The Big Bold List of 52 Character Archetypes!
Hello Fearless Writers!
Welcome to 52 Weeks of 52 Kick Ass Tools. I thought it fitting to kick off this year of awesome tools with the Big Bold List of 52 Character Types. This list was put together over years (yes years) starting with just seven types and growing into the beast you have before you. The list has officially been reviewed and used and picked apart and polished and dare I say it, done. I promise to add not one more type. (Unless of course you write me with something fascinating that I have omitted!)
“To a writer, archetypes are the blueprints for building well defined characters, be they heroes, villains or supporting characters. In using archetypes, the essence of your character is narrowed down so she jumps off the page at the reader instead of blending in with all the other characters.” — Victoria Schmidt, author of 45 Master Characters
Why use archetypes as a character building tool?
Knowing the archetype may assist you in fleshing out your character and in building a complete world. No understanding of Archetypes is complete without a basic introduction to Carl Jung.
Carl Jung was a Swiss psychiatrist (1875-1961) and influential writer/thinker who made a deep impact in both literature and psychology. He was a close collaborator with Freud before he broke away, founding the field of analytic psychology.
For our purposes here and simply put, he analyzed behaviors and personality types and categorized them into archetypes.
Many writers shy away from using “character types”. They fear they will be writing a stock character – one that lacks originality, depth and complexity. My argument is that there is a lot to be learned about from studying archetypes and that you can make your archetype original by placing him/her in an unexpected role.
Every story has a hero. A hero is an archetype. Is every hero in every story unoriginal? Hell no. If you still need more convincing, read on.
Q: Why should I use archetypes?
Makes a story feel fully developed. We expect to see the hero and villain (both archetypes) and adding further archetypes can help your world to feel full, complex and real.
It contributes to identifiability. People will feel they know someone “just like that”.
Assists with writing believable group dynamics. You want real group dynamics, take a handful of archetypes and throw them in a room together and let them duke it out.
Conflict between archetypes creates tremendous dramatic tension.
Archetypes perform essential functions that may be necessary for your story. You may need a character to point your hero in the right direction, or in the wrong direction. You may need a character to offer advice, provide wisdom or specialized knowledge. You may need a character to push the hero into facing his fears. You may need a character to be the voice of temptation, or faith, or logic or purity. All these voices stem from archetypes.
It’s a grounding force. When we see/read an archetype, though he may look a particular way, the audience is grounded in knowing who they are on some deep, unexplainable way.
John Truby, storytelling guru and Author of The Anatomy of a Story states:
“Using archetypes as a basis for your characters can give them the appearance of weight very quickly, because each type expresses a fundamental pattern that the audience recognizes, and this same pattern is reflected both within the character and through interaction in the larger society.”
And so, without further delay, here you go:
THE BIG BOLD List of 52 Character Types From A-Z (Freedman, 2014)
Artist: Sensitive, Withdrawn, Expressive, Dramatic, Self-Absorbed, Temperamental, Romantic and Visionary, full of passion, creativity and intensity, spontaneous, loving, loves to impact change, trouble controlling emotions, takes things to extremes, unaware of boundaries
Beast: physically unattractive but with humanity or physically attractive but without humanity, a representation of the primitive past of man
Boss: The Leader of the pack, the “go to” person, the solver of problems, may be overbearing and controlling, competitive, stubborn, aggressive, status seeking, can be chronically rude
Career Criminal: commits crime with high stakes, smart, suspicious, may be highly skilled, plans carefully, may move often, can be charming, feels like an outcast, creates his own morality
Child: can be young in age or in spirit, loves adventures, seeking play and playmates, potential, innocence, rebirth, salvation, believes in good vs. evil
Clown/Joker: Uses humor to cope and avoid tough emotions/intimacy, Serves as happy distraction, makes others happy by joking around/diffusing the tension, may be sad inwardly- does not show this to outsiders, thinks he is helping people by relieving stress. (Note: a more pure form of this archetype is the Jester – always lighthearted and joking but he/she is always pure of heart and truly caring for others like Kramer in Seinfeld.)
Do-er/Achiever: Focus is on success, often has experienced success, often building a track record, great ability and ambition, at times cannot see the bigger picture and loses out on love/family/living in the moment due to single mindedness. Organized, driven and often needs to be seen as a winner. Rarely stands still.
Emotionally Sick: Mentally disabled, dependent, sometimes the focal point of the family, can create chaos, draining on others
Enabler: Maintains group balance by rescuing the irresponsible one and smoothing things over. Often faces a dilemma: if he/she does not bail the irresponsible one out of a bad/dangerous situation, the irresponsible one could do serious harm to self or others. May be contributing to the irresponsible behavior by continuing to rescue and cover up- but believe that they are simply being helpful.
Father: Source of authority and protection, powerful, strict, often inducing fear, protects loved ones fiercely, wants to win, can be an activist, very physical, motivated by survival, can be career focused, sometimes fails to think things through
Feminist: the female cause is her cause. Masculine side is just as strong as her feminine side, intuitive, instinctual, task oriented, can be seen as cold, self-sufficient and goal oriented, can be boastful
Femme Fatale: Seductive, charming, loves being in control, loves the thrill of the chase, often provokes jealousy, has star quality, fashion conscious
Flamboyant/Show Off: Extrovert. Likes to be the center of attention, extreme need to display intelligence, talent or body, often deeply insecure, overcompensating for a deep need to be loved/connection, can be dramatic and easily upset, flaky
Fool: still a little boy or girl inside, seeks to play/find a playmate, wandering off in confusion and faulty directions, creates chaos for others, cares for children, takes risks, avoids commitments and responsibility, fears boredom, loves freedom, can be charming
Gender Bender: Feels they were born in the wrong body, may try to correct the issue, may have two identities (one male, one female), does not act for sexual thrill, can be loyal, appreciates loyalty, seeking their place in society
Girly Girl: Innocent, Feminine, focused on all things girl, beauty, can be extremely naive, helpless or dependent, idealistic and coy, nurturing, passive, difficulty expressing anger or dealing with conflict, boosts men’s egos, may doubt own adequacy, flirtatious
God or Goddess: All powerful, source of magic, can provoke fear, awe, humility, the great mother, or Mother Earth
Guy’s Guy: masculine in an exaggerated way, rugged, tough, fearful of weakness, adventurous and aggressive, worldly, sexually experienced, ambitious, need to win, risk taker, may have rocky relationships with women
Imposter/Pretender: take advantage of situations, intelligent, verbal, delights in deceiving people, looking for the weakness to exploit it, may make a career out of deception, makes his own rules, rationalizes his life choices
Investigator/thinker – Withdrawn, Intense, Cerebral, Perceptive, Innovative, Secretive, and Isolated, Can become obsessed/highly focused on a goal. Finding what is hidden/unknown brings creative joy.
Irresponsible /Drug Addict-Alcoholic – avoids commitment, dedicated to the moment, to his freedom, fears being chained down to a schedule, can turn to drugs and alcohol, lives life on her own terms, discounts societal rules, selfish, narcissistic, creates chaos by acting on own desires, destabilizes the group
Journeyman/Hero: Journeys on quest, Champion, defender, rescuer, travels on journey to realize his/her destiny, can lose sight of all but his journey, often reluctant to go on journey, to be a fully realized hero he must face his greatest fears and flaws
King: Ruler, Sees the big picture (often avoiding the details), cares for the whole village, can be authoritative, lacking emotion, can be an addict, craves self-esteem and self-respect, confident, strategist, needs a kingdom, can be controlling, fear provoking, stoic, unable to express emotions
Know-It-All/Reformer: superior attitude, can be self-absorbed, tries to come across as having it all together but often just seems silly, full of it, low self-esteem, need to be seen as an expert, may try to change others or situation
Loner – isolates, struggles to connect with others / socially inept, avoids conflict, invested in his rich inner world only, fears the world, usually intelligent, reliable and loyal trusted few, can have large imagination, feels alien to others
Lover/Love Interest: Romantic, sincere, dedicated to object of his/her affection, often poetic or artistic, often the symbol of home base or security, believes in the hero, the person the hero can vent to
Loyalist: Strong ability to support others, bonds and stays, can lack self-worth, doubts abilities, tends to isolate when not with specific loved ones, big hearted, can get behind a cause
Magician or Shaman: Offers an elixir, explains the mysteries of life, may provoke fear in others, spiritual, powerful, often loves to be alone/dislikes the spotlight
Maiden: innocence, desire, purity, often searches to be rescued, inexperienced and naive, often self-confident, playful, takes risks, may want to party and have fun, can be sexy and child-like
Manipulator: charming, intelligent, ability to read the needs of others and use the information, sly, deceitful, crafty, may appear attractive at first or on the surface, ability to pull others in, can play the role of the backstabber
Mentor: advisor, expert, intelligent and wise, wants to be in hero’s life, cares for hero, can be positive or negative force in hero’s life, can be a competitive relationship with the mentor struggling to let go
Mother: Source of nurturing and comfort, calming, center of the hearth, offers guidance, can be over-controlling and worrisome, sense of duty to help others is strong, can be needy, a martyr and passive aggressive
Narcissist – self-absorbed, inability to see the needs of others, draws the attention back to himself, often a show off, low self-esteem, lacks empathy for others, needs to be admired, will express his grandiose sense of self, often politicians or religious leaders due to ready, admiring audience
Nemesis/Challenger: a friendly troublemaker, has a surface-friendly relationship with the hero but his main goal is to mess up the hero’s life, often jealous, the nemesis loves to hate the hero, in fact it’s part of his life’s purpose
Observer: watches all but often quiet. Usually a deep thinker and when he/she does speak, it is something of importance, insight or gravity. Will withhold judgment until all of the evidence is in. Can be fiercely loyal to hero or to his tribe. Has trouble letting loose and having fun.
Peacemaker: Tries to be the force of peace, dislikes conflict, Easygoing, Self-Effacing, Receptive, Reassuring, Agreeable, and Complacent
Perfectionist/Conformist: needs precision, pressures others to reach for the best, hard on themselves/others, can be rigid, purposeful finds it painful to live outside society’s expectations, cares deeply what others think, anxious, can be a team player, finds meaning and stability in rules/regulations
Pessimist/Depressive: glass half empty point of view, pulls others down, self-absorbed, Debbie downer, will offer disapproval, why try attitude, will take no risks, spreads doubt, defeat, confusion
Psychopath – no conscience, amoral, inability to feel or care for others, no sense of guilt or consequences, can be source of fear, easily bored, motivated by money, impulsive, irresponsible, no sense of belonging, no strong emotions, rationalizes his behavior
Queen: Ruler, willing to sacrifice herself for the greater good, can be stoic, has masculine qualities, can be the bringer of harsh truth, stands up for beliefs, protective, loyal, wants to keep order, strong, can be boastful
Rage-Filled: goes from irritated to fury quickly, violent, can’t control temper, dislikes most people, often self-loathing, loyal. Ironically when calm can be loving, likes to laugh and be passionate.
The Reformer: Rational, Idealistic, Principled, Purposeful, Self-Controlled, and often a Perfectionist
The Robot/Intellectual – Hides in their knowledge, intelligence trumps feelings, may struggle socially, low communication skills, high abilities, strength can lie in their objectivity
Scapegoat – the one to blame when things are going wrong, the person who acts out in a dysfunctional family, he often suffering the shortcomings of others often the one that receives all the negative attention. (The acting out teen sent to therapy who deals with drunk father nightly – but he is seen as the sick one) Can be rebellious, perhaps antisocial, ‘juvenile delinquents.’
Scaredy Cat/Fearful: worrier, anxious, brings fear/panic to others, hides from life and new experiences, the member of the group who will bring up what might go wrong in any scenario
Trickster: trouble maker, liar, rascal agent that pushes us toward change, self-absorbed, can be entertaining or charming
Troubled Teen – hates rules, defies authority, can be depressed, self-centered and angry, loyal to fellow criminals, feels above the law, vulnerable (cults and drugs)
Upside Down Hero/Anti-Hero – motivated by base or lower nature drives. Driven by pursuit for power, sex, money, control. Need to fill his/her appetite is big and often all that matters. Can be selfish, anti-social, power-hungry, and materialistic. An Anti-hero is useful in storytelling, by examining the dark side of an anti-hero the audience may be able to explore/come to terms with their own shadow side.
Warrior Hero: takes action, takes on causes, fights for what he believes, single minded, leads the pack, craves blood and battle, most in touch with his rage/anger as primary emotions, takes risks to compensate for loneliness, doesn’t expect to live long
Wild One/Flamboyant/Rebel: Cares little what others think, walks to the beat of their own drum, often likes to shock/display their different/offbeat world view, against the grain of society
Wise Old Man/Woman: sage, guidance, keeper of profound knowledge, wisdom, has “seen it all”
Wizard/Psychic: eccentric, possesses knowledge about hidden secrets of the earth, often sought out when transformation is needed. The Psychic may possess knowledge of other worlds or of the future
Woman’s Man: loves women above all else, women love him and are drawn to his inspirational, passionate qualities, smooth talker motivated by love and belonging yet may have trouble committing, searching for impossible ideal, can be irresponsible/flighty, sensual and erotic, can be seen as a dreamer, chivalrous and gentle, driven by experiences
Vampire: Uses people for his/her needs. Passionate, sometimes romantic, experiences life in a heightened way, strong emotions, self-absorbed, can be dominating and secretive
Victim: “poor me” mentality, believes they will always suffer, looks for evidence that life is working against them
Zombie/Monster: half human or not human at all, provokes fear, panic, sometimes has human qualities/elements