Friday, July 15, 2011

The Eight People You Meet in Your Manuscripts

Every book has a certain number of characters that take the story forward. These characters have various  roles to play. Its these characters that make a story interesting by adding their own drama.The main character’s interaction with these  archetypes brings with it a host of   emotions, clashes and scenes.

I read a book 'Writing Fiction'. The book talks about there being universal patterns and  archetypes in books and stories. The book says that understanding the function of each character  within the story can help a writer  utilize these characters fully and determine whether these characters are pulling their weight in the story.

The main character can gather aspects from each archetype and learn from them on his/ her journey. The  author of the book has listed 8 archetypes. Once we decide on a character in our story who will fit a particular archetype, then it will be easy to decide on the psychological role they would play and each archetype's dramatic function in our story.

              The eight archetypes are:
1.      Hero

2.      Mentor

3.      Shapeshifter

4.      Trickster

5.      Herald

6.      Allies

7.      Shadow

8.      Threshold Guardian

I have realized that not every story will have all of  these archetypes. Some may have  just few of them. We can consider  some of our  favourite novels and see how many archetypes  we can identify in them. I tried it with the Potter books. It was quite an eye opener. It made me see the purpose of the  characters and their roles were easy  to visualize. We can also write down our own descriptions of characters who  might fulfill each role in our stories.

What do you think of this archetype method? Do you think it can help a writer? Do you think it helps in giving each character their unique role to play in our stories. Do you think it is helpful?


  1. Hi Rachna,
    Thanks for sharing this,
    I think if one follow such step by step method,i think there will be some unnatural effect to the story, and in many cases as you said one may not find all the 8
    Best regards

  2. Wow. I had never broken it into a list like that. Granted, I'm an organic writer. My characters probably wouldn't fall into any single category, but I can see where writing them that way might help clarify roles and distinguish them more clearly to the reader.

  3. I think nowadays we are so used to characters that aren’t so clearly defined. In the old westerns you knew who the bad guy was because he wore a black hat; likewise the hero was obvious because he had a white hat. Then along came Clint Eastwood in his grey hat and we never looked back. We like to see our heroes conflicted. And the same goes for our bad guys. The best bad guys are the ones that still hang onto a shred of humanity (I blogged about that here: Black hats, white hats, grey hats: things to think about when writing ‘bad guys’).

    All these archetypes have their place in the x number of basic plots there are supposed to be (anything from 2 to 36) but, again, we are much happier these days with a bit of comedy in our tragedies and a bit of blackness in our comedies. I sometimes call the main character in my novels the hero but it’s just a label; I prefer protagonist. And if you have a protagonist one would expect an antagonist but since none of mine are especially antagonistic I prefer to think of them as foils – straight guys or funny guys depending on the context.

  4. I never thought about it like this! Some of the archetypes I've never heard of. Neat post, Rachna! I'd love to see you go further into describing the archetypes.

  5. I've been working my Threshold Guardians called The Three Wise Men. I'm having the greatest time developing these guys! The world would be lost without them.

  6. This is so helpful! I struggle with making all of my characters tie together when I attempt to give them their own conflicts and personalities. This helps me clear up a lot. I think sometimes a character can be many of these archetypes.

  7. I'm a big fan of using the Heroes Journey for all my characters. Even the villains, helpers, mentors, side kicks etc all need to have some sort of change or growth of some kind.

    It doesn't always have to be physical either, Some could go through it mentally, emotionally, or by developing relationships. It makes your archetypes more believable

  8. My characters don't fall into any one mold, but this post is very interesting, Rachna. However, characterization is awesome. I love learning more and more about all the people in my stories. Sometimes the things I learn, shocks me. But that's the fun of it all. :-)

  9. I see where the author is coming from too. I work with a revolving door of people; and I gotta say the personalities are predictable. Usually. Sometimes, some one different enters the agency that doesn't fit any of the usual "archetypes".

    Characters in our stories are just people, and as author's, I think we have a tendency to write "people" we are familiar with, or are interested in getting to know.

    Thanks for sharing.


  10. Hi Rachna,

    This is a cool post and I thank you for sharing it with us. It will surely help us in giving our characters their distinctive roles.


  11. This post is right up my alley! I used the Hero's Journey as the platform for my book, Guardian Cats.

    Archetypes are very helpful because each one has a purpose that helps and hinders the MC, creating needed conflict and direction.
    In Christ Vogler's book, The Writer's Journey, he uses film to illustrate each of these types of characters. You see how extremely varied they are and realize their potential, not their limiations.

    Another thing I realized after reading about archetypes is how we have characters in our own lives who often play these parts. Sometimes a person, who seems to be coming against us, is really a Threshold Guardian. They are only testing us to see if we are strong enough to continue our journey.

  12. I've never really thought about my characters in this way, but it is a helpful list. I guess how helpful it is depends on the genre. Some genres seem to have more stereotypical characters, so this list would prove useful in making sure they fulfil their roles!

    Ellie Garratt

  13. Nice one Rachana !!! every time I visit your blog I learn something new about writing , I am not writer but it help me understanding the books better which I read :). Thanks for sharing :)

  14. Great post. Like Anu, I too learn a lot everytime I drop into your Scriptorium. Thanks a lot.

  15. I think this is exceptionally helpful to understand the types of characters--especially to the writers who approach their stories in an analytical way. Even for those who don't, it's good to understand it a little better.

  16. I think that I prefer all my characters to be a mix of three or four of those arch-types, it makes them feel more personal and less as if they're plot tools.


  17. Wow! Great post:) Now I'll apply this "lens" to all my own writings as well as others:)

  18. I do like this breakdown. Will have to give it some thought for my WIP. Thanks so much for sharing the info with us! :)

  19. I'll have to get a copy of the book. As for your question, I think that anything that gives us an insight into the story we want to write is a valid method. I did say "anything," didn't I? I'm NOT advocating the use of drugs! LOL That's not really a valid insight, imo. Thanks for sharing!

  20. I like the idea of archetypes, but sometimes you can see people stick so hard to the stereotype of how they feel their character should be it almost seems unreal.

  21. I believe that understanding the role of each character helps me plot each person's story path and that determines how they interact with each other. Thinking about my stories, I use 3-4 or these archetypes for each novel.

  22. Just wanted to pop in and say hello! I always love your posts and learn from them.