Archetypes can be very useful when creating characters. What are archetypes? They are patterns of characteristics that appear time and time again throughout stories, myths, legends, literature, movies, fiction, even in advertisements.
If you want to learn more archetypes there are plenty of books and websites that can help. I wish I had more time in this post to discus talk about them but, unfortunately, I have to report to work ASAP! 🙂
But the reason I bring them up is to direct your attention to Archetype Cards. Now, this is not a tarot deck. It’s actually based on Caroline Myss’ book Sacred Contracts. She uses these archetypes for another purpose in the book and in her seminars but, as for me, I’ve found her archetypes deck to be very useful when it comes to creating characters.
For example, one of the cards is called the Advocate. In the book that accompanies the deck, an Advocate is someone who champions the rights of others and is passionate about social injustice, so, for example, your character might be a social activist, a public defender or an environmentalist. There are both light and dark sides to each archetype. The Shadow side of the Advocate is someone who embraces causes but for their own personal gain.
Since there are 74 cards in the deck, which includes archetypes like the Detective, Engineer, Hero/Heroine, Mediator, this is a great deck for casting your characters. And, you can also combine archetypes, so imagine what a Monk/Nun who is also a Detective archetype would be like. Or a Judge who is also a Healer.
Or imagine having one character who is a Companion having to work with someone who’s a Warrior but exhibits the Shadow side of the archetype, that is he or she is indifferent to the suffering of others.
You can also use Myss’ Gallery of Archetypes if you don’t want to purchase the deck.
Not only does she list archetypes, but also examples of them in myth, film and literature. So, for example, for the Artist archetype she lists the following examples:
Films: Ed Harris in Pollock; Alec Guinness in The Horse’s Mouth; Isabelle Adjani in Camille Claudel; Kirk Douglas in Lust for Life; Gene Kelly in An American in Paris.
Drama: Amadeus by Peter Schaffer
Fiction: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce; The Horse’s Mouth by Joyce Cary.
Fairy Tales: Gepetto in Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi.
I’ve found both the deck and the gallery very useful for coming up with characters. Archetypes are a great base upon which to build your characters. Of course, you’ll move beyond the archetypal characteristics as you shape and mold your characters, so I wouldn’t worry so much about them being stereotypes. A stereotype is basically a type of character that’s just been copied and used so much it becomes cliched and tired. An archetype, however, is a template which has resonated through time and space and is made new by every storyteller or writer who uses it.