A Guide to Character Archetypes

Film-inspired header image.

Although we may not realize it, all of us are intimately familiar with the characters below. Character archetypes are found in every storytelling culture on Earth. Carl Jung defined archetypes as ancient images and traits unconsciously shared by all humanity, commonly found in myths, stories and dreams.

The 12 primary archetypes identified by Jung represent universal human motivations. Considered first-generation foundational elements, these archetypes informed many later works, including those of Christopher Vogler, author of The Writer’s Journey.

Because they are universal and timeless, character archetypes hold tremendous appeal for both dramatic writers and their audiences. Modern-day storytellers often combine their traits, more accurately reflecting the complexities of real human beings.

The Caregiver

Starring Mary Poppins

With an unwavering desire to nurture, Caregivers represent the ultimate in altruism. Although generous and selfless, they are also prone to play the role of the suffering martyr. When Caregivers go bad, watch out! Controlling behavior, codependence and extreme guilt-tripping may result.

Motto: “I’ll take care of you.”
Goal: To help others as much as possible
Superlative: Most likely to feed you chicken soup whether you’ve asked for it or not
Strengths: Kindness, generosity
Weaknesses: Enabling others, martyrdom
Enjoys: Knitting you that ugly Christmas sweater
Also known as: The Saint, The Altruist

The Innocent

Starring Dorothy

Idealistic and trusting, Innocents only see the best in all people and situations. This blind optimism, although inspiring, means they also have a stubborn tendency to deny or be oblivious to reality. They often depend on others to reach their goals instead of relying on their own internal resources.

Motto: “It’s all going to be OK.”
Goal: Physical and emotional safety
Superlative: Most likely to believe that the Big Bad Wolf’s teeth are actually Grandma’s dentures
Strengths: Positivity, hope
Weakness: Naiveté
Enjoys: Wishing for things
Also known as: The Dreamer, The Saint

The Hero

Starring Harry Potter

Always eager to save the day, Heroes embody courage, persistence and skill. Although masters of capability, these archetypes have a troublesome tendency toward either/or thinking. Plagued by fear of personal weakness, Heroes can quickly turn to villains if they choose to use their talents for personal gain.

Motto: “Fight it.”
Goal: To prove their worth
Superlative: Most likely to throw the first punch
Strengths: Bravery, achieving goals
Weakness: Arrogance
Enjoys: Winning
Also known as: The Warrior, The Crusader

The Everyperson

Starring Peter Parker (aka “Spider-Man”)

Whether a streetwise orphan, the boy next door or simply somebody with a humdrum life,  Everypeople embody the individuals no one thinks to look at twice. Down-to-earth and unpretentious, they tackle problems with practicality and compassion. Their need to belong, however, puts them at risk of losing their identity in their efforts to find acceptance.

Motto: “Everyone is equal.”
Goals: To connect with others, to belong
Superlative: Most likely to be confused with literally anybody else
Strength: Resilience
Weakness: Cynicism
Enjoys: Plain black coffee, going to the big city for the first time
Also known as: The Orphan, The Regular Guy/Gal

The Ruler

Starring The Red Queen

Rulers wield power and aren’t afraid to show it. Whether  monarchs, managers or ministers, these characters live for control and work hard to create a harmonious existence for themselves and those they govern. An inclination for tyranny is their downfall; they fear losing their authority above all else.

Motto: “Power is everything.”
Goal: Control
Superlative: Most likely to flirt with the possibility of their own dictatorship
Strengths: Responsibility, systemic expertise
Weaknesses:
Rigidity, controlling behaviors, entitlement, elitism
Enjoys: Delegating
Also known as: The Boss, The Aristocrat, The Role Model

The Sage

Starring Yoda

Sages are truth-seekers, mentors and contemplatives. Keepers of wisdom, they transcend their problems through the pursuit of knowledge. The danger lies in a tendency to study details forever, never acting on the information they acquire. At worst, Sages reveal indifference, harsh criticism and pomposity. 

Motto: “The truth will set you free.”
Goal: To discover the fundamental reality of the universe
Superlative: Most likely to answer your question with a question
Strengths: Wisdom, skepticism
Weaknesses: Critical, lack of empathy
Enjoys: The Library of Congress, Mental Floss Magazine
Also known as: The Advisor, The Philosopher, The Teacher

The Explorer

Starring Indiana Jones

It’s rare to meet Explorers twice. Forever on a journey, these individuals may wander in search of an object, a truth, a better life or their own internal strength. They fear conformity and may be perfectionists in the sense that they are unable to be truly satisfied with anything they find.

Motto: “Let me be free.”
Goal: To live an authentic, fulfilling existence
Superlative: Most likely to stand you up
Strengths: Autonomy, self-reliance, sense of identity
Weaknesses: Self-centeredness, running away from problems, loneliness
Enjoys: Going where others fear to tread
Also known as: The Wanderer, The Seeker

The Lover

Starring Romeo and Juliet

Moved by a desire to create and sustain relationships, Lovers are constantly seeking whatever will bring ecstatic happiness. This can mean the whirlwind of romance, the loyalty of friendship or a commitment to faith. However, their need to please others comes at a price: an ever-present threat of losing their identity within the very relationships they cherish.

 Motto: “To love and be loved.”
Goal: Bliss
Superlative: Most likely to chase down their romantic interest in an international airport five minutes before the gate closes
Strengths: Passion, commitment to relationships
Weaknesses: Neediness, losing themselves
Enjoys: Long walks on the beach, dinners by candlelight
Also known as: The Friend, The Partner

The Magician

Starring Gandalf

Privileged with a close connection to the unknown, Magicians seek out laws of the physical and metaphysical universe in order to transform the problems that surround them. Although fearful of unintended consequences, they may still succumb to the allure of being worshipped by others. When this happens, a cultish figure may result.

Motto: “Make things happen.”
Goal: Transformation
Superlative: Most likely to have had a sustained conversation with an otherworldly creature
Strength: Personal and transformative powers
Weaknesses: Manipulation of others, disconnecting from reality
Enjoys: Knowing how it’s done
Also known as: The Visionary, The Medicine Man, The Healer

The Rebel

Starring Katniss Everdeen

You’ll know Rebels by what they’re not. Never ones to conform, these characters actively fight the status quo, seeking to overturn systems and destroy what isn’t working. Because their greatest fear is powerlessness, their darker side reveals a destructive force terrible to behold.

 Motto: “Break the rules.”
Goal: Revolution
Superlative: Most likely to burn it all down
Strengths: Outrageous, radical
Weaknesses: Crime, doing harm to others
Enjoys: Takin’ it to The Man
Also known as: The Outlaw, The Revolutionary

The Creator

Starring Alexander Hamilton

Beauty is always in the eye of these beholders. Imaginative souls with a penchant for turning dreams into reality, Creators are the makers of all things meaningful, innovative and lovely. Ever fearing inauthenticity, these individuals can find themselves destructively self-indulgent and ineffective, always at the mercy of their own inspired impulses.

Motto: “Live your art.”
Goal: To make things of lasting value
Superlative: Most likely to sing an original song at your wedding
Strengths: Authenticity, originality
Weakness: Selfishness
Enjoys: Succumbing to late-night bouts of inspiration, Etsy
Also known as: The Inventor, The Artist

The Jester

Starring Donkey

Exuberant, tricky and joyful, all Jesters want is to enjoy life. With an insatiable desire to live in the moment, these characters fully participate in all things pleasurable and desperately fear what might happen if they don’t. At their worst, Jesters risk totally succumbing to irresponsibility, debauchery and sloth. 

Motto: “You only live once.”
Goal: To have a great time
Superlative: Class clown
Strength: Humor
Weakness: Laziness
Enjoys: April Fools’ Day, making fun of you while eating a slice of cake they stole from a birthday party
Also known as: The Fool, The Trickster

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Want to learn more about the craft of screenwriting? Discover your story with the online B.A. in Writing for Screen and Media at Point Park University. Using the work of Vogler, Point Park helps students craft their own exciting characters, narratives and worlds.

Sources: The English Literature Companion, Carl Golden, Center for Archetypal Studies and Applications  

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