Last week, I wrote a post about the eight hero archetypes listed in The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes. I’ve used this book extensively since I discovered it in the library, and I’ve found it a great help in crafting dynamic characters. Characters I wrote before reading it even fit in the archetypes, which I’m taking as a sign that I was on the right track with character development. For these characters, the descriptions have helped me edit them to be stronger and more consistent.
If you’re a writer and you can find a copy of the book, I highly recommend using it. If not, here’s a brief overview of each description for the eight female archetypes. All the quotes below are from the descriptions in the book.
This is a strong, tough character who wants to win at all costs. Typically, such a character always got her own way growing up and wants that to continue. “She will shade the truth in order to gain her objective and she is not above manipulating circumstances to make things go her way.”
Assertive, strong, and clever, this type of character learned at a young age she could charm people into doing what she wanted. She is cynical, driven, manipulative. “Her true desires and motives are carefully concealed behind a sensual smile. Knowledge is power, so she makes sure no one knows her” and instinctively distrusts people.
The Spunky Kid
This is the “heroine underdog.” She has a sense of humor and is reliable, supportive, unassuming, and skeptical. Sometimes, she “hides behind her sarcastic wit, and her lack of confidence may make her play down her best attributes, but she is spirited, cheerful and the most loyal of friends.”
The Free Spirit
Sincere, upbeat, and imaginative, this type of character can also be impulsive, meddling, and undisciplined. They have a strong sense of individuality and never plan anything, but always seem to land on their feet. She is a natural entertainer, and “may be a handful for anyone who has to deal with her, but she makes the experience worthwhile in her zany, high-spirited way.”
This character is trusting, easily influenced, kind, and insecure. She inspires others to want to save her, and is generally content to let herself be rescued. “Her delicate fragility makes her an easy target … [and] she adapts to any situation she falls into without complaint.” You’re far less likely to see her in fiction of today than the other archetypes, but that does not mean she should be avoided.
There is something refreshing about a heroine who does not talk back or fight every battle, but rather, allows a man to be a man and believes that if left well enough alone, situations will resolve themselves.
This type of character likes to organize everything. She is efficient, serious, dependable, rigid, repressed, and a perfectionist. She assumes she has all the answers and, “more often than not, she is right, but she can be a bit stubborn about considering other opinions.” She is also portrayed as having a passionate side when she “lets her hair down.”
“This is a heroine in the truest sense — deeds of valor are right up her alley.” She is courageous, resolute, and persuasive. Her flaws include obstinacy, rashness, and being outspokenly opinionated. She wants to set the word straight and “has no faith in the intrinsic merit of human nature; no belief that all will end well if left alone.”
A character of this type needs to be needed. She is optimistic, capable, idealistic, self-sacrificing, and willing to compromise so she won’t hurt anyone’s feelings. Before thinking of herself, “she makes sure that all her loved ones are happy and content … Her serene, capable and patient manner invariably soothes troubled souls or hurting hearts.”
There are three approaches to using these archetypes to create characters. A character could be a “core archetype,” fitting into a singe archetype and remaining consistent through the course of the story. Characters can also evolve, changing from one archetype to another because of the events of the story. Layered characters have elements of two archetypes, which may take turns being dominant but will not change over the course of the story.
An example of evolving archetypes is the Beast in Beauty and the Beast, who changes from a Lost Soul into a Chief as a result of Belle’s nurturing character. Layered characters include MacGyver (Warrior and Professor), Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady (Waif and Spunky Kid), and Princess Leia (Boss and Crusader).
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about these character types, and that it sparks an idea for your own writing (or at least provided some interesting reading while procrastinating from writing 😉 ).