Archetypes and Characters

Whenever I read books, I’m always drawn to characters I can connect with somehow. Sometimes I connect with a character because she is going through something I’ve been through. Sometimes, I connect with a character because I can relate to her thoughts or feelings. Other times, though, I connect with a character because his adventures are something I would like to experience.

Whatever the reason, I enjoy the characters I can understand in some way. When I understand why a character is the way he is, why he does what he does and why he feels a certain way, I am able to connect with the character and share in his journey.

Carol Pearson and Hugh Marr, in their book What Story Are You Living? Define an archetype as

“…a universal set of roles, situations and themes that are recognizable to everyone…”

They go on to explain the following importance of archetypes:

When we understand the stories and recognize their universality, we can connect with each other at deeper and more conscious levels, using the archetypal stories as the foundation.”

Archetypes are the driving force behind the universality of a character or theme. Everyone, on some level—whether consciously or subconsciously—recognizes an archetype when they see one.

This is why I use archetypes as a jumping off point for creating characters. If  I base my character on a universally understood archetype, anyone who reads my story (whether they live in Antartica or Africa) will somehow be able to understand what the character is about, and what role he/she is playing in the story.

That’s the theory anyway.

It seems to be working so far as my critique group members haven’t yet complained about any of my characters. J Maybe they’re just too nice, but I’d like to believe it’s because I’ve created unique, yet universal characters that people will remember for ages.  Yes, I try to be a positive thinker. It keeps the inner critic (the mean one) at bay.

There is an awesome tool which I discovered which deal precisely with archetypes.

This is Caroline Myss’s Archetype Cards.

archetype cards Archetypes and Characters

Each of the 80 Archetype Cards, have descriptions of basic Light and Shadow (i.e. good and bad) Attributes of a different archetype. There are also six blank cards which I can use to create my own archetypes.  The box also comes with a guidebook which explains each of the archetypes in better detail.

archetype cards set 1024x800 Archetypes and Characters

Whenever I have to create new characters, I go through the cards and read through each description. Once I’ve chosen a card, I keep it beside me as I write the character’s profile.  It helps me keep the character’s role, as well as his good and bad traits clearly in my mind.

Also, when I find myself running low on story/plot inspirations, I simply leaf through the cards and somehow, I find another story tell.

I’ll most likely to an archetype series where I feature one archetype I used in making my own characters. For now, I’ll leave you with this:

Hero Heroine 704x1024 Archetypes and Characters

This is the archetype I relate to the most whenever I read books, and the archetype I based my protagonist on.  This is probably because I see myself as the heroine of my own story. “Passion for a journey of personal empowerment” describes precisely what I feel as I live my life.

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18 Responses to “Archetypes and Characters”

  1. edie pagliasotti says:

    This is fascinating! Thank you. Hope to see you at Writer’s Day (4/16) or Working Writer’s Retreat (Sept 9-11). This year at Holy Spirit Retreat Center.
    Hugs, Edie

  2. Emma Price says:

    Great! I love the explanation about characters. Good blog entry.

  3. What a good way to jump start developing 3 dimensional characters.I love the idea of starting with something familiar and then making it special. I especially like the idea of looking at both the light and dark facets of a “type” or personality.

    Thanks and good luck!


  4. nutschell says:

    Hi Sarah!
    First of all, I love your website. Secondly, thanks for your kind words. I love character-driven stories so I always strive to make my characters 3D. Looking at both their positive and negative traits helps me flesh them out. :)

  5. Ann Wagner says:

    Thanks for this! It’s a great (and fun!) tip for creating characters. I could use this in writing workshops I do for teens in the summer, too.

  6. WritingNut says:

    Great post, and very informational! :)

    Thank you so much for stopping by my blog the other day. I’m so surprised I haven’t stumbled across yours earlier! The similarities are “nuts” (no pun intended :D )

    Great to meet you :)

    • nutschell says:

      Hey WritingNut!
      I do love your blog. It’s so informative. I will definitely add it up to my google reader as soon as i get the chance. I love how the internet allows us to connect with other like-minded people. It would be cool to meet you in person one day!

  7. Jennie says:

    Those are the COOLEST cards! I am coveting them. What a great writing tool. You have the best stuff – from programs to books to cards!

    • nutschell says:

      Hey Jen!
      They really are the coolest. You’ve given me an idea to start a contest. I need more followers and I’m thinking of giving away an archetype box set to current readers who can encourage others to follow my blog. What do you think?

  8. Lynn Kelley says:

    This is very informative and interesting, Nutschell. I think your contest is a great idea, and I think any writer would love to win the archetype box set!

  9. [...] those Archetype Cards I was raving about? (You can read about how to use Archetype Cards to create characters [...]

  10. [...] (If you are so inclined and have time at your disposal, might I suggest that you read or re-read my article on Archetypes and Characters?) [...]

  11. [...] out these Archetype cards that The Writing Nut is talking about. I haven’t actually seen them in hand, but I’m [...]

  12. [...] those Archetype Cards I was raving about? (You can read about how to use Archetype Cards to create [...]

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