Characters on the Couch (Part 16)

Thursday, November 2nd, 2006

This Follows on from: Characters on the Couch (Part 15). The first part can be found at: Characters on the Couch (Part 1).

Five Steps to Use Your Character’s Archetype

This simple process may help you use the idea of archetypes when writing a character.

Step 1: Search for your Character’s Soul

Think about your character.

  • Where does your character stand?
  • What is your character’s purpose?
  • What is the character’s background?
  • What is their personal history?

If you are starting with a blank sheet think about which archetype appeals to you for the character you’re going to create.

Step 2: Search for Character Substance

Identify your character’s soul’s impression in their substance. Look at their history and background.

  • What are their values?
  • Does their behaviour fit one of the drivers?
  • What is their identity?
  • Is there an archetype that fits their behaviour?
  • If not, is there one that they might try to become?

See how their archetype has influenced their behaviour. Select hindrances and enhancements for your character, especially psychological and personality ones, that fit with their dark side and their core desire.

Step 3: Competitive Leverage

Is there another character with the same archetype around?

Do them in!

This may seem a little extreme, but over a long period of time, in any given situation, there will only be one character who ultimately fits an archetype. Others will either slip to their dark side, prove not to be as firmly rooted in the archetype, or die trying to be the best they can.

Step 4: Define Archetypal Territory

Don’t get caught in several archetypes; focus on one and do it well.

Once a character is settled into a particular driver and archetype staying focused on it is a good way to achieve a memorable character with strong characterisation.

There is a temptation as a writer to cast aside an archetype for a different archetype that will have an easier time in a situation. How a character behaves in adversity shows their true strength, and sticking to an archetype even though there is an easier path is part of that. There is also a temptation over the long term to move to become a different archetype, the hero that becomes a ruler for example. This too will weaken your writing. Tackle their new situation as their archetype would. A hero can lead by bold example instead of becoming a statesman.

Step 5: Link with other Characters

Make connections with other characters in your world, building on how the archetypes can collaborate to form a whole stronger than the parts, by complementing each other.

In many stories the characters can only be really successful by cooperating to achieve the overall goal drawing on the strengths of their different archetypes along the way.

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