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Looking brainstorm new characters? Perhaps, you want to flesh out existing characters or pair them against another character to maximize drama and develop deeper character arcs. Writing a compelling character is easier said than done. However, it’s helpful to consider tried-and-true character archetypes to ensure every character behaves in a way that is unique, consistent, and believable. In this post, we’ll identify the various character archetypes that you can use to enhance your own characters. Plus, we’ll include plenty of iconic character archetype examples from your favorite movies and TV shows.

Lastly, we’ll define which character archetypes can be paired to maximize either harmony…or conflict. Let’s get started.

WHAT IS AN ARCHETYPE?

Understanding character archetypes

Character archetypes are a great building block for your stories.

You don’t want to make your characters too one dimensional, but understanding why people seem to gravitate to a particular set of character traits will help you analyze human behavior…

Which leads to crafting better characters in your scripts.

But what exactly does archetype mean?

ARCHETYPE DEFINITION

What is an archetype?

An archetype is a consistent and typical version of a particular thing. It can be a human, an object, or a particular set of behaviors, but the point is that it fits into a time-tested mold that embodies a pure form.

A character archetype is the core traits, values, and decision making patterns of a particular type of person.

What does a character archetype do?

  • Solidifies the values for a particular character
  • Allows for a variety of different characters
  • Establishes a unique skill set for the character

It’s important to understand that there is a difference between a story archetype and a character archetype.

You can take a classic character archetype and place them into a narrative chain of events that plays against the associated story archetype.

A quarterback who needs to get to the playoffs is old hat, but a quarterback who is thrown into a murder investigation and gambling plot is relatively fresh.

Trailer for The Last Boy Scout

In fact, this is one of the best ways to make sure that your story is a bit more fresh and a bit less tired and derivative.

Why do character archetypes exist?

Human beings tend to find their place within a group dynamic based around their strongest personality traits.

You may have a group of friends with similar interests...

But often one will be the “social butterfly” while another will be the "homebody".

Your friends will begin to identify each other by these consistent traits.  

You’ve now defined yourself by a character archetype.

When writing your own scripts, you may have a desire to use a character archetype for your hero, or for your villain.

Other times you may want to build an ensemble with many archetypes.

Here is a scene below that feature multiple character archetypes:

It’s also important to note that, not every character fits into a tiny little box.

We all have a certain percentage of different character traits...

Which of them dominates the majority of our personality?

Which traits manifest less often?

Take Michael Scott from The Office:

The Best of Michael Scott | The Office

Michael could be considered a leader, or perhaps a wildcard.

You can be a father…

You can also be a son.

Most characters will show signs of multiple character archetypes, but there is still a way to make a sound determination.

The simplest way is through the process of elimination.

Indiana Jones fits into three different character archetypes, but when you go through the process of stripping them away one at a time…

What do you get?

If you took away the core traits that a character shares with a particular character archetype, what would you have left?

Would you still have Indiana Jones?

Indiana Jones | Raiders of the Lost Ark

Eventually, you’ll learn that there is a dominant character archetype that best exemplifies each particular character.

there are situation like Game of Thrones where a character may begin a seducer, but then walks the path of redemption to the warrior, like Jamie Lannister. 

These particular character archetypes can be applied to heroes, but they can also serve as character archetypes for villains.

Often, the same character traits can be used for different reasons…

You can use your charm for good, or far evil. 

Also, many characters (especially in comedy) will attempt to fit into a character archetype that seems the appropriate for their personality...

But they really only possess the negative traits associated with the type.

Often, these characters fall into the unlisted character archetype:

The Fool.

This is true with shows likeVeep, where the leader is a poor leader, the rebel is a poor rebel, and the caregiver can’t seem to get anything right.

Season 6 Recap | Veep

You don’t forfeit the label just because a character consistently fails to live up to the positive traits for a particular character archetype.

CHARACTER ARCHETYPES LIST

Complete list of character archetypes

Another important thing to keep in mind is how the character archetype on this list interact with one another. We’ve divided this into categories:

  • Allies
  • Enemies

Now, this doesn’t mean that you can’t have incompatible archetypes on the same team or vice versa, because that will often lead to logical conflict…

Which is great for storytelling.

But…

Certain personality types have a much easier time connecting with others.

Some will have more harmonious interactions…

While others will have more chaotic interactions.

Like in this scene from The Avengers.

The Avengers at their low

They all share anger at the moment, but each of them show it in their own way.

Don't shy away from these interactions in your stories. 

CHARACTER ARCHETYPES LIST

1. The Leader

Our first character archetype is The Leader.

Commonly, this character archetype is forceful…

A person of action.

They’re confident, motivated, and brave.

Which is great for staying active and generating story momentum.

But…

They can often be arrogant and domineering.

Which is great because they often generate a lot of natural conflict.

Here's a video breaking down how to create a dynamic Leader in your story:

Character Archetype | Allies
  • The Warrior 
  • The Caregiver

Leaders want to be surrounded by team players, and more often than not the team players are those who care about rules and standards.

That normally translates into strong, reliable relationships with both the strong will of a warrior, and the responsible approach of the caregiver.

Character Archetype | Enemies
  • The Rebel 
  • The Wildcard

The leader has a plan, and wants to stick to that plan.

Naturally, anyone who seems to throw caution to the wind or rely heavily on improvisation will get under the skin of any leader.

A true leader knows that they are responsible for more than their own skin, so anyone who is a cavalier will inevitably gum up the works.

Character Archetype | Common Professions
  • King/Queen
  • President
  • CEO
  • Quarterback
  • General
Character Archetype Examples | The Leader
  • Gandalf — Lord of the Rings
  • Selina Meyer — Veep
  • Jack Aubrey — Master & Commander

CHARACTER ARCHETYPES IN MOVIES AND LITERATURE

2. The Caregiver

Our next character archetype is The Caregiver.

Commonly, this character archetype prioritizes the needs of others…

They want to make the world right.

They’re kind, generous, and supportive.

They will often have meaningful conversations with your protagonist.

But…

They can often be meek and vulnerable.

An easy target for a villain to capture or manipulate.

Character Archetype | Allies
  • The Leader 
  • The Professor

The caregiver will often connect with those who have a lot of responsibility or a lot of weight on their shoulders.

They will connect with a professor often because they are willing to overlook negative traits and cast them aside as “necessary evils”

Character Archetype | Enemies
  • The Seducer 
  • The Wildcard

The main thing a caregiver can’t abide is when characters take advantage of others. This means the seducer is automatically a problem area.

The caregiver will stomach a rebel under the right circumstances, but if they do not enjoy the antics of a wildcard.

Character Archetype | Common Professions
  • Therapist
  • Teacher
  • Doctor/Nurse
  • Nanny
Character Archetype Examples | The Caregiver
  • John Watson — Sherlock
  • Sam Wise — Lord of the Rings
  • Gary Walsh — Veep
  • Dr. Stephen Maturin - Master & Commander

CHARACTER ARCHETYPE EXAMPLES IN MOVIES

3. The Seducer

Our next character archetype is The Seducer.

Commonly, this character archetype is charming…

A person of charisma.

They’re confident, persuasive, and sly.

Often debonair, they’re provocative and mysterious.

But…

They can often be manipulative and a bit jaded.

Character Archetype | Allies
  • The Rebel 
  • The Castaway

Often the seducer will get along with others who look out for their own neck, but also for those who have a vulnerability to be manipulated.

Seducers need someone impressionable and that is where the castaway can be a powerful unwitting agent on behalf of the seducer.

Character Archetype | Enemies
  • The Leader 
  • The Professor

Often, a leader and a professor can see right through the seducer. They won’t trust one, and know the seducer will take the shortcut if available.

Character Archetype | Common Professions
  • Spy
  • Lawyer
  • Salesman
  • Gambler
  • Detective
  • Thief
Character Archetype Examples | The Seducer
  • Eames — Inception
  • Jack Vincennes — LA Confidential
  • Dan Egan — Veep

CHARACTER ARCHETYPE EXAMPLES

4. The Castaway

Our next character archetype is The Castaway.

Commonly, this character archetype is observant from a safe distance...

A bit of a loner.

They’re devoted, loyal, and introspective.

But…

They can often be gullible and emotional.  

Character Archetype | Allies
  • The Leader 
  • The Wildcard

The castaway is looking to be inspired, and because of this they often find themselves with a headstrong leader or a rather fluid wildcard.

Anything else is just too “middle of the road”, and will reinforce the idea that things are cemented and have no room for change on the surface.

Character Archetype | Enemies
  • The Professor 
  • The Warrior

Both the professor and the warrior will look at the castaway and see someone who is a bit parasitic. The castaway is too weak in their eyes.

Character Archetype | Common Professions
  • Office Worker
  • Driver
  • Gardener
  • Artist
  • Cook
Character Archetype Examples | The Castaway
  • Frodo — Lord of the Rings
  • Amy Brookheimer — Veep

CHARACTER ARCHETYPE EXAMPLES

5. The Rebel

Our next character archetype is The Rebel.

Commonly, this character archetype is energetic and individualistic…

A thrill seeker.

They’re street-smart, capable, and brave.

But…

They can often be cynical and quick tempered.

Character Archetype | Allies
  • The Seducer 
  • The Castaway

The rebel is generally interested in self-preservation and bending the rules to get what they want. The seducer has skills useful to the rebel.

The castaway is open minded and just cynical enough to attract the good will of a rebel, and they share a penchant for questioning the status quo.

Character Archetype | Enemies
  • The Leader 
  • The Professor

The rebel will see these two as old guard, and unwilling to redefine methods and approaches toward goals.

A rebel is often much more guess and check, whereas a professor is more scientific, and the leader more loyal to institutions.

Character Archetype | Common Professions
  • Criminal
  • Fighter Pilot
  • Adventurer
  • Spy
  • Cowboy
  • Mercenary
  • Mechanic
Character Archetype Examples | The Rebel
  • Reiben — Saving Private Ryan
  • Maverick — Top Gun
  • Will Hunting — Good Will Hunting
  • Jonah Ryan — Veep

CHARACTER ARCHETYPE EXAMPLES

6. The Wildcard

Our next character archetype is The Wildcard.

Commonly, this character archetype is unpredictable…

A person of improvisation.

They’re often brutally honest, humorous, and creative.

But…

They can often be sarcastic, impulsive, and meddlesome.

Character Archetype | Allies
  • The Warrior 
  • The Castaway

The wildcard pairs well with a warrior because they both are all about the action, and they often needs one another’s skill set.

The castaway and wildcard have some common traits, one of which is their tendency to be more impulsive and fluid.

Character Archetype | Enemies
  • The Leader 
  • The Professor

The wildcard is all about doing what they want when they feel like it and everything is based around instinct. This is tough on a leader.

It is also tough on a professor who does so much research that someone who lives unprepared can seem ludicrous.

Character Archetype | Common Professions
  • Blue collar
  • Artists
  • Beautician
  • Freelancer
  • Vagabond
  • Gypsey
  • Traveler
Character Archetype Examples | The Wildcard
  • Walter — The Big Lebowski
  • Mike McLintock — Veep
  • Charlie Kelly — It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
  • Doc Holliday — Tombstone

CHARACTER ARCHETYPE EXAMPLES

7. The Professor

Our next character archetype is The Professor.

Commonly, this character archetype is literal, droll…

Very often a genius.

They’re logical, problem solving, and candid.

But…

They can often be socially oblivious and rigid.

Character Archetype | Allies
  • The Caregiver 
  • The Leader

The professor is often a flawed social being, and that often translates into a caregiver being the only person with the patience to stand them.

The leader is often someone who takes their work seriously, which will earn the respect of a professor more than almost anything else.

Character Archetype | Enemies
  • The Seducer 
  • The Wildcard

The professor will get tired of the smooth antics of a seducer, and the unpredictable actions of a wildcard. Everything a professor does is thought out, so a wildcard may get in their way too much.

Character Archetype | Common Professions
  • Instructor
  • Detective
  • Economist
  • Engineer
  • Pathologist
Character Archetype Examples | The Professor
  • Sherlock Holmes — Sherlock
  • Greg House — House
  • Kent Davidson — Veep

CHARACTER ARCHETYPE EXAMPLES

8. The Warrior

Our next character archetype is The Warrior.

Commonly, this character archetype is courageous, self-sacrificing…

A person of honor.

They’re strong willed, involved, and have a code.

But…

They can often be stubborn and obsessive.

Character Archetype | Allies
  • The Leader 
  • The Professor

A warrior needs something to fight for, and often that can be a leader rather than a cause. Warriors are driven by honor and by a code, which means they respect those with a code of their own like a professor.

Character Archetype | Enemies
  • The Caregiver 
  • The Castaway

Generally, the warrior will see a nurturing soul or a searching soul and see their traits as a complete waste of time. The caregiver is too worried about consequences while the castaway is too lethargic for a warrior.

Character Archetype | Common Professions
  • Soldier
  • Police Officer
  • Fire Fighter
  • Lawyer
  • Journalist
  • Missionary
Character Archetype Examples | The Warrior
  • Aragon — Lord of the Rings
  • Ryan — Saving Private Ryan
  • Bud White — LA Confidential
  • Ben Cafferty — Veep

STORY ARCHETYPE EXAMPLES

Character archetypes in ensembles

While character archetypes are meant to interact with one another, each and everyone of them can be used as a main protagonist.

Just because the leader has many of the classic traits associated with a main protagonist, that doesn’t mean the castaway cannot be the main protagonist for their own story.

However, when your story features a group, squad, or team you will often build that team based on their unique character traits.

When behind enemy lines, your commando team needs a green beret, marine, driver, sapper, sniper, and a spy.

These are specialities that make-up a winning team, because you need a different skill set for each problem you encounter.

These skill sets (like professions) will often connect to certain archetypes.

Let’s take a look at a few examples of movies that used the ensemble cast and how they went about applying character archetypes:

Character Archetypes | Game of Thrones

Let’s take a look at the characters in Game of Thrones.

Game of Thrones Season 5 Recap

Cersei/Daenerys — The Leader

Samwell/Jorah — The Caregiver

Jamie/Euron — The Seducer

Tyrion/Sansa — The Castaway

Bronn/Arya — The Rebel

The Hound — The Wildcard

Davos/Varys — The Professor

Jon Snow/Brienne — The Warrior

Character Archetypes | The Avengers

Let’s take a look at the characters in Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War.

Honest Trailer | Infinity War

Captain America/Black Panther — The Leader

Scarlet Witch/War Machine — The Caregiver

Ironman — The Seducer

Hulk/Gamora — The Castaway

Thor/Loki — The Rebel

Starlord/Spiderman — The Wildcard

Doctor Strange/Vision — The Professor

Black Widow/Thanos — The Warrior

Character Archetypes | Inception

Let’s take a look at the characters in Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

Planning Phase | Inception

Cobb — The Leader

Ariadne — The Caregiver

Eames — The Seducer

Fischer — The Castaway

Saito — The Rebel

Mal — The Wildcard

Yusuf — The Professor

Arthur — The Warrior

Character Archetypes |Saving Private Ryan

Let’s take a look at the characters in Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.

Machine Gun Nest | Saving Private Ryan

Miller — The Leader

Horvath — The Caregiver

Mellish — The Seducer

Upham — The Castaway

Reiben — The Rebel

Jackson — The Wildcard

Wade — The Professor

Ryan — The Warrior

Character Archetypes |Ocean’s Eleven

Let’s take a look at the characters in Soderbergh’s Ocean’s Eleven.​

Build a Crew | Ocean’s Eleven

Danny Ocean — The Leader

Rusty Ryan — The Caregiver

Frank Catton/Saul Bloom — The Seducer

Linus Caldwell — The Castaway

Basher Tarr — The Rebel

Virgil/Turk Malloy — The Wildcard

Reuben Tishkoff/Livingston Dell — The Professor

Yen — The Warrior

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