

Dreamer

Loner

Penitent

Seductress

Warrior

Enabler

Lover

Perfectionist

Show-off

Watcher

Explorer

Loyalist

Pessimist

Skeptic

Womanizer

Feminist

Macho-man

Pleaser

Slave

Youth

Fool

Manipulator

Predator

Spoilsport

 

Go-Getter

Martyr

Psychopath

Superpower

 

Example:

Protagonist: an analyst, an explorer, and an imposter.

Sidekick: an addict, pessimist, and loyalist. 

What came to mind is:

Dickson is a young college man. One summer, he poses as a census taker and travels from town to town to collect data and write a paper on the perfect single woman. While he charms young women, he records 1-10 ratings for twenty traits he deems important.

Dickson’s teenage brother, Dean, travels with him. The only things that placate and keep Dean with Dickson is the promise of receiving a used jeep and a daily supply of three six-packs of diet soda loaded with caffeine. He believes Dickson won’t find the perfect women going door-to-door, and he reminds his brother daily of the fact. But as long as he has his caffeine fix, he faithfully keeps the truck running in case he spots a cop cruiser or Dickson’s interview ends badly.

79 archetypes and how to use them to create interesting characters. Click to tweet.

What archetypes could you pull together to make an interesting character?

 

The Inciting Incident Plunges Your Character Into His Journey

image by kboyd
image by kboyd

Definition

Inciting Incident. Incite: “to urged to action; instigate; stir up.” (Webster Illustrated Contemporary Dictionary)

The inciting incident is an event in which something happens to the protagonist that changes his everyday life. It creates an opportunity for him to begin a journey that drives the story and exposes his true underlying problem.

Purpose of the Inciting Incident

The solution to the protagonist’s underlying problem starts with the inciting incident. This event hints at what the story is about. The heroine may have only an inkling of her underlying problem, but the event begins her transformation. The incident impels the heroine to make choices and drives her future actions. If this particular event hadn’t occurred, the story would relate a different journey.

image by werner22brigitte
image by werner22brigitte

The inciting incident:

• bumps the protagonist out of her everyday life and introduces imbalance.
• urges the protagonist to take action and eventually change.
• triggers the story’s plot, setting off the story’s main conflict that drives the novel.

Note: The character doesn’t suddenly decide to set out on this physical, emotional, or psychological journey. The decision needs an inciting incident.

And, the incident has more impact on the reader if it’s not summarized as backstory. It works best if the reader goes through the event with the character.

Where the Inciting Incident Belongs

The inciting incident can occur before the story starts (rare), in the opening scene after showing what the protagonist’s normal life looks like (most common), or later during act one.

The Protagonist’s Reaction to the Inciting Incident

Often the protagonist is reluctant to answer the call of the inciting incident and resists it. But, he must eventually accept the call or no story exists. His acceptance may be his own choice or the result of outside forces.

Example:

 

image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images
image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images

In the movie The Cutting Edge, Doug is a star hockey player. Opposing-team players crush him against the ice rink wall, and he no longer has peripheral vision in one eye. This causes professional teams to reject Doug. The macho guy’s dream of playing professional hockey is over.

The injury is the inciting incident that sets Doug on a new journey.

A figure-skating coach offers Doug a tryout with figure skater, Kate, who’s hard to get along with and forces all her partners to quit.

The hockey jock resists the sissy sport, until the figure-skating coach says he’s Doug’s last chance to stay on the ice. So, Doug goes to the tryout and, after Kate tries to get rid of him, convinces Kate’s father he’s the “go-to” guy to get Kate and him to the Olympics.

Doug fears losing the esteem of his brother and his fans back home, so he tells them he’s joined the merchant marines. We watch Doug go from feeling humiliated to being proud of his figure-skating abilities. Besides falling for Kate, he realizes what he does isn’t as important as striving for excellence in whatever he does. This is the underlying problem.

Understand what the inciting incident does for your story. Click to tweet.

What’s the inciting incident in your manuscript or the novel you’re reading?