Archetypes are time-tested character types from which hundreds of your favorite characters are drawn. Harry Potter. Ishmael. General Woundwort. All of these are based on classic archetypes that I’m too lazy to look up but I’m pretty sure have origins that date back thousands of years. Here are the six character archetypes you need to put in your novel to create your own classic characters.
The person your reader will follow around for a few hundred pages. His sword: sharp. His virtue: true. His retorts: witty. His courage: brave. His face: sufficiently young and handsome to attract a name actor when you land the movie deal.
Henry looked at the castle before him with his steely blue eyes. Within its walls lay a treasure that would take about three hundred pages to reach. He set his chiseled jaw, thinking about the many challenges he would face; the lessons about life and stuff he would learn on the journey, which would be more valuable than the treasure, lessons so valuable that people would accept them as currency. He squinted his steely blue eyes. “The time has come,” he said, jaw-settingly.
[pullquote]You’ve probably got most of these archetypes in your book already. If not, their absence is almost certainly the one thing that’s keeping you from landing a major book deal.[/pullquote]
This wise guru has wisdom to impart to the hero. Often depicted as an old man or woman, the Mentor has sage advice that the Hero usually doesn’t want to hear, since it values patience and strategy over action and casual violence. Through her guidance and knowingfulness, however, the Mentor will eventually make the Hero see the light. This sometimes involves guilting the Hero into compliance by getting herself killed.
Wise old Orin of the Mountain stroked his beard knowingly. “You have much to learn, young one,” he intoned in his rich baritone. “One day, when you are old and wise and bearded, you will see.” Orin’s wife, wise old Mythra, nodded and stroked her beard in agreement.
Like a jobber in a wrestling match who gets paid to take a leg drop from Hulk Hogan, the Strawman is there to pump up your Hero by looking weak and dumb. Get enough of these folks together and you can create a Strawman Dystopia, in which you can blame all of society’s ills on whatever religion or political party you disagree with.
“This is the way things have always been, and tradition is never wrong,” Stuffy McStrawfield said.
“Actually,” said Laura Hero, “there have been many instances in which that’s not the case.”
“Whaaa?” said Stuffy.
“Furthermore,” said Laura Hero, “doing things my way would solve most of the world’s problems.”
The crushing logic made Stuffy poop his pants.
Grouchy Police Chief
Your hero is just too awesome at his job, so you’ll need to bring in a killjoy authority figure to spoil the fun with rules and ethics and internal investigations and such. After thwarting your Hero at every turn, the Chief will come to the Hero’s aid at the last minute, salvaging their working relationship just enough to set up a sequel.
“Turn in your badge and your piece, Hero! In this place, we do things by the book!” the Chief said, smoke shooting out of his ears. He carried on like this for about six pages.
The Mary Sue
The Mary Sue is often maligned as being thinly veiled author wish-fulfillment, but this ignores the fact that the Mary Sue can also facilitate elaborate revenge fantasies. Mary Sues are great at everything from learning languages to sword fighting to delivering epic speeches to the Strawman.
“Your kung fu is the best I’ve ever seen, Mary Sue,” said the evil Xander, his voice betraying his admiration for his foe.
“It should be, after two whole weeks of training,” Mary Sue said, blushing.
“Two weeks!” Xander said. If he didn’t hate her so much, he would have sworn he was falling in love with her.
You’ve probably got most (if not all) of these archetypes in your book already. If not, their absence is almost certainly the one thing that’s keeping you from landing a major book deal, so you’d better add them soon. If you do, perhaps soon you’ll transform yourself into the archetype every writer dreams of–destitute genius who’s misunderstood in her own time.
Did we leave out any character archetypes? Highly unlikely. But if you do think of some, write them in the comments.