How to Create Archetypal Characters

Just because characters are Archetypal does not mean they cannot be fresh and interesting. Archetypal Characters have just as many diverse characteristics as Complex Characters. The only difference is how these characteristics are divided among your story’s characters. When an equal number are given to each character and when all the elements making up each character are from a single “family” of elements, Archetypal Characters are created. In this sense, an Archetypal Character set is like an alignment of the planets: each individual orbit is complex, but we choose to observe them when they are all lined up in a clear and simple pattern.

Nonetheless, we must still explore all aspects of each character to make the Story Mind’s argument fully. However, since there is such consistency to the way the elements are distributed, the audience will anticipate the content of each character, allowing an author the luxury of using shortcuts to describe them. In fact, once a character is outlined enough to establish its Archetypal tendency, an author can leave out the rest of the information since the audience will fill it in anyway. In a sense, a character is guilty of being Archetypal until proven otherwise.

A Sample Story Using Archetypes

When an author wishes to concentrate primarily on action or entertainment, it is often best to take advantage of the Archetypal arrangement to fully make the story’s argument with a minimum of exposition. The characters still need to be interesting in order to involve an audience in their story. To illustrate how even Archetypal characters can be intriguing, let’s create story using only Archetypes and dress them up in some attractive storytelling.

Creating a Protagonist

We want to write a simple story using Archetypal Characters. We can create a PROTAGONIST called Jane. Jane wants to… what?… rob a bank?…kill the monster?… stop the terrorists?… resolve her differences with her mother? It really doesn’t matter; her goal can be whatever interests us as authors. So we’ll pick “stop the terrorists” because it interests us. All right, our Protagonist — Jane — wants to stop the terrorists.

Creating an Antagonist

Dramatica says we need an ANTAGONIST. Antagonist by definition is the person who tries to prevent achievement of the goal. So, who might be diametrically against the completion of the task Jane wants to accomplish? The Religious Leader whose dogma is the source of inspiration that spawns the acts of terror?… The multinational business cartel that stands to make billions if the terrorists succeed in their scheme?… Her former lover who leads the elite band of criminals? We like THAT one! Okay, we have our Protagonist (Jane) who wants to stop the terrorists who are led by her former lover (Johann).

Creating a Skeptic

Two simple Characters down, six to go. Dramatica now tells us we need a SKEPTIC. Who might oppose the effort and disbelieve in the ultimate success of good Jane? A rival special agent who doesn’t want to be left in the dust by her glowing success?… Her current love interest on the force who feels Jane is in over her head?… Her father, the Senator, who wants his daughter to follow him into politics? Good enough for us. So we have Jane who wants to stop the terrorists, pitted against her former lover Johann who heads the criminal band, and opposed by her father, the Senator.

Creating a Sidekick

To balance the Skeptic, we’re going to need a SIDEKICK. We could bring back her current lover but this time have him knowing how much ridding the world of scum-sucking pigs appeals to Jane so he remains steadfastly behind her. Or we might employ her Supervisor and mentor on the force who knows the depth of Jane’s talent, wants to inspire other young idealists to take action against threats to democracy, or prove his theories and vindicate his name in the undercover world… We’ll use the Supervisor. So here’s Jane who wants to stop the terrorists, pitted against her former lover Johann, the head of the band who wants to stop her, opposed by her father, the Senator, and supported by her Supervisor.

Creating a Contagonist

Let’s bring in a CONTAGONIST: the Seasoned Cop who says, “You have to play by the rules” and thwarts Jane’s efforts to forge a better modus operandi?… Or, the Ex-Con with a heart of gold who studies the classics and counsels her to base her approach on proven scenarios?… Or, her friend Sheila, a computer whiz who has a bogus response plan based on averaging every scenario every attempted? Computer whiz it is. So Jane wants to stop the terrorists, is pitted against the head of the band (her former lover Johann) who wants to stop her, opposed by her father, the Senator, supported by her Supervisor, and tempted by her friend Sheila, the computer whiz.

Creating a Guardian

Keeping in mind the concept of Dynamic Pairs, we are going to want to balance the Computer Whiz with a GUARDIAN. The Master of the Oriental martial arts who urges her to “go with the flow” (“Use The Force, Jane!”)?… The Ex-Con again who urges, “Get back to basics”?… or perhaps the Seasoned Cop who paves the way through the undercover jungle?…. We like the Seasoned Cop. Note how we could have used him as Contagonist, but elected to use him as Guardian instead. It’s totally up to us as authors which characteristics go into which players. Jane wants to stop the terrorists, is pitted against the head of the band (her former lover Johann) who wants to stop her, is opposed by her father, the Senator, supported by her Supervisor, tempted by her friend Sheila the computer whiz, and protected by the Seasoned Cop.

Creating Reason and Emotion Characters

Since we really like some of our earlier concepts for Characters, let’s use the Ex-Con as REASON, stressing the need to use classic scenarios. We’ll balance her with the Master of the Oriental martial arts, who maintains Jane’s need to break with the Western approach by letting loose and following her feelings.

Well, that seems to cover all eight Archetypal Characters: Protagonist, Antagonist, Skeptic, Sidekick, Contagonist, Guardian, Reason and Emotion. Finally, we have Jane who wants to stop the terrorists and is pitted against the head of the band (her former lover Johann) who wants to stop her, is opposed by her Father, the Senator, is supported by her Supervisor, tempted by her friend Sheila the computer whiz, protected by the Seasoned Cop, urged by the Ex-Con to copy the classics, and counseled by the Master of Oriental martial arts to let loose and follow her feelings.

From the Dramatica Theory Book

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