Welcome to the wonderful and mysterious world of Archetypes.
The word “archetype” was coined by Carl Jung, who theorized that humans have a collective unconscious, “deposits of the constantly repeated experiences of humanity…. a kind of readiness to reproduce over and over again the same or similar mythical ideas….” This shared memory of experiences has resulted in a resonance of the concepts of hero and heroine that transcends time, place and culture. Jung called these recurring personalities archetypes, from the Greek word archetypos, meaning “first of its kind.”
The observations my coauthors and I made are that there are recurring character types who have starred in story after story, entertaining and informing the human experience for millennia. Review of myths, legends, fairy tales, epic poems, novels and film reveals that the protagonist types who recur in these stories fall into sixteen distinctive categories, eight each for the heroes and heroines. These archetypes are not the inventions of my coauthors and me – they have existed for millennia. All we did was name and describe them, and then gather examples from an assortment of cultural media.
At his or her core, every well-defined hero or heroine is one of the respective archetypes. The archetype tells the writer about the most basic instincts of the hero: how he thinks, how he feels, what drives him and why he chooses both his goals and his methods. The skillful writer, in turn, conveys these instincts to the readers or audience, who, knowing at a glance the character of this hero, settles down to watch the tale retold anew.
But beware when trying to decide what archetypal family to which a character belongs.
AN ARCHETYPE IS NOT DETERMINED BY THE CHARACTER’S ACTIONS!!!!
I am serious – what the character does is not the defining element. The defining element is WHY the character does what he does.
“Any archetype can do anything – the question will always be why.”
Repeat that a thousand times. Tape it to your computer screen. If you have the book, deface the cover by writing those words across it!
What that means is that I don’t want you thinking you have to have four different archetypes because your character does four things that are what those four archetypes do. Uh-uh. Not the way it works. WHY, WHY, WHY – always look for the answer to that question to determine an archetype.
The existence of these archetypes, by the way, does not mean that in all of literature, there are only eight heroes. Members of the same archetypal family are not photocopies of each other. Heroes within a single archetypes share a similar psyche, but they are not and should not be clones of each other.
For example, Captain Kirk of Star Trek is a CHIEF. He gives his orders, never doubting his loyal crew will jump to follow him. His work — his ship — is his mistress, his one and only true love. He does, indeed, boldly go forth into the universe, and presents the very picture of a leader. But Henry Higgins, of My Fair Lady is also a CHIEF. He, too, blithely announces his will, knowing his commands will be obeyed. He has no doubt that his opinion is correct, and anything he wishes to be done, is, in fact, the correct thing to do. But Star Trek would have been a very different program had Henry Higgins sat in the Enterprise’s captain’s chair. Eliza Doolittle would not have brought Captain Kirk his slippers.
Archetypes are not stereotypes; they are not cookie cutters. They can be considered a framework, or even better, a lump of clay of a particular color and consistency. Use the archetype as raw material to create a full bodied character.
Carl Gustav Jung developed an understanding of archetypes as being “ancient or archaic images that derive from the collective unconscious …