The Use of Archetypes in Character Creation

Archetypes, familiar character types that recur throughout literature and storytelling, are essential tools in character creation. Understanding and using them correctly can help you create characters that resonate with your readers on a deep, subconscious level.

Understanding Archetypes  


Archetypes were first conceptualized by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, who believed they were universal symbols embedded in our collective unconscious. In literature, these symbols become character types that readers instinctively understand. They provide a shortcut to character development, allowing readers to quickly grasp who a character is and what they might do.

Common Archetypes in Literature and Media

Some of the most common archetypes in literature include the Hero, the Villain, the Mentor and the Trickster. Each has a particular set of characteristics and roles that we’ve come to expect.

A Hero usually undergoes a journey or quest and displays bravery and resilience. On the other hand, a Villain often stands in opposition to the Hero, providing conflict and challenges.

Other Character Archetypes

There are also many other character types you can use in your writing. You can understand them by looking at popular groups of characters that cover a broad spectrum. I always use the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” as an example when I’m on this topic because anyone can relate to it.

Raphael: The Grumpy Sunshine With a Chip on His Shoulder

He’s a classic archetype we usually see in ensemble casts. This character type tends to be tough, cynical, and a little prickly, but underneath that tough exterior, they’re often very caring. They just hate showing it because they think it makes them weak. Their gruff demeanor often hides a heart of gold, making them endearing and relatable once you peel back those layers.

Leonardo: The Righteous Leader

He embodies the most common archetype of the righteous leader. He’s the one who makes the hard decisions and carries the weight of responsibility. This character is usually burdened by their role but always rises to the occasion, no matter what, setting a moral example for everyone else.

Donatello: The Smart One

Every group needs its thinker, and Donatello fills this role perfectly. These characters use intelligence and innovation to solve problems they all face, often saving the day but not getting the credit. They’re often more reserved, but their knowledge is indispensable.

Michelangelo: The Fun One

Mikey represents the fun-loving, free-spirited archetype that we can’t help but love. These characters bring lightness and humor to the group dynamic. They’re impulsive and can cause accidental trouble, but their optimism and enthusiasm are contagious, making them beloved team members.

Splinter: The Wise Mentor

The old rat is the wise mentor archetype. He offers much-needed guidance, wisdom and training to the Turtles. He’s a figure of authority and a source of wisdom, helping guide the protagonists on their journey.

Shredder: The Jaded Villain

He perfectly embodies the jaded villain archetype. These characters usually start out as normal people but have suffered past wrongs that motivate their villainous actions. They are complex characters driven by deep-seated resentment or anger. He’s a carbon copy of Darth Vader when you think about it, as well as almost every other well-written villain.

April O’Neil: The Multi-Faceted Sidekick

Miss O’Neil encompasses multiple archetypes, aka she doesn’t fit inside a box. As a sidekick and best friend to the turtles, she’s loyal and supportive but also holds her own as a brave and independent character.

This blueprint of character archetypes is a common formula used in many of the best books, TV shows and movies— “The Avengers,” “Stranger Things,” “Paw Patrol” and more. Just look around; this blueprint is everywhere because it works.

Recognizing these archetypes can give you a framework for your own character creation, but remember, the most memorable characters are those that bring something unique to their archetype. It’s the variation within the framework that makes a character truly stand out.

Diversifying Archetypes: Avoiding Stereotypes and Clichés

While archetypes can be helpful, it’s important to remember they are starting points, not fully formed characters. Avoid falling into clichés by giving your archetypal characters depth and uniqueness. Develop their background, personality and motivations, making them more than just their archetype.

When creating a villain, don’t just make them a bad guy. Give them a back story, a reason as to why they are the way they are. Just think of popular villains like Darth Vader, Thanos or Negan. Sure, they’re bad, do bad things, and even murder people. But they have a reason, a motivation, and events from their past that drove them to be what they are.

The same goes for the hero. They can’t be good just because. They need a reason to be what they are. Maybe the death of a loved one gave them the drive to ensure it never happens to anyone else. Perhaps they’re upholding a promise they’d once made, which snowballed into a heroic life.

Using Archetypes to Create Memorable Characters

Characters become memorable when they’re relatable and unique. Even though you’re using familiar archetypes, infuse them with individuality. This could be a unique personality trait, an unusual background or a surprising motivation.

Archetypes and Character Arcs

Archetypes often have predictable character arcs, with the Hero triumphs and the Villain being defeated. However, don’t be afraid to subvert these expectations. An unexpected character arc can make your story more engaging and your characters more interesting.

Outro: The Power of Archetypes in Storytelling

Ultimately, archetypes are a powerful tool in storytelling. They provide familiarity, making your characters instantly recognizable and relatable. But they are just a framework. The true strength of your character lies in their uniqueness and depth.