Part 2 of 2: The Archetypes & How to Use them Effectively
In researching this topic I found some websites that identified 12, 14, or 99 archetypes.This post will cover 11 archetypes most of which are common but some I’ve combined because they have subtle differences but not enough to warrant their own category. (Man vs. woman versions of the same thing don’t need their own category.)
I’ve divided this post into 2 because there is so much to cover, and so little time for me to write it well. I don’t want to send it all out today (late already) filled with typos.
There is a blurry line between archetype and stock characters which is why some say there are 14 archetypes and others say 99 or 133. I would say the difference is how common this type of character is in stories. For example the Jester can be the Protagonist or the Antagonist or even a side character so you can find some form of a jester in almost every story. On the other hand, not all stories have a gentle giant character.
*For the sake of example, I’m going to use characters from Lord of the Rings to illustrate my points because it has a HUGE cast of characters and because so many people are familiar with the books or the movies. I must confess, I watched the movies maybe 5 years ago and read the books about 10 years ago and 20 years ago. Please forgive me if I get a detail wrong because I’m remembering the movie rather than the books.
This is often the protagonist, but they might not start that way. If you are familiar with the Hero’s Journey, then you know that often the protagonist starts in the status quo. They are living a life that’s probably kind of dull. They frequently long for something better. Or maybe they are happy with their life and something comes along and takes that away.
Frodo is living a good life. Then he gets word that the ring is dangerous. Nazgul are after it and he must take the ring to Rivendale. He is the one who constantly pushes forward. He sees what needs to be done, even when it scares him; he does it.
Some are natural born leaders but some are made through the story. Likely if they are your protagonist, they will grow into this role.
Outsider, Wildcard, Mystery
This character adds mystery to the story. You know right away there is more to this character than they are saying. Your MC may not know if they can be trusted because their background is unknown.
Aragorn is a ranger–a man living a self imposed exile for reasons not completely or even barely understood. Not much is known about him and the life he had lived up to the point in which he entered Frodo’s narrative. (Unless you are a total Tolkein nerd and have read the Simillarian and other books with snippets of his story) In this story, he plays a major role, but that is not always the case with these types of characters.
This character is the voice of reason as much as they are the protector of the group. If you want to be cliche, this could be a motherly, doting woman, but I don’t recommend that. Remember to stretch old notions and think outside the box.
Samwise Gamge plays this role. He is steadfastly watching out for Frodo and many times talks Frodo out of jumping into the deep end of sanity. Remember when Frodo almost kills Sam in Osgiliath, at the end of the Two Towers. Frodo realizes what he almost did and Sam gives a lovely speech to convince Frodo to not give up. Here is a link to the scene so you know what I mean. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k6C8SX0mWP0
This is likely going to be a villain, but that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case all the time. For a non-LOTR example of this take a look at Wayne in Brandon Sanderson’s Alloy of Law. This is one of my all time favorite characters. He is funny and adorable. He has his own set of rules though and doesn’t really follow society’s norms when it comes to ownership. In his mind, as long as he is trading something, there is nothing wrong with taking something. For example, in one of the books he takes something valuable, like a diamond bracelet and replaces it on the table with an apple core. He saw nothing wrong with this when his partner Waxillium called him out on this rule breaking.
For the LOTR example, there are many but I think the most obvious is Sauron. He is trying to rule everything and will break every rule with brute force to do so. Then there is Wormtongue, who breaks rules by deceit, stealth, and sneakiness. Also, don’t forget Saruman who betrayed those he was sworn to protect.
Look at the layers in those 3 characters.
Different motivations: control, survival, cowardice, power.
Different methods of achieving their goal: deceit, brute force, secrecy, sorcery, armies, and manipulation.
As an avid reader of the fantasy genre and after a million books that begin with the orphan boy or girl who was the chosen one in a prophesy, I’m a little leery of this archetype.
I admit. I had to look it up. I couldn’t remember if anyone in LOTR was an orphan. It has been a decade or so since I last read LOTR and I couldn’t remember the circumstances around Frodo living with Bilbo.
“Frodo’s parents Drogo Baggins and Primula Brandybuck had been killed in a boating accident when Frodo was 12; Frodo spent the next nine years living with his maternal family, the Brandybucks in Brandy Hall. At the age of 21 he was adopted by Bilbo, his cousin, who brought him to live at Bag End” Wikipedia– Source Fellowship of the Ring Chapter 1
I’m not saying that this archetype shouldn’t be used, but I am saying be very careful and examine why you are using it. Is it because this is the easiest way to make your MC sympathetic? Is it necessary to the plot? Is there something you can do to make this character different from the stories you’ve read before with this archetype? (I’ll write a post about reading widely in your chosen genre sometime soon.)
Mentor, Professor, Wise Person, Sage
Often these four archetypes are put into separate categories and maybe they should be, but I see so much overlap here. This person has knowledge. Maybe they are an expert in this field or maybe years have given them wisdom. Either way they share their knowledge with your character(s).
Gandalf has years and years of wisdom, plus a bit of Caregiver in him too. He helps Frodo, Sam, Merry, and Pippin. He mentor’s Frodo in this scene, (one of my favorites)
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
J.R.R. Tolkien – The Fellowship of The Ring
Aren’t those words so relevant now?
But, Gandalf wasn’t the only one who handed out wisdom. Eoyen’s primary role was not one of wise person, but we’ll talk more about Eowyn more in a bit.
“What do you fear, lady?” Aragorn asked.
“A cage,” Éowyn said. “To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King
Haven’t we all been in a cage at one point or another, trapped with no hope of escape? So don’t feel like wisdom must always come from the old person in your story or the mentor archetype person. Share the love/wisdom!
Next week, I will post the remaining 5 Archetypes. Part 2 of 2 of 2 ?? I didn’t plan that so well.