Since I am still without an oven, I’m going to depart from my schedule and post something other than a recipe today. The repairman is supposed to come this afternoon so, in lieu of writing about food, I’m going to write about writing.
Over on MarisMcKay.com, I’ve been working on a series of blog posts about character archetypes. I’ve spent too much time on the accompanying images not to try and broaden the audience, so this post will be devoted to heroes and I’ll dedicate Monday’s post to heroines. While collecting the examples of each type, I noticed sci-fi/fantasy may be overrepresented, but that’s what I’m most familiar with and I’ve decided not to apologize for it.
This theory of character development is contained in a book titled The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes. The ideas are based on Jung’s theory of collective unconscious. He identified major archetypes that arise from memories of shared human experience and serve as models for personalities. For this book, the authors suppose that
At the very core of a character, every hero can be traced back to one of eight major archetypes, as can every heroine. The core archetype tells the writer the most basic instincts of heroes or heroines — how they think and feel, what drives them and how they reach their goals.
The Chief His major virtues are that he is goal-oriented, decisive, and responsible. He can also be stubborn, unsympathetic, and dominating. “He is a man who seizes control whenever possible. Active, dynamic, and strong-willed, he urgently needs to fix problems and produce results.” This type of character is not discouraged by challenge, and is typically a born leader or a conqueror type of character.
The Bad Boy This type is succinctly described as “every schoolgirl’s fantasy and every father’s nightmare.” He is typically charismatic, street smart, and intuitive, but is also pessimistic, bitter, and volatile. This character “struts into every room, daring one and all to knock the chip from his shoulder. … All his life, he has been pointed out as a bad example, so he does his best to maintain that reputation.”
The Best Friend “Decent, kind and responsible … He fits in everywhere and is universally liked. Whether he operates out of a sense of duty or genuinely enjoys giving of himself, he is always there.” His main virtues are stability, a supportive nature, and tolerance. His flaws are that he can be complacent, myopic, and unassertive.
The Charmer This is the likable rogue type who can “make you believe in fairy tales” but “is not always there in the ever-after”. He is creative, witty, and smooth, but also manipulative, irresponsible, and elusive. “Exuding enormous charisma, he showers the people in his life with gifts of laughter and happiness. He is always fun, often irresistible, and frequently unreliable.”
The Lost Soul This character is devoted, vulnerable, discerning, brooding, unforgiving, and fatalistic. He is defined by an isolating event from his past. He “drifts through life with a heavy heart and a wounded spirit. He is dramatic, intriguing, and secretive. … This man has a poet’s voice, an artist’s creative genius, and a writer’s grasp on emotions.”
The Professor Some of my favorite characters — Daniel Jackson, Spock, Sherlock Holmes — share this type. They are “used to being the smartest man in the room,” are experts in their field, and can be absent minded or highly organized. They are analytical and genuine, but also insular, inhibited, and inflexible.
The Swashbuckler This character is an explorer or a daredevil, fearless and foolhardy. He is exciting but unreliable, capable of finding a solution to any problem, but selfish in pursing his goals. “He loves to leave his mark on every exploit, so he chooses the most rash and flamboyant method of achieving his aim. Impulsive and creative, this man lives for the next adventure.”
The Warrior Tenacious, principled, and noble, this character type is compelled to see justice done. They can be self righteous, relentless, and merciless with their enemies. A character of this type “believes evil cannot go unpunished. He cannot allow the bad guys to walk away, so trouble seems to follow him wherever he goes.” He defends the weak and is the perfect protector.
Writing With Archetypes
I’ve found this book helpful in coming up with ideas for strong characters. For one character, who was disappearing into the background of my finished novel, it’s helped me flesh him out so much that the sequel will be his story. He is a Warrior, and I’m going to layer on some Lost Soul characteristics to make him even more unique.
There is a wide variety within each type, so even if you don’t combine them there is plenty of room for character development. As the writers of this book said, Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady is a chief, like Captain Kirk, but you wouldn’t want him commanding a Starship. If you’re a writer and you can find a copy (the book is out of print, so I use one from the library), I highly recommend this resource.