Kit Campbell ran a blog series about character archetypes recently. I really enjoyed it, and invited her to post about it over here. Her blog is fun and informative, so please check it out. You’ll figure that out when you read her bio. Besides, she calls me a Squidder, who doesn’t want to be a Squidder? Take it away, Kit:
Much thanks to Craig for having me! Recently I ran a series on my blog, Where Landsquid Fear to Tread, about character archetypes. Craig and I got to talking, and here I am. Now, Kit, you ask, what is an archetype? An archetype is something considered to be a universal type that things/people/stories tend to fall into. So character archetypes can be found in stories and legends throughout history, up to and including stories today. And the nice thing about understanding archetypes is that you can see them—and how to twist them—both in your own writing and in the media you consume.
I’ve selected five of the most basic archetypes to go over. The number of character archetypes varies depending on who you talk to, but these tend to be fairly universal.
The Hero archetype is perhaps the most well known. After all, most stories have heroes of some form or another. Archetypal heroes tend to either be orphans or are orphaned shortly after the start of the story, and they are forced out of their home by the plot. They tend to be uniformly good, and are often special in some manner. Examples of archetypal heroes include Luke Skywalker, Simba, and King Arthur.
The Villain archetype tends to be the opposite of a hero archetype. Archetypal villains are uniformly evil and also tend to be selfish and power hungry, uncaring as to who gets hurt in their quest for their goals. Archetypal villains tend to receive more criticism than other characters, as many people see them as being underdeveloped in characterization. Examples of archetypal villains include the Wicked Witch of the West, Emperor Palpatine, and Jafar from Aladdin.
The Mentor archetype, again, is very common. Almost all archetypal heroes have a mentor who helps them on their way. Mentors act as a guide to the hero, helping them prepare for what lies ahead. They’re typically presented as old men, though exceptions exist. Mentor characters are often removed from the story to force the hero to go on alone. Examples of archetypal mentors include Obi-Wan Kenobi (original Star Wars movies), Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Merlin.
The Evil with a Heart of Gold archetype (link: http://landsquidattack.wordpress.com/2015/05/28/character-archetypes-evil-with-a-heart-of-gold/) tends to be very common, though not as obvious. Characters who are evil with a heart of gold start the story on the villain’s side, but are eventually drawn to the hero’s side and turn against their original master. They are redeemable, and tend to have been good in the past. Sometimes they are echoes of the hero, where they turn to evil at a point where the hero has prevailed in keeping his/her morals. Examples of characters in the Evil with a Heart of Gold archetype include Darth Vader or the Terminator. If a previously evil character sacrifices themselves for the hero, they are probably Evil with a Heart of Gold.
The Damsel in Distress archetype is another one that sees a lot of criticism for lack of characterization. Damsels in distress tend to exist more as objects or goals than people—someone for the hero to rescue more than anything else. They tend to be women, but this is not always true. Unlike the other archetypes discussed here, damsels in distress can morph into other archetypes if they stay in the narrative. Examples of the Damsel in Distress archetype include Princess Peach, several fairy tale characters, and Robin from the Batman comics.
This is just a sample of the character archetypes. Some people will break these down into sub-archetypes, or combine some into a bigger archetype. (For example, someone might include Evil with a Heart of Gold under the larger title of the Villain, with a definition for the Villain that includes anyone acting in opposition to the Hero.) In fact, for something “universal,” it’s kind of interesting how much variation there is, depending on who you talk to.
I hope this gives you a basic idea of character archetypes. Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions!
It is a little known fact that Kit was raised in the wild by a marauding gang of octopuses. It wasn’t until she was 25 that she was discovered by a traveling National Geographic scientist and brought back to civilization. This is sometimes apparent in the way that she attempts to escape through tubes when startled. Her transition to normalcy has been slow, but scientists predict that she will have mastered basics such as fork use sometime in the next year. More complex skills, such as proper grocery store etiquette, may be forever outside her reach.
Kit lives in Colorado in a house of ever-increasing chaos. She can be found around the internet at kitcampbellbooks.com, @KitCampbell, and on Goodreads. Kit also offers an editing and formatting service. More information can be found at Kit the Editor.
I told you guys she was fun. Make sure she feels welcome. She probably doesn’t bite.
The individual posts are a bit more fleshed out, and these bits are a summary.