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Anyone use character archetypes and how? (1 Viewer)

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Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
Anyone use character archetypes and how?

Thanks in advance.

I guess we can ask why use it? When it is best to use it? How can we use it? Why use it? We answered the why. The what of the situation of what it consists off?
 
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clark

Met3 Member
Staff member
Chief Mentor
There is tentative guilt--maybe too strong--how about nervousness over chastisement for 'sameness' of character development? I suppose Dickens would be the model, yes? He shamelessly leaned on stereotypes, but always added some little uniqueness, often with delightful subtlety, that brought a character to their OWN life. For example, Mrs. Micawber--the stereotypical housewife-in-the-background, a flat undeveloped character--amuses with her reiterated assurance, "I will never leave Mr. Micawber!" . . .as though it were an hourly contemplation . . . which quickens the reader's attention, and interest, in her relationship with her dysfunctional husband.

Maybe that's the key: USE the stereotype, but humanize ​it in some distinctive way?
 

Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
I like Clark's thought: "USE the stereotype, but humanize ​it in some distinctive way?"

They're used all the time so maybe watch a few movies and see how the archetype or stock character or stereotype is done in the films (to generate ideas on how you might create your characters). I immediately thought of the "femme fatale" and the film Fatal Attractions. And thought of "the hooker with the heart of gold" and the film Pretty Woman. And the Johnny Depp film that brought Don Juan back to life. If you mean myth archetypes you might enjoy watching O Brother Where Art Thou? It brings to life Odysseus, the Sirens, Tireseus, and Penelope (and other archetypes from myth). (Plus, O Brother is one of the funniest films ever made. Love those Cohen brothers!)


 

Greyson

Senior Member
I think an archetype is great as a framework for a character. It lets you plan really well, i.e. "I know I need someone to motivate the main character later, and this one archetype of 'teacher' is really well known for it's motivating speeches. I should maybe find a way to involve such a character." Once you get to the actual writing, I agree with Clark: find something to make them distinctive. It's a fallacy to believe every character must be different from every other character (it's not true in real life, and our ancestors already stole all the original character ideas), but by giving them a reason to exist as they are helps keep them from simply being a trope. i.e., having a character just for comedic relief, while it has its advantages, ultimately detracts from the story unless the character has a use in the story.

Not sure how familiar you are with animes, but they often have issues with overusing archetypes in unimaginative ways. This detracts minorly from the story usually, especially if you don't mind the sameness (I know plenty of people who don't mind, it's the story and interaction they care about). Thus, a positive is how *quickly* you can get into a story. Archetypes let you trace a few quick steps and immediately your audience is caught up. "ah, yes, this is the sage. so they'll train the MC and have good insight into the world" = immediate ethos without needing extensive exposition. this was also used to high effectiveness in old italian playwriting or kabuki theatre. in the latter, colors indicate a character's personality, allowing quick recognition of characterization without breaking from the story. the italian's "commedia dell'arte" was used to similar effect.

in both cases, the audience is immediately familiar with who each character is and can focus on immersing themselves in the story rather than worrying about the relations between characters. a pretty distinct advantage, i would argue.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commedia_dell'arte
http://mattpeoples.weebly.com/uploads/5/8/3/3/58331309/kabuki_theatre_characters.pdf

overall, it's likely most effective with serialized pieces where you're looking to tell an extensive story and that's the main focus over character development.

TL;DR: yes, they are good in my opinion, but have to have a reason for existing.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
There is tentative guilt--maybe too strong--how about nervousness over chastisement for 'sameness' of character development? I suppose Dickens would be the model, yes? He shamelessly leaned on stereotypes, but always added some little uniqueness, often with delightful subtlety, that brought a character to their OWN life. For example, Mrs. Micawber--the stereotypical housewife-in-the-background, a flat undeveloped character--amuses with her reiterated assurance, "I will never leave Mr. Micawber!" . . .as though it were an hourly contemplation . . . which quickens the reader's attention, and interest, in her relationship with her dysfunctional husband.

Maybe that's the key: USE the stereotype, but humanize ​it in some distinctive way?
Agreed with your statement that characters should be different. I do own a book titled as follows: heroes and heroines sixteen master archetypes by Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders. It lists: flaws, styles, background, virtues, qualities for each of the 16 archetypes in case anyone is interested. It also lists the occupations that are possible for each character. For each character I don't see as bad advice to reinvent them if possible. Lastly in includes interactions with stereotypes.
I like Clark's thought: "USE the stereotype, but humanize ​it in some distinctive way?"

They're used all the time so maybe watch a few movies and see how the archetype or stock character or stereotype is done in the films (to generate ideas on how you might create your characters). I immediately thought of the "femme fatale" and the film Fatal Attractions. And thought of "the hooker with the heart of gold" and the film Pretty Woman. And the Johnny Depp film that brought Don Juan back to life. If you mean myth archetypes you might enjoy watching O Brother Where Art Thou? It brings to life Odysseus, the Sirens, Tireseus, and Penelope (and other archetypes from myth). (Plus, O Brother is one of the funniest films ever made. Love those Cohen brothers!)


Agreed. Good point. Mythic archtypes are worth exploring. I actually have a book called a writer's guide to characterization: archetypes, heroic journeys, and other elements of dyanmic characracter development. I might use it. The mention of a prostitute with a heart of gold is covered in the book I mentioned in response to clark's post.
I think an archetype is great as a framework for a character. It lets you plan really well, i.e. "I know I need someone to motivate the main character later, and this one archetype of 'teacher' is really well known for it's motivating speeches. I should maybe find a way to involve such a character." Once you get to the actual writing, I agree with Clark: find something to make them distinctive. It's a fallacy to believe every character must be different from every other character (it's not true in real life, and our ancestors already stole all the original character ideas), but by giving them a reason to exist as they are helps keep them from simply being a trope. i.e., having a character just for comedic relief, while it has its advantages, ultimately detracts from the story unless the character has a use in the story.

Not sure how familiar you are with animes, but they often have issues with overusing archetypes in unimaginative ways. This detracts minorly from the story usually, especially if you don't mind the sameness (I know plenty of people who don't mind, it's the story and interaction they care about). Thus, a positive is how *quickly* you can get into a story. Archetypes let you trace a few quick steps and immediately your audience is caught up. "ah, yes, this is the sage. so they'll train the MC and have good insight into the world" = immediate ethos without needing extensive exposition. this was also used to high effectiveness in old italian playwriting or kabuki theatre. in the latter, colors indicate a character's personality, allowing quick recognition of characterization without breaking from the story. the italian's "commedia dell'arte" was used to similar effect.

in both cases, the audience is immediately familiar with who each character is and can focus on immersing themselves in the story rather than worrying about the relations between characters. a pretty distinct advantage, i would argue.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commedia_dell'arte
http://mattpeoples.weebly.com/uploads/5/8/3/3/58331309/kabuki_theatre_characters.pdf

overall, it's likely most effective with serialized pieces where you're looking to tell an extensive story and that's the main focus over character development.

TL;DR: yes, they are good in my opinion, but have to have a reason for existing.
Excellent post of the relationships and it being a pro and not a con of using archtypes. This would fall under character interaction or how conflict is produced. I have heard of that term you used which I think is the italian opera. They use that often there. I might have to watch that opera if it inspires.

Last book I will mention in the discussion but this book mentions stereotypes: the characters of theophrastus. This would be what clark was hinting at. The coward is covered here. It would be considered a stereotype in this book.

I don't know if this is the case but Holden, who is a famous character is considered a rebel in the first book I mentioned. So even people who were literary giants used them. Not to mention movies use them a lot it seems. So to the writer I guess it is useful. I am glad we have this discussion as it will influence me.

Also, archetypes for different careers such as a teacher you mentioned which could be an occupation could be a good inspiration for starting a story. Overall I agreee that it lets the writer see the big picture.

I guess we can ask why use? When it is best to use it? How can we use it? Why use it? We answered the why. I tried answering the how.
 
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Greyson

Senior Member
apologies, i must have misread the 'how' part of your question. frankly, i'm not entirely sure myself...it likely varies. but i think as a part of planning your story or contemplating who a character is would be a great starting point. stereotypes are useful for classification, and from a stereotype we can maybe derive more of who that character wants to be. for instance, the stereotype that a philosopher is anxious and an overthinker. from this, we can derive some idea of the philosopher's background; namely, that they likely openly questioned things as a young person, might have had a difficult time fitting into groups of people, and may exhibit some anti-social tendencies due to their experiences/worries. if we were then to compile all this into our character, we might see that our stereotypical philosopher character is shy and perhaps a bit aloof. we can craft an explanation of how they became like this -- maybe they had a love of reading and this lead them to be more bookish than personal.

or, to use my earlier example of the sage. we tend to think of a sage as someone with deep knowledge of the world who has isolated themselves due to an experience or need, and who is likely often hard to fathom. i think that while the new star wars movies failed pretty spectacularly at telling a compelling story, they offer good insight into making the sage. luke was supposed to be the man who brought the jedi back, but due to his own anxieties, he wound up destroying that opportunity. this informs his standoff with ray, and explains why his sage-ness is focused on isolation rather than enlightenment. for a time, we struggle with understanding the *why* until he reveals his reasoning. in another example, we can think of gandalf, who is not human but was placed in the world as a type of guardian. his sage-ness comes from a predisposition to protect and keep the world balanced/safe and his knowledge is from a superhuman comprehension of nature. his machinations are revealed slowly through the plot, but we quickly know he is a sage when he's first introduced. in both cases, the stereotype of 'knowledgeable' applies and provides a baseline for what the character will behave like. however, their past experiences separate their actualized characters and make each a different shade of sage.


so how to implement these? firstly, i think we can see that the stereotype has provided us the base layer of who this character is and what they bring to the story. since there are some similarities easily seen with the sage (namely, isolated, wise, cryptic, etc.) it is quick to establish them in a story. i've had a want to write something where the sage is met in a cafe where he spouts cryptic concepts to the character while disappearing for large periods to allow the ideas to be digested. to describe the character as older, with an unkempt beard, laughing to himself at a table apart from the rest of the patrons can indicate quickly what to expect. as such, an archetype seems like an excellent primer for the reader. by presenting the stereotype, you light the proverbial bulb in their head that 'ah, this person will be a bit odd, but what they say likely will be important'. (the fun part, imo, is then challenging that assumption by having the character say asinine things, but that's besides the point).

anyway, i hope that maybe touched a bit on the how? using the archetype briefly to present the character in the light you want the reader to see them in, followed by further characterization to incorporate them into your story. you likely can get away with just the archetype without more nuance in simpler styles of storytelling as well, just understanding that it might make them a less compelling part of the piece.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
I have heard of the sage archetype. It is something carol s Pearson describes as an archetype. I happen to be an orphan archetype according to my diagnostic test I administered to myself. I scored a 27, 27 for the sage, and 27 for the jester when I added the totals. I don't know which archetype I truly am. I was looking at my collection of books. I got excellent answers from everyone. Basically orphans hate authorities and are considered rebels that steer people always from painful experiences.

You have a good imagination. I surprisingly didn't expect to open this book I have in front of me until several years later. But the sage is one of the twelves ones mentioned. I got word that it was a good psychological system to study as mentioned by two books on screenwriting. I am glad since you have been sharing what you know. The sage as you envisioned it sounds intriguing to read. I only own two books by carol s Pearson, and it is favored by some people who give advice in screenwriting.

So yes I see and get the point about reinventing them to avoid sounding formulaic. There are also shadow complexes of the same characters that are archetypes.
 

Greyson

Senior Member
glad it was interesting to read! for more on archetypes, you might consider looking into Carl Jung as well, especially for things on shadow selves. and with that explanation of the orphan, i have to recommend reading Brandon Sanderson's "Stormlight Archives" series...i think he might have mastered the art of implementing archetypes ;). enjoy your reading!
 

kunox

Senior Member
Anyone use character archetypes and how?

Thanks in advance.

I guess we can ask why use? When it is best to use it? How can we use it? Why use it? We answered the why. The what of the situation of what it consists off?

Just thought I'd point this out... anime uses character archetypes all the time. It just develops them in different ways while still keeping them both fresh and true to the type. So if you use an archetype. please try to not be to cliche with them and develop them to be original... it's the characters that put a new spin on an old thing that are the best.
 

Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
Another good resource for archetypes and their use is Joseph Campbell's The Hero With A Thousand Faces. In the book Campbell explores eight character types in the hero's journey (plus he gives examples from modern works). These types include hero, mentor, herald, guardian, ally, trickster, shapeshifter, and shadow. I love the book. My copy is so marked up from so many readings that it's likely no one would want to touch it because it looks so awful.
 

vranger

Staff member
Supervisor
In 2010, a researcher at Stanford estimated there were 19 million books of fiction in print in English (alone).

The odds are low any of us is going to write a character that hasn't been written before. And while you can count a base number of archetypes, I've got a list of more than a hundred (with variations) as research for a game I'm toying around designing.

I don't think the question is do we use archetypes, because probably every character we write is in fact an archetype. So we fall back to Clark and Greyson's discussion ... differentiate them. As writers, we're concerned that our primary characters make a memorable impression on the reader. To do this, some writers turn to making one or more characters "quirky". There is some danger there, because "quirky" can be overdone and just become annoying.

It brings to mind the TV series "Monk". The creators' idea was a detective with Sherlock Holmes' powers of observation. That's too pat, so they needed a flaw. They piled on the flaws, making the character obsessive-compulsive plus possessing an uncountable list of phobias. That's a recipe which could have produced spectacular failure. Luckily, they found and cast Tony Shalhoub in the role. He was able to bring a humanity to the character, winning Emmys and keeping the show in production for years. I once read that Michael Richardson (Seinfeld) was in consideration for the role. Richardson would have overplayed the role and made the character as hideously annoying as he made his Seinfeld character. It was tolerable in his bit role, but it would have ruined a title role.

Shalhoub's Monk was somehow never annoying, I believe because he played it straight. He didn't use outrageous facial expressions. He didn't go "over the top". You've never seen anything like that character, but it was an archetype ... "The Flawed Hero".

So we have to hit that balance. Readers are going to recognize our characters. Differentiate too little, and they're too predictable. Differentiate too much, they can become unbelievable and/or annoying. I'm reading a series right now where I'm becoming annoyed with the main character. He has a consistent problem that to my taste is overused, and I'm just tired of it midway through the fourth book.
 

bdcharles

Wɾ¡ʇ¡∩9
Staff member
Media Manager
Anyone use character archetypes and how?

Thanks in advance.

I guess we can ask why use? When it is best to use it? How can we use it? Why use it? We answered the why. The what of the situation of what it consists off?

I probably - definitely - need to use archetypes more. As it is now, my characters come in as flashes of inspiration which means a lot of them end up being very similar either to one another, or to me. I also need to read proper scene/story-structuring books too, for similar reasons: to get a firmer handle on tropes and key elements.
 

Pamelyn Casto

WF Veterans
vranger wrote:
Shalhoub's Monk was somehow never annoying, I believe because he played it straight. He didn't use outrageous facial expressions. He didn't go "over the top". You've never seen anything like that character, but it was an archetype ... "The Flawed Hero".

*** I agree that Shalhoub did an outstanding job of bringing the Monk character to life-- through him, the "flawed hero" archetype became a memorable individual. I enjoyed Shaloub's role and the show a lot. And as you point out Michael Richardson would have likely overdone it (but I did enjoy his character in Seinfeld). Shalhoub did the Monk character just right. He "hit that balance."

I was looking at someone's list of archetypes last night (online) and this person came up with over 300.
 

Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
My characters are mostly imagined by me using inspiration that I have written in the past. I often did it without archetypes.

Good post vranger. I wish I had seen the series but I appreciate the example even though I can't analyze it but Pamelyn Castro could.

I did find a list of over 300 archetypes but it's from a psychologist. He has a reading list of four books. They are pricey if you read them all. One is by Carl jung. I still appreciate that Greyson mentioned his book. I am reminded there are things I need to learn about archetypes. I posted the link in the tavern in a thread started by Kunox on archetypes.
 
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Taylor

Staff member
Global Moderator
Anyone use character archetypes and how?

Thanks in advance.

I guess we can ask why use? When it is best to use it? How can we use it? Why use it? We answered the why. The what of the situation of what it consists off?

I try not to use them consciously, however, I base my characters on people I have met in real life, and it's amazing how many people have some archetypical features. But generally for protagonists and major characters, I think it's better to have at least one thing about them that breaks the mold. Otherwise, it's too predictable and could be a boring read.

However, that being said, sometimes you need to create a scene with a few minor characters and these characters help to create the situation. For example, a scene where someone is accosted by a security guard. An archetypical description, e.g., "a tall bald man wearing a black suit, the sleeves taut around his biceps", helps to set the mood of the moment, and how it makes the protagonist feel or react. There is no need to mention that the security guard is named Felix, and likes to write poetry on the weekend.
 
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Theglasshouse

WF Veterans
*immediately runs off and relates to all the shadow archetypes*

Fallen Heroes: Sixteen Master Villain Archetypes Kindle Edition
by Tami D. Cowden
You would enjoy this one then. She wrote the first one and authored the book I mentioned in this thread on archetypes.

@Taylor: I am not trying to convince everyone. But you could always use this as a tool of the imagination. A teacher turned rebel sounds like dead poets society to me if you saw that movie. It's the archetype I would match to that character. More freedom to experiment in the writing process is good. Character for some is plot. The more you "know" about your character the better.

@Tettsuo: Agreed. We are welcome to use them or it won't matter. I wouldn't mind using it. I think this is based less on real people. It can help though develop a real person I would argue to make their behavior have a more proactive demeanor. Instead of a passive character we'd have a reactive character that is active and taking an action because of a motivation we develop with the character's past history such as occupation or job being the one most mentioned in these books.

I'm still pending on the enneagram and other systems that some writers use. I have a lot of reading to do. That and Myers Briggs which I am sure some of you are familiar with. I own some books on that. The planner side of people who are writers like to use this system and others. Maybe it can work for those who write spontaneously too.

Are we asking about characters that are 2 dimensional and rounded? If the writer who penned holden's character used it we dont know. But he is and was a literary giant and even when to gather acclaim by critics and readers.

I would say the more we understand a character the more we understand our plot and thus story. It's my opinion but this statement sounds harmless to mention as a possibly true statement on how writers feel on storytelling. Unconscious likelihood of imagining a classic character in fiction believing it was an archetype character also apply.
 
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clark

Met3 Member
Staff member
Chief Mentor
Greysons's post #6 is a gem re the OP here, as is Pamelyn's reminder to us all of Joseph Campbell's awesome Hero With a Thousand Faces.

Like hers, my copy is so tattered, dog-eared, and shredded, I have to take it down from the shelf with two hands and no one is permitted to touch it but me.

But, my dear fellow writers--enuff READING. Glass will amass a library of thousands of volumes on how to do it, then discover he's run out of TIME to do't!! Is there not somewhere in Shakespeare: "if 'twere best to do't, 'twere best to do't quickly"? (sounds like Lady McB urging her husband to get on with discovering what a muthah- he really is, so's she can get on with washing her hands . . . .). I think of the closing lines of Sonnet 1 of Sir Phillip Sidney's interminable protestations of divine love:

Thus great with child to speak
And helpless in my throes
Cursing my truant pen
Beating myself for spite
Fool! said my Muse to me:
Look in thy heart, and WRITE!

(from memory. do not trust it. I don't, it's old. But I do stand by the last line . . . . )
 
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