Jill’s List of Character Archetypes
Jill Williamson on May 8, 2012
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)