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Characters: Archetypes

Updated: May 1

Archetypes in narrative are universal models of characters, themes, and plots that emerge across various stories and cultures. These archetypes are deeply rooted in the human collective unconscious and are used to confer depth, universality, and recognizability to the narrative. Here is an overview of the most common archetypes used in narrative according to the theories of Carl Gustav Jung and the concepts developed by Joseph Campbell, among others:





Character Archetypes

  • The Innocent: Characterized by purity, optimism, and trust. This archetype seeks happiness and does its best to avoid evil.

  • The Orphan/Commoner: Seeking belonging, this archetype is realistic, supportive, and eager for authentic connections.

  • The Hero: Determined to improve the world, the hero is brave, strong, and ready to make sacrifices.

  • The Caregiver: This archetype is protective, generous, and eager to help others without expecting anything in return.

  • The Explorer: A lover of freedom, always in search of new experiences, avoiding feeling trapped or limited.

  • The Rebel: Wanting to overturn what doesn't work, the rebel is nonconformist, revolutionary, and sometimes prone to destruction.

  • The Lover: Motivated by passion, intimacy, and emotional connections, this archetype seeks unity and the experience of love in all its forms.

  • The Creator: With a strong imagination and the will to create things of lasting value and meaning, the creator is often an artist, a writer, or an inventor.

  • The Jester: Living in the moment and enjoying what life has to offer, the jester wants to make the world a happier place.

  • The Sage: Seeking truth and knowledge, the sage is an adviser and mentor, often helping others to understand the world.

  • The Magician: With the goal of transforming reality, the magician is a visionary, innovator, and often a catalyst for change.

  • The Ruler: Seeking control and order, the ruler is a leader, responsible and eager to create a prosperous and successful community or kingdom.

Each of these archetypes can be used as a starting point to create complex and three-dimensional characters. By integrating and combining these archetypes, writers can develop characters that reflect a wide range of human experiences and resonate deeply with the audience. These models also offer writers a guide to exploring different character motivations and plot dynamics in ways that may not be immediately obvious.


Plot Archetypes

Plot archetypes are universal narrative patterns that serve as the foundation for various types of stories across cultures and historical periods. These plot models are recognizable to audiences globally and resonate on an emotional and psychological level with listeners or readers, providing a familiar structure within which unique events and specific characters unfold. Here are some examples of commonly recognized plot archetypes:


  • The Hero's Journey: This archetype describes a narrative cycle in which the hero leaves their ordinary world to venture into an unknown one, faces trials, gains new knowledge or power, and returns transformed. It is a model of growth and self-discovery.

  • The Quest: Centered on the protagonist's goal of finding or recovering something valuable (which can be an object, a person, or even knowledge), often facing obstacles and trials along the way.

  • Rebirth: A theme of transformation and renewal where the main character or the situation goes through a metaphorical death and then renews in a significant way.

  • Overcoming the Monster: The protagonist must confront and overcome an antagonist or an evil force, often represented as a monster, a tyrant, or a great evil.

  • The Fall: This plot archetype concerns the protagonist's decline due to a mistake or a flaw, leading to tragic consequences or the moral descent of the character.

  • Comedy: A plot centered on complications and misunderstandings that lead to comic or bizarre situations but ultimately resolve in a happy ending, often with reconciliations or marriages.

  • Tragedy: Contrary to comedy, tragedy focuses on the inevitable fall of the protagonist, often due to a fatal flaw or uncontrollable external forces, leading to a sad or catastrophic ending.

  • Restoration: Centered on the repair or renewal of a community, a family, or oneself, this plot often follows destruction or loss.


These archetypes not only help writers structure their narratives but also allow the audience to connect more deeply with the stories through familiar narrative patterns and resonances. The beauty of plot archetypes lies in their flexibility: they can be adapted, combined, and reinterpreted in endless ways to create fresh and original narratives.

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Thematic Archetypes

Thematic archetypes are universal concepts or themes that resonate across cultures and epochs, providing a common ground for human experiences and emotions. These themes are deeply embedded in the human psyche and offer a wealth of meanings and interpretations in narrative works. Just as with character and plot archetypes, thematic archetypes help create stories that speak on a deep level, enabling the audience to emotionally connect with the narrative. Here are some examples of thematic archetypes commonly encountered in literature and other narrative media:


- The Struggle between Good and Evil: One of the most universal themes, this narrative explores the eternal conflict between opposing forces, often with a hero battling against a significant evil.

- The Journey and Returning Home: This theme focuses on the physical or emotional journey of the protagonist away from "home" and on their eventual return, transformed by the experience.

- Rebirth and Transformation: The theme of rebirth often follows a period of decay or death (symbolic or literal), culminating in a rebirth or renewal of the character or society.

- Love in All Its Forms: Whether it be romantic love, fraternal love, friendship, or unconditional love, this theme explores the different manifestations of love and its transformative power.

- The Quest for Identity: A central theme in many stories where the protagonist seeks to discover or understand their own identity, often through challenges that test their values and beliefs.

- The Conflict with Society: This thematic archetype explores the tension between the individual and social norms or expectations, often highlighting issues of justice, freedom, and individual rights.

- Overcoming Obstacles: A powerful theme found in many narratives where characters must face and overcome significant challenges, both internal and external, to achieve their goals or realize their true potential.

- Nature versus Culture: This theme explores the conflict or dichotomy between the natural world and human imposition of civilization, often questioning our relationship with the environment and with ourselves as part of nature.

- Sacrifice: The theme of sacrifice focuses on the difficult choices and personal sacrifices characters must make for the greater good or for the love of someone else, exploring the nobility and cost of such actions.


These thematic archetypes are not only fundamental to narrative but are also deeply intertwined in the fabric of human experiences, allowing writers to explore complex concepts and connect with the audience on a deep emotional level. Their universality and versatility make them powerful tools for telling stories that are both unique and universally recognizable.

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