8th October 2022
The 12 Literary Archetypes to Inspire Your Writing
Literary archetypes are characters based on qualities that are universal to the human experience, making them easily identifiable to readers. If you’re interested in learning more about the history of archetypes, psychologist Carl Jung proposed that these universal themes (or Jungian archetypes) are derived from the collective unconscious and can influence our personalities and behavior.
As an author, using literary archetypes in your writing can help you to create characters that your audience connects with. Their familiarity will hook your readers and keep them invested in your story.
We’ve put together a complete guide for 12 common literary archetypes (along with a few famous examples) to provide inspiration for your next writing project. Check it out below!
1. The Caregiver
The caregiver is motivated by the need to help and protect those around them, and they often make sacrifices, including neglecting their own needs, to do so. This archetype is often portrayed as a loyal parent, spouse, or best friend who will do whatever it takes to help the protagonist succeed in their journey.
- Strengths: Loving, selfless, generous, honorable, compassionate
- Weaknesses: Lacks personal determination, is vulnerable to exploitation
2. The Creator
The creator is motivated to make lasting contributions to their society through their own creations, and they often question reality or think outside of the box in pursuit of their discoveries. This archetype can be portrayed as anything from an inventor or businessperson to a musician, writer, or other type of artist.
- Strengths: Creativity, imagination, willpower, conviction
- Weaknesses: Perfectionism, self-involved, single-minded, self-sacrifice
In Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dr. Victor Frankenstein is obsessed with knowledge, particularly regarding science, and believes he can discover the secrets of life by creating a new species.
However, Frankenstein’s arrogant obsession proves tragic when his creation, who he refers to as a monster, comes to life, and Frankenstein dies in his attempts to escape his own creation.
3. The Explorer
The explorer is motivated by the pursuit of self-discovery and is willing to step outside of their comfort zone to learn new things. These characters are wary of conforming to strict societies and often seek freedom and authenticity.
This archetype is great for progressing plotlines, as they can encourage and inspire confidence in the protagonist.
- Strengths: Self-improving, curious, ambitious, fearless
- Weaknesses: Restless, unreliable, often unfulfilled
4. The Hero (Warrior)
The hero is often the main character (protagonist) of a story. The hero is motivated by the need to make the world better and is willing to fight against all odds, including the antagonist, so they are tasked with solving the significant challenges in a plotline.
While this archetype is central to most stories, it’s important to combine other literary archetypes into your writing. Since this character often questions their abilities along the journey, other characters are needed to help them overcome their struggles and progress the plot.
- Strengths: Confidence, physical and mental strength, courage, perseverance, honor
- Weaknesses: Overly confident in some areas and insecure in others
5. The Innocent
The innocent is often a child-like character who is motivated to find happiness and contentment in life. Although the innocent sees the world as good and full of wonder, they learn difficult lessons as the plot progresses, which help them to mature.
This archetype is also great for progressing plotlines, as their unique perspectives can help the hero overcome the struggles they face during their journey.
- Strengths: Optimism, imagination, purity, kindness, sincerity, morality
- Weaknesses: Naive, lacks physical strength and skills, vulnerable
A great example of this literary archetype is Tiny Tim in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The child suffers from a crippling condition that leaves him unable to walk without crutches.
However, despite his struggles, Tiny Tim is one of the story’s kindest and most optimistic characters, known for his exclamation “God bless us, everyone!” that ultimately inspires an emotional change in Scrooge.
6. The Jester (Joker)
The jester is motivated to enjoy life and make the world a happier place. While they don’t take life very seriously, the jester often shares wisdom that’s masked in humor and communicates important truths.
This archetype can be portrayed as a trickster or comedian, and it’s great for providing comedic relief to otherwise serious plotlines.
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- Strengths: Fun, likable, joyful, insightful
- Weaknesses: Unreliable, frivolous, obnoxious
7. The Lover
Similar to the caregiver, the lover is motivated by their devotion to the object of their affection while neglecting their own needs – even at the risk of losing their identity – as their greatest fear is being unwanted or unloved by others.
This archetype might be portrayed as a loyal spouse, partner, or best friend who wears their heart on their sleeve.
- Strengths: Devotion, passion, selflessness, conviction, commitment
- Weaknesses: Self-sacrificing, naïve, irrational
8. The Magician (Wizard)
The magician has skills or powers that are difficult for others to understand, and they’re motivated by seeking enlightenment and shaping the world according to their own wishes.
This archetype is often portrayed as a healer or charismatic leader who may become manipulative or dangerous in their pursuit of wisdom.
- Strengths: Strategic, experienced, omniscient, omnipotent, disciplined
- Weaknesses: Prideful, angry, corruptible, arrogant, stubborn
9. The Orphan (Everyman)
The orphan is also known as the everyman because this is the characters readers identify with from everyday life. This archetype can be an orphan in the more traditional sense that they’re looking for family, but they could also be someone who goes from being anonymous to becoming a main character.
The orphan is motivated by their desire to belong in the world – to the extent that they risk losing their own identity during their pursuit to fit in. However, they are a great choice for a protagonist, as their character arc can be powerful because of everything they have to gain.
- Strengths: Grounded, relatable, down to earth, empathetic
- Weaknesses: Lacks special abilities, unprepared
Perhaps one of the most well-known examples of this literary archetype is Harry Potter from the Harry Potter novels by J.K. Rowling. After Harry’s parents are killed protecting him, he lives with his aunt and uncle, who mistreat him.
However, everything changes when Harry goes to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, becomes the story’s hero, and is tasked with defeating an evil wizard known as the Dark Lord.
10. The Rebel (Outlaw)
The rebel, as the name suggests, believes that rules are made to be broken, and they’re motivated by a strong sense of justice to change the rules that they perceive as unfair to society.
This archetype is often portrayed as a revolutionary or misfit who may not be a natural leader but isn’t afraid to fight for change.
- Strengths: Resilient, resourceful, inspirational, independent
- Weaknesses: Lacks power, status, and resources; may commit criminal acts despite having generally good intentions
11. The Ruler
The ruler is motivated by obtaining complete power and control to the extent that they may discourage independent thinking in their societies. However, this archetype can also be portrayed as someone who leads with kindness.
- Strengths: Leadership, power, charisma
- Weaknesses: Unable to accept help, suspicious, paranoid
12. The Sage (Mentor)
Finally, the sage is motivated to cultivate a new generation with their wisdom. This archetype is typically portrayed as a parent, friend, or teacher who guides the protagonist along their journey.
The motivation and wisdom provided by this archetype can help progress plotlines when the protagonist is slowed down by a lack of confidence or knowledge.
- Strengths: Intelligence, calmness, experience, insight
- Weaknesses: Cautious, reluctant to act, hardened from past experiences
Proofreading and Editing
When you’re ready to start writing your next novel or short story, try experimenting and creating characters using a combination of your favorite literary archetypes.
And when you’re ready, our expert editors will ensure your writing is error-free and identify any areas that are unclear or inconsistent. Try it out by uploading a free trial document today!
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