A reader doesn’t need to like all the characters in your book, but they want to understand what makes them tick. They want to learn more about them. They want to know what motivates them. They want to follow them on their journey. They want to see them evolve and realize their arc. And when all of that happens, a book builds a fanbase and of course, sells more copies.
To make this magic happen, writer’s often use archetypes to create a bond between their characters and readers.
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. Many study archetypes to help them grow spiritually and emotionally and even become a healthier and whole human being.
The same can be said for your characters. Storyboarding your character’s archetype(s) and their evolution can keep you on track as your plot evolves and help you divine an unforgettable character. 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 found in one of the following resources:
The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes by Tami D. Cowden. Designed to take the mystery out of creating compelling and clever characters when writing, this book is a collective of exerts, instructors, and authors sharing their secrets on how to develop characters that are less stereotypical and more engaging. There are examples and illustrations that help the reader/writer develop their skills with character creation.
Character Creation: A Guide to Archetypes, Motivation & Emotion for Writers & Actors by Paul Tomlinson. Here’s a great perspective on archetypes, writing, and acting in the definitive guide to creating 3-dimensional characters. Tomlinson is a writer with a large collection of fiction books and how-to writing books alike.
Masterclass Writing 101: The 12 Literary Archetypes by Neil Gaiman is the definitive class for understanding archetypes and why they matter in writing. A comic book writer and expert in the art of storytelling, Gaiman has designed this class to help writer’s build their characters and skill with their craft.
Archetypes: Who Are You? by Caroline Myss. This intensive text is the go-to guide for understanding a plethora of archetypes and how they characterize human behavior. It’s not only a wonderful study for those deeply interested in learning as much as possible about archetypes, but also how their application in real life (and literature) can be a predictor of success.
Awakening the Heroes Within: Twelve Archetypes to Help Us Find Ourselves and Transform Our World by Carol S. Pearson. This book outlines twelve archetypal patterns that are active, dormant, or attractive to individuals. It provides a guide to personality evolution and how to function well in society and in certain situations. Pearson’s goal is to help the reader transform and awaken their spirit, soul, and the capacities of one’s psyche.
The Five Archetypes: Discover Your True Nature and Transform Your Life and Relationships by Carey Davidson. This book explores archetypes through the lens of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) philosophy. It focuses on the elements Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal, and Water as the foundation of how nature grows and evolves and when better understood can serve as a personality archetype that helps with living a more fulfilling life on every level.