Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A List of Character Archetypes

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

A character archetype is a pattern or model from which similar characters are based. Sometime last year, I noticed that all my main characters fit a heroic guardian archetype (Achan, Martyr, Spencer). I was pretty shocked to realize that. I didn’t want to be the author who writes the same character over and over and over.

This is my list. I could likely combine a few of these to make a smaller list or expand the list as well. There are no rules here. But I find this list helpful in toying with the idea of completely changing my main character’s archetype, analyzing my cast, deleting duplicate characters, setting apart the others, and determining personality conflicts.

All of these archetypes are capable of going on the hero’s journey.

Sometimes it’s fun to combine several archetypes into one character. Take a look at this list. Do any of these archetypes appear in your story?

Analyst: Can explain anything rationally. Ex: Mr. Spock
Anti-hero: The hero who didn’t ask to get involved but does. Ex: Sarah Connor, Wolverine
Benefactor: Has a whole lot of something he wants to share. Ex: Miss Havisham
Bully: Has no tolerance for weakness, especially in himself. Ex: Scut Farkus (Christmas Story)
Bureaucrat: Follows the rules no matter what. Hermione Granger
Caretaker: Cares for others. Ex: Digory Kirke
Catalyst: Makes things happen.
Child: Could be a literal child or just living like one. Ex: Wally McDoogle, Peter Pan
Coward: Afraid of everything, controlled by fear. Ex: Adrian Monk, Cowardly Lion, Alexandra Rover
Curmudgeon: Irritable and cynical and proud of it. Ex: Ebenezer Scrooge
Dreamer: Longs to be something he isn’t. Ex: Annie, William Thatcher (A Knight’s Tale)
Elder/Mentor/Teacher/Parent: Been around long enough to know some vital information. Ex: Ben Kenobi, Mufassa
Explorer/Wanderer: Wants to see the world—could be running from something.
Extraordinary man: The guy who can do anything. Ex: Indiana Jones, James Bond
Gossip: Must be the first to know everything and the one to pass it on. Ex: Rachel Lynde
Guardian: Protects the weak.
Hedonist/Thrill-seeker: Lives for today in case tomorrow never comes.
Herald/Messenger: The bringer of news, good, bad, or necessary.
Hermit/Loner: Just wants to be left alone. Ex: Phil Hercules, Martin Riggs (Lethal Weapon)
Hunter/Predator: Can catch or kill anything. Ex: Terminator
Innocent: An inexperienced individual exposed to the evils in the world. Ex: Dorothy Gale
Introvert: Lives inside his shell to prevent anyone from seeing the real him. Ex: Gabriella Montez (High School Musical)
Investigator: Thrives on puzzles and riddles. Ex: Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes
Judge/Mediator: The arbitrator or peacemaker in a conflict.
Leader: Always knows the best thing to do—and people follow. Ex: William Wallace
Magician/Wizard/Superpowers: Has special powers or abilities. Ex: Superman, Harry Potter
Manipulator: Plays with people and situations to get what he wants. Ex: Scarlett O’Hara  
Martyr: Willing to suffer or die for others or a cause.
Masochist: Finds pleasure in torturing himself, denying himself—may take on too much.
Masquerader: Pretends to be something he is not.
Monster: A depraved beast. Ex: Gollum, Grendel (Beowulf)
Ordinary Man: Your average Joe, just like you or me or the guy across the street. Ex: Dr. Richard Kimball, Frodo Baggins.
Penitent: Lives to atone for his sin.
Perfectionist: Every action and word must be flawless.
Pleaser/Show-off: Craves approval from anyone and may do anything to get it.
Poet: Life is art, be that through story or song or art or sculpture.
Rebel/Revolutionary: Stands opposed to the status quo and fights for his cause.
Rogue: Looks out for himself and no one else. Ex: Han Solo
Saboteur/Betrayer: For whatever reason, he will make sure something fails. Ex: Edmund Pevensie
Samaritan: Does good deeds wherever he goes.
Scholar: Wants to learn.
Sensualist: Addicted to feeling good about himself.
Slave: Does not belong to himself. Ex: Dobby the house elf
Survivor: Pulls through no matter what happens, doesn’t give up.
Sycophant: Self-seeking, flatterer, who works to please those in power. Ex: Smee (Peter Pan)
Temptress: Uses power (intellect, magic, beauty) to make others weak. Ex: Megara (Hercules)
Thief: Takes what he wants or needs. Ex: Philippe Gaston (LadyHawke), Jean Valjean
Trickster/Jester: Always looking for the humor in a situation. Ex: Fred and George Weasley
Tyrant: Must be in control at all times. Ex: Captain Hook
Victim: Was hurt by someone or lives in fear that someone will hurt him. Ex: Claireece “Precious” Jones
Villain: Seeks to destroy/trap the hero. Ex: Evil Queen in Snow White, Lex Luthor
Waif: Appears innocent and weak and often relies on the pity of others. Ex: The Kid (Dick Tracy)


  1. Thanks for this post. I didn't know how many character archetypes there are!

    In theory, should there only be one of each archetype in a story? Like only one villain and one anti-hero? Or can there be more?

    1. Just putting in my two cents, here. :) I actually have a situation where the hero thinks there are two villains, but in actuality, one man is calling all the shots, and "owns" the two people the hero things are the villains. So, while yes, it can make it more complicated, I think it's worked out well for me. :)

    2. I actually had a similar question...thanks to both Ms. Williamson and Becki for the clarification!

      Reading this list, I have realized that my hero is a guardian and a martyr, as well as a little bit of a dreamer. This list will help so I know to create my secondary characters with different archetypes.

      Thanks so much for all of your posts on character development!

    3. I have an Archetype I'd like to add in, and maybe it's just me this one, or I missed them on the list.
      Mad Scientist- Has relatively low social skills, but can figure out any puzzle with a but of tinkering. They tend to have a hard time believing they are wrong, and a distaste for people.

    4. To your Question I say, There can be more that one archetype is a story at a time, bare in mind the option to mix and match different combinations of characteristics, for instance you could have a Temptress/Thief and a Survivor/Thief. They both possess the thief trait but they still have different ambitions, motivations, and characteristics.
      On the other hand I'd it is possible to have two very similar archetypes in the same story as well though this should be done sparingly. Having two analytical types might go well for a pair of scientists that work in tandem to one another in the lab. on the flip side of the coin two leader types might produce interesting results if they butt heads. one final example that sticks out in my mind are twins that fight against being considered like the other when in fact they react in the exact same way.
      So it's definitely possible (as far as I think it is) to have more than one archetype in a story at the same time, it's all about their presentation.

    5. Have them change archetypes to one similar, sometimes drastically, sometimes gradually. But, in the end, develop each character.

  2. There are all kinds of opinions on that question. But I don't think in matters. Like I said, this list is one I made up. There are no rules. But I don't want to keep writing the same character, and a list like this helps me analyze my cast a little and see what I've got going on.

    I think that if you had two heroes and two villains, you'd really complicate your story, though. Unless it was a reality show called America's Next Nemesis or Foes, or something. LOL

    In fact, I had way too many bad guys in my Blood of Kings novel, which was why I had to come up with a plot fixer to do away with some of theme, hence, the keily.

    1. Thanks so much Jill! I was just thinking recently that my characters seem the same, to a degree... I've had two Parents(though one is also a Survivor/Masquerader), one Leader, and a Scholar... Those are the ones I can think of off the top of my head. :P Definately going to try and make some characters with different personalities. ;)

  3. Thanks, Jill! I had learned what an archetype was in a class I took a while ago, but it really confused me, so this post helped a LOT.

  4. Archetypes are fascinating, especially because, as you mentioned, there are no rules when it comes to archetypes.

  5. So cool! I wonder, people can be more than one at a time, right? Scrolling through, I found, like ... a lot that applied to my favourite fictional character right now (the Doctor from "Doctor Who").

    1. LOL! And depending which actor is playing him... probably different ones, huh?

    2. Yeah - "Guardian" and "Extraordinary man" seem to apply from one to eleven, though. :D
      *tips fez in a salute* They most certainly are.

  6. Awesome! I could categorize my characters easily through this ;) I think I have something fun to go do now...time to organize my characters!

    1. Oh, Sarah, I'm such a sucker for anything involving organizing AND writing!


  8. Thanks, Ms. Williamson! This is super helpful for solidifying characters' personalities! I find that my villain is a guardian, a slave, an introvert, a martyr, and a masquerader... interesting. :)

    1. That does sound like a very interesting villain, Laurie!

  9. This is an awesome list! This is really helpful.

  10. Hmm, let me see if I can think of others... Going off a book I like, here are some I thought of:

    Bad Girl/Boy-Breaks the rules, doesn't care what people think.
    Outcast-Different from everyone else, whether in dress, hobbies, etc.
    Socialite-Popular, well-liked, etc.

    1. I really like these additions, Allison! One of my MCs in a former WIP was an outcast :)

  11. This is so totsly legit! I love lists like this ^_^ And I'm pretty sure ALL of these show up in my stories xD

    In my current WIP my characters have a mixture of theses- Trickster/Jester, Thief, Sycophant (funniest word I've ever heard xD), Survivor, Samaritan, Rogue, Pleaser/Show-off, Perfectionist, Ordinary Man, Masquerader, Masochist, Manipulator, Leader, Judge/Mediator, wow... no introverts O_O well...there's a half introvert so I guess he'll count, Innocent , Herald/Messenger, Hedonist/Thrill-seeker, Gossip, Elder/Mentor/Teacher/Parent, Dreamer, Caretaker, Bureaucrat, Anti-hero, Analyst, Oh and my own to add to the list- the insistent pessimist. EVERYTHING is going to go wrong...

    If you read all that... then you are awesome. ^_^

    1. Ooh, pessimist is a great one.
      I love that you have a half introvert! LOL

  12. Thanks for the list!!! Its super helpful! But I couldn't find what my villain would be. He is a rebel that makes a deal with someone bad. The game goes too far and people get hurt. He's the villain, but he's also a victim in a way. Would he be one of those types? And what about a villain that is out for revenge? Say like Victoria from Twilight(actually Eclipse). She docent have much of a personality besides that she wants revenge. Would both of those be a combonation of some of the types? Thanks for the post though!

    1. Well, like I said, the list is mine, and nowhere near complete. And really, people don't always fit into little boxes. We are far more complex.

      As for Victoria, sometimes, revenge is all a villain needs. She'd be a better character if there was more to her, but she doesn't really need to be a better character for that story, if that makes sense.

      You villain sounds way cooler. :-)

  13. This is SO interesting! Love it!

  14. I realized a lot of my characters and combinations of several. I have a guy who is both a mentor and a hermit (Thus making it hard for my other characters to find him. Mwhahaha!).

    1. LOL! I love it. The mentor who is never around. :-P

  15. Mine are usually survivalist/hero/rebel's.
    Their super fun to write.
    This list is so cool. It gives me idea's for other characters.

    1. Cool.
      Yeah, we're likely drawn to writing certain types of characters, huh?

    2. Yeah, I think so. Kind of like when we like the same types of guys in movies. We have a type.

  16. This is really awesome! My character, for example, once was a Rogue, but is now a Guardian/Protectorish person... :) This is really useful! Thanks!

  17. Wowo, long list! But awesome info!

  18. I love A Knight's Tale... just thought someone should know :) lol

  19. great list! I love this. one archetype you could add to the list is the avenger, (if nobody else said yet) the guy/girl who wants revenge because they were wronged

  20. I think it's cool to pretend I'm a character in someone else's book and see where that fits me. I'd be the Perfectionist and Poet. :)

  21. Awesome! I like this list. You could add in the anti-villain too, like Yuno Gasai from Mirai Nikki.

  22. This is so perfect! Thank you! I'm thinking of combining completely conflicting archetypes into different characters and create a delightful bouquet of personality (EX: The Anti-Hero Cowardly Leader). Oooh, the backstory possibility. Thanks again!

  23. Thanks. My main character is Caretaker/Hermit/Introvert/Poet, I feel it doesn't describe her well though. Is there some type that means actress? Not as in the profession, but a lot of characters have things they hide and there isnt a word up there to describe that.

  24. Shrek fits the Anti-Hero archetype perfectly.

  25. This is awesome!! Thanks!

  26. Jill, you are a lifesaver! I'm using this list for an assignment for my English class. Thank a billion! :)
    - Sobia

  27. Can you list some examples of each kind of archetype??

  28. I Would like to add a new archetype

    Uptight/snotty:thinks him/her self above everyone else and humbles others but in the end is humbled by someone else


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