Character archetypes exist in every form of storytelling, such as movies, novels, plays, and many more. A character archetype is a character who falls into a specific role in terms of traits, characteristics, and character development. They are each an archetype that we recognize from our individual, real-life human experience.
Common character archetypes are known to most readers and writers, but as genres expand, so do character archetypes. This article will explain some of the most popular character archetypes and provide examples.
What is a Stock Character?
Stock characters differ from character archetypes because they have little to no character development. They fit into a box as far as character type goes, but they stay there, and readers can rely on them not to change and be fairly stereotypical.
For example, in Harry Potter, Crabbe and Goyle are Malfoy’s henchmen and are considered stock characters. We know that classically, henchmen are followers who have no real personalities. They do the villain’s bidding, the grunt work, and the heavy lifting. Henchmen are not respected or cared about by the villain and only lend a sense of power and control to the story’s bad guy.
Crabbe and Goyle are stock characters because they do not change or develop, do not have much dialogue, and their opinions are never heard. Like most stock characters, they serve Malfoy to elevate his character archetype. A stock character exists to push the character towards the action and move the plot forward.
Understanding Character Archetypes
Now that we understand the use of stock characters, we need to delve into what makes an archetype special. A character archetype can be unpredictable while still playing a role everyone knows. They are broad character types capable of change and growth. Each character archetype comes with its strengths and weaknesses.
They often represent parts of human nature that we recognize in society and ourselves, and because of this, we can relate as readers to character archetypes. We can see ourselves as some of them, our significant others, and our families and friends. This helps us develop an emotional bond with particular characters of a story.
Common Character Archetypes
Since the dawn of storytelling, common character archetypes have been identified and used in storytelling. Carl Jung, a noted psychologist, believed that we have our own character archetype and even developed a personality test to determine a person’s character archetype. These character archetypes are so ingrained in the human mind that they exist in our collective unconscious.
Without archetypes in your story, you end up with flat and uninteresting characters, and you lose the reader’s interest. The following will discuss and explain the main character archetypes, giving you the strengths, weaknesses, characteristics, and traits of each archetype, as well as examples.
1. The Hero Archetype
Strengths: Persistence, courage, leadership qualities, strong moral compass, heroic traits
Weaknesses: Overly confident, prideful
Examples: Harry Potter (Harry Potter series), Luke Skywalker (Star Wars), Wonder Woman, Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)
The hero is the main character of a story, novel, or film. In Lord of the Rings, they are sometimes less like a hero, such as Frodo Baggins. The role of the hero is thrust upon the unlikely hero, and sometimes, the hero is born into their role, and they are tasked with fulfilling that role (Wonder Woman). They are often portrayed as the perfect archetype to be a role model, but they do not have to be.
The role of the hero is to be the one character who faces the conflict, and reaches the other side, come what may. This character does not throw in the towel and keeps pushing forward no matter the challenges. Often, this character has support and help from other archetypal characters of their own classification.
For a character to qualify as a hero in a story, the protagonist must face an internal conflict, in the same way that they must face an external conflict. There has to be some struggle within the hero at some point in the story. This lends depth and makes the character more relatable.
The Hero’s Journey
In many novels, particularly epic novels, the hero’s journey occurs when the protagonist, usually with the company of several other characters, goes on a journey to face the evil or danger posed in the plot, overcome it, and restore peace, happiness, or order to the world. This is often a long story, full of danger, growth, bonding with other characters, and struggles.
Most of the time, a hero’s journey takes place in a book series that is dragged out over a long space of time. These include series like: The Dark Tower, Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, and Game of Thrones.
Other Character Archetypes
The hero is not the only character archetype that is important to the success of a story. Many other character types are known and loved in literature and storytelling.
2. The Lover Archetype
Strengths: Dedication, loyalty, devotion
Weaknesses: Willing to sacrifice anything or throw the mission to save lover
Examples: Jake Epping (11/22/63), Romeo and Juliet, Edward and Bella (Twilight)
The star-crossed lovers are the characters that we love to hate. They are so in love that they are willing to do anything for the person they love, and they lose sight of the mission and will reset time, begin a feudal war, and kill or die for each other, to the detriment of literally everyone else. The protagonist’s love interest is often responsible for derailing the plot, but readers love to read about love, so we continue to read it.
3. The Jester Archetype
Strengths: Happy most of the time, fun to be around, positive energy, light relief from tension
Weaknesses: Does not take things seriously, is not taken seriously, often immature
Examples: Timon and Pumbaa (The Lion King), Eddie (The Dark Tower), George and Fred (Harry Potter)
The jester archetype is the funny character who offers comic relief in a story. This is useful to lighten the mood when things get too heavy or dire. As seen in the examples above, these characters (any characters really) do not have to be human beings. Timon and Pumbaa in The Lion King are a meerkat and a warthog, respectively. Comic relief characters boost morale and offer us a smile when we do not feel much like smiling in a dire situation.
In Star Wars, the droids R2-D2 and C-3PO are the comedic relief of the series. Snarky, argumentative, and somehow always getting into some situation or trouble, these two droids travel around, almost having their separate storyline, and are not serious characters, nor are they instrumental to the plot. R2-D2 holds the message from Princess Leia to Obi-Wan Kenobi, but if the little droid were not a character, the message could have been quickly sent in some other way. They are only around to provide a touch of slapstick comedy to keep things from getting too serious.
4. The Caregiver Archetype
Strengths: Generous, caring, selfless
Weaknesses: Easily manipulated, easily used, too kind
Examples: Samwise Gamgee (Lord of the Rings), Molly Weasley (Harry Potter), Obi-Wan Kenobi (Star Wars)
This is the mother figure or parent figure in the story—a person who puts the hero or other character ahead of themselves. This person is a unique character because they can be one of the main characters or a background character who stays behind. Most stories have a caregiver. Someone who becomes more dedicated or present as the story progresses is willing to put themselves on the line to protect or save the protagonist.
Samwise is the main drive that keeps Frodo going in the mission to deliver the ring where it needs to go. Frodo is beaten, bruised, and ready to throw in the towel, but Sam is right there to cheer him up to encourage him to keep going.
Sam would obviously have done anything for his friend by halfway through their journey, including sacrificing his life. The caregivers in literature and movies are almost always ready and willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.
5. The Rebel Archetype
Strengths: Dedication, drive, determination
Weaknesses: Alone, outnumbered or overpowered, small
Examples: Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), Guy Montag (Fahrenheit 451), Robin Hood
This character is not satisfied with the status quo and is determined to change how things are in society. As we see in the above list of examples, all of these characters fight the system, even though they have few resources and are not known for their physical prowess.
Robin Hood, the gentleman thief, robs from the rich in society to give to the poor. He actively shuns the leadership of Prince John, who he thinks stole the throne and has imposed unfair taxes upon the people.
In Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen volunteers as a tribute because she does not want her sister to be part of the game. Also, this is because of Katniss’ negative perceptions and experiences in her district. The reality is also something that Katniss considered in volunteering that other districts have been living without enough to get by and resort to murder for sport and entertainment as a means to have enough resources to feed their families.
At some point in the plot, she decides that winning the game is not enough. She wants to buck the system and take down their government that imposes terrible laws and restrictions on citizens.
Horror Movie: Final Girl
This character can fall under the rebel category in that she is a female character who is usually small in stature and does not give up after being put in extreme danger.
For example, in John Carpenter’s Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis’s character goes head to head with Michael, a deranged killer, even though everyone she knows has been brutally murdered. She refuses to be another dead body. She fights back, and she never gives up. What started as a rarity now yields multiple examples in film and even in books.
6. The Creator Archetype
Strengths: Dedicated, devoted, intelligent, and inventive
Weaknesses: Obsessed with creating things, often to their detriment
Examples: Dr. Frankenstein (Frankenstein), Alexander Hamilton (Hamilton), Charles Jacobs (Revival)
Most often portrayed as the absent-minded professor or mad scientist, the creator is an important character when a monster, idea, plague, or anything created has gotten out of hand. In the examples above, Alexander Hamilton is so obsessed with changing things that he is ostracized by his family, society, and peers. He loses the respect of everyone and eventually fades into the background of history, although he was instrumental as the Founding Father.
7. The Mentor or Sage Archetype
Strengths: A master of some craft, wise
Weaknesses: Hesitant to act, plays it too safe
Examples: Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter), Gandalf (Lord of the Rings), Yoda (Star Wars), Mr. Miyagi (The Karate Kid)
This is the character who, in most cases, is an elderly master who could easily take of the conflict instead of the hero and emerge victoriously. However, this character prefers to pass on their wisdom and skills to a younger generation. They act in a teaching capacity and as moral support in times of dilemma for the hero.
Albus Dumbledore, for example, could most likely have defeated Voldemort by himself in Harry Potter. He had the experience, was well respected as a mighty wizard, and had extensive knowledge of and a past relationship with Voldemort. He also had the Elder Wand. Dumbledore simply chose to pass the torch, as the sage archetype often does. He had had his moment in the sun and was no longer interested in playing the hero. Instead, he decided to mentor Harry Potter and let the younger generation take over and prove that they could handle things.
8. The Regular Person or Inept Sidekick Archetype
Strengths: Relatable, rational
Weaknesses: Physical powerlessness, no superhuman or supernatural powers
Examples: Frodo Baggins, Ron Weasley (Harry Potter), Eddie Dean (The Dark Tower)
This is one of the most common archetypes in literature and movies. Usually the loyal sidekick, this character is just an everyday person who ends up coming along for the ride and has nothing but a basic survival instinct to keep them alive. This specific person chosen for the role is also referred to as the girl or guy next door, meaning that they have no special powers and are used to living life completely normally.
An example of this would be Eddie Dean from The Dark Tower. Possessing no special skills, he emerges from a bathroom naked and finds himself in the middle of a large-scale gunfight. With nothing to save him but basic human survival instinct, he maneuvers his way out of danger and is basically the only person to survive the gunfight.
9. The Anti-Hero Archetype
Strengths: Relatable, good intentions
Weaknesses: Not above or opposed to immoral acts, can be selfish, tunnel vision
Examples: Batman, Captain Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean), Scarlett O’Hara (Gone with the Wind)
The anti-hero is relatable because this character usually possesses an anthropomorphic personification. Characters with this personality embody a feeling or emotion that most humans feel at some point or another. Batman, for example, is a superhero who is not fighting crime for the benefit of the citizens of Gotham City. His parents were murdered in front of him when he was a child, and he has since dedicated his life to avenging them.
He spends his family’s fortune creating technology and weapons that will help him stop crimes so he can deal with his anger in a way that benefits the city. However, the safety of the people is the least of his concerns. His only concern is a twisted sense of vigilante justice. All of us, at some point, have felt anger that borders on or has spilled over into rage and can relate to Batman’s sense of needing to exact revenge.
Captain Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean is an excellent example of an anti-hero. All he wants is his ship back, and helping Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann, might facilitate it, so he goes on their mission. He has almost zero interest in any moral reason that Turner and Swann may have for their particular fight against the English. He simply operates the way he does to get what he wants.
10. The Magician Archetype
Strengths: Charismatic leader, pushes/assists the hero, impresses people
Weaknesses: Often cocky, easily fooled by promises of power, easily led astray
Examples: Sherlock Holmes, The Man in Black (The Dark Tower), Darth Vader (Star Wars)
The magician archetype entails a character who is a visionary knowledge bearer and has the power to create something for everyone’s sake or the other way around. This archetype is commonly associated with a spiritual element. The magician’s knowledge ranges from ancient times to the current timeline and anticipated future. In their best state, the magician exudes wisdom as they are critical and reflective, making them an enabler of transformations.
When the characters’ intentions do not align with the magician’s, a disorder might occur in the story. The magicians are created to let the human characters establish a transformation for their society.
The magician can be for or against the hero in a story. They do not need to have magic—they only need to have some skill set to impress people. This character often wants to be in charge, noticed, is cynical, and wants attention.
Darth Vader is well-versed in using “The Force” and could have used his skills and powers to do immense good. Instead, the thought of power and control overtook him, and he ended up an agent of evil in a battle against his son. His downfall is that he thinks he cannot be defeated and is convinced that he is superior to all others. However, his son, Luke Skywalker, was trained by Jedi masters.
11. The Ruler Archetype
Strengths: Strong, confident
Weaknesses: Power-hungry, needs to maintain control
Examples: Miranda Priestly (The Devil Wears Prada), Prince John (Robin Hood), Lord Voldemort, King Arthur, Cruella DeVille
This character is power-hungry and will stop at nothing to gain and maintain control, usually by any means necessary. In Robin Hood, Prince John has taken the throne of what Robin Hood and most of the people of Nottingham would refer to as the rightful king when he takes over from his brother and starts to tax the poor. These people often rule with an iron fist and have little to no regard for the well-being of anyone but themselves. They only care to create order to facilitate more power.
Cruella DeVille is another ruler with absolutely no regard for anyone but herself. She has two henchmen, Horace and Jasper, who she treats terribly, double-crosses, and betrays. She also steals from her friend to get the materials she needs for her dalmatian-print clothing to outshine her fashion competitors. She also has no qualms about stealing and murdering dogs. If it gets her to a place of more power, she is not above it, and she knows no shame.