Archetypes were first introduced by psychiatrist Carl Jung who believed these inborn personality styles could be used to not only classify but diagnose and predict behaviors. As humans, we have several styles which we default to when stressed and when we’re feeling courageous, we embrace our latent styles and experiment with new ones. Archetypes help us understand who we are and who we may be interacting with.
The same can be said for your characters.
You may find that your villain is also a thief, seductress, magician, and bad girl all wrapped into one. Your hero may align with the behavioral tendencies expected of a historian, detective, and coward; but through his arc evolution unleashes the warrior within.
A character’s archetype(s) informs the reader who they are at their core and provides clues as to how they developed to whom they are today. And just like us, your characters can have multiple personalities—in a good sense. But when writing, that can get a bit complicated. So, by diving into your characters archetypes in advance to writing your book, you may find it improves your writing experience exponentially. While archetypes are not designed to restrict your writing or put your characters in a box, they do serve as inspiration. And since many are commonly understood, it helps the reader grasp your characters tendencies and motivations.
If you find yourself struggling to understand your character’s personality or want to ensure that your reader will identify with their persona, you may want to start with an archetype exercise. One of the better programs out there to help you build your archetype expertise is the Masterclass Writing 101: The 12 Literary Archetypes by Neil Gaiman and the book Archetypes: Who Are You? By Caroline Myss.