The thing that makes us fall in love with a story is a truly great character. And truly great characters begin with character archetypes. 

We connect to a movie or tv show through the characters. We see ourselves in them, we want to become them. We fear for their safety. We rejoice in their victory. 

The entire arc of a plot is built around the growth and change in it’s characters through the challenges in front of them.

The most important challenge in front of any writer, meanwhile, is to create excellent compelling characters. 

How? 

The first critical step is understanding Character Archetypes. It helps the writing. It’ll help the directing, and the casting. The truth is it’ll even the acting. 

In this post we’re going to go over the main character archetypes and help you understand how to use them to make your characters fun to write, and your material fun to read.

Back up... What is a character archetype?

A character archetype is when we come to recognize a pattern of behavior in certain people, or characters, over and over again. 

The result is that we can loosely define an archetype. It's a "type" of person we expect to behave in certain ways. 

They become somewhat predictable. 

Not ideal for a story, right? 

Think again.

Stories in any medium don't want to spend a ton of time describing every trait a character has. They want some short hand. They want a way of letting you know who someone is quickly. 

Haven't you heard this before: 

"He's sort of a bad-boy type." 

Or maybe, "She's the typical girl-next-door."

Those are character archetypes. 

In their book "The Complete Writer's Guide to Heroes and Heroines: Sixteen Master Archetypes" Tami D. Cowden, Caro LaFever and Sue Viders identify and break down 16 major archetypes.

So let's jump right into it.

Which archetype is up first?

Character Archetype: The Chief

Our first archetype is first because... of course he is. 

He’s the leader. The man in charge. Confident and ambitious, The Chief knows what he wants and how to get it.

Often the hero, the chief is duty bound, and is a leader of men and women wherever he goes. 

Example of The Chief in Media

Terence Fletcher in Whiplash.

Character Archetypes - Whiplash

A fist bump for the archetypes list

Portrayed in intimidating fashion by J.K. Simmons, Fletcher is a force to be reckoned with. 

This character will go to great lengths to get good performances out of his jazz students. Even if it means verbal and physical abuse. 

Another Chief is Gunnery Sergeant Hartman from Full Metal Jacket 
Character Archetypes - Full Metal Jacket

The familiar yet effective stock character of the bellowing Drill Sergeant

He's tough-as-nails and turns a whole platoon of smart-aleck recruits into soldiers. 

Although he mostly did it through insults and push-up commands, you could argue he found a way to lead the men by any means necessary.

How about one more?

Michael Corleone in Godfather II.

Character Archetypes - The Godfather

Michael comes into power without having desired it, but he's still a natural leader.

With little more than a glance, Michael orders an assassination. When he decides to talk, everyone listens. Michael's power is effortless.

Strengths

The leader will provide safety, as well as inspire. He'll take charge of any situation, and give it direction. This quality can of course cut both ways... 

Weaknesses

Some situations don't need new direction, and require a more hands off approach. The Chief archetype doesn't notice or doesn't care. He can be domineering. 

He's also unlikely to see the error of his ways, and may resort to extremes to get his desired result. 

Potential Occupations

The Chief archetype will naturally function well in positions of power. He will inevitably rise to a position of power, whether he starts in one or not.  

This surgeons, CEO's, kings, politicians. But even the shift manager at a convenience store is a leader of a kind. Chief Archetypes are everywhere. 

Archetype Compatibilities:

The Chief gets along best with The Boss (who we'll get to later).

Both are strong-willed people, but they don’t play mind games as much as certain other archetypes. They respect each other’s strength, and with the right boundaries, can form a power couple. 

The Chief clashes with The Free Spirit. He finds her serenity annoying, and she sees his forcefulness as bullying. 

Character Archetype: The Bad Boy

You know this character archetype. You hate him, but you're oddly drawn to him...

At least, that's how he's trying to make you feel.  

The bad boy has a code. It just happens to not align with the rest of us. That can make him heroic, annoying, and oftentimes both. 

He takes many forms, but he's easy to recognize and usually entertaining to watch. 

Examples of the Bad Boy in Media

Let's start with a classic bad boy: Tyler Durden in Fight Club.

Character Archetypes - Fight Club

Drinking a beer and changing your story structure as he sees fit

Tyler Durden is the rebellious spirit incarnate. In fact, (spoiler alert) the main character had to invent him in order to properly reject ordinary life.

He lives fast, steals cars and starts a city-wide fight club organization. 

Tyler Durden came to be a symbol for the tortured gen-x male psyche. He's the subject of many a college essay.

Plus, the guy makes dynamite from soap. 

Another classic example?

John Bender from The Breakfast Club.

Character Archetypes - The Breakfast Club

He’s got a coat full of drugs and a brain full of daddy issues.

It’s hard to tell whether his attitude is genuine or a cover up. Either way, in this roll Judd Nelson helped write the book on the bad boy archetype.

But another guy wrote the first draft...

That guy?

Jim Stark in Rebel Without a Cause.

Character Archetypes - James Dean

The first guy to scream 'You're tearing me apart!' and when he did it nobody laughed. 

James Dean became synonymous with the bad boy archetype, and the identity of the American teenager, when he took the world by storm as Jim Stark.

Stark is wounded, and confused. He's emotional, and he doesn't fit in. 

He's the bad boy that started it all. 

Strengths

Life hasn't always been kind to the Bad Boy, but that's helped him sharpen his intuition.

He'll surprise you with good advice, and can be an entertaining companion. 

Women sometimes fall hard for this charismatic rule-breaker, but mainly because of how crazy it drives their parents.

Weaknesses

The bad boy is a pessimist. He'll find it hard to feel empathy and joy. He takes risks, and being near him can be dangerous.

Or at the very least cause a hangover.

Potential Occupations

The Bad Boy will struggle to stick around any work environment.  

The jobs he gets are menial and temporary. A janitor, a clerk at a used record store. For substantial income he'll probably steal and deal.

Archetype Compatibilities:

The Bad Boy gets along best with The Nurturer. He needs someone he can be vulnerable with, and her instinct is to care for others. 

The Bad Boy clashes with The Waif. Both conceal their true selves and wait for either early death or rescue. Neither will be able to provide it.

They'll get into a heap of trouble together with nobody to bail them out. Their combined negativity will exacerbate things. 

Character Archetype: The Best Friend

He’s loyal, he’s humble, he’s...well...the Best Friend.

A team player to the core, his goal is for everyone to have a happy ending. He's a pillar of support for other characters.

Examples of The Best Friend in Media

A great example of the best friend in action is Samwell Tarly from Game of Thrones.

Character Archetypes - Game of Thrones

Samwell’s meekness is depicted early and often in the first season of the show. He is bullied, too timid to even pick up a sword, let alone use one in a fight.

But when Jon Snow defends him, Samwell becomes his steadfast companion. 

Despite his vulnerability, Samwell does become a hero archetype, of sorts. He tries to mirror Jon Snow’s fearless nature. By doing so, he slays foes and saves lives.

True to his archetype, Samwell's strength comes from his loyalty and his kindness.

Mr. Knightly in Emma is another example.

Character Archetypes - Emma

As character archetypes go, you can’t get more foppish than this. Nicely done.

Everyone needs someone to have a cheerful rapport with when times are tough. Whenever Emma is struggling, or just irritated, Mr. Knightly is there to crack jokes.

Also, props to any man who win a debate while hitting bullseyes in archery.

Another one? Adam Sandler's Robbie Hart in The Wedding Singer

Character Archetypes - The Wedding Singer

An Adam Sandler film with character development. Those were the days.

Robbie is is a bonafide sweetheart. He consoles a drunk Drew Barrymore, saves a disastrous wedding toast, and helps a lonely kid gain some social acumen.  

Not a bad ally to have.

Strengths

The best friend has a kind heart, and will always support those he cares about. He’s there to lend a hand. He's intelligent, resourceful, and good-natured through and through.

Weaknesses

He can be meek. The best friend tends to avoid confrontation so much that standing up for himself becomes an arduous task. He's easily intimidated and manipulated. 

He's also not the best guy to have with you in a fight.

Potential Occupations  

The Best Friend likes jobs that involve kindness, such as working for non-profit organizations or teaching children. His shy intelligence also makes him suitable for positions in psychology, chemistry and literature. 

Archetype Compatibilities:

The Best Friend melds well with The Free Spirit. Both are optimistic and friendly. She would never take advantage of his vulnerability. He would admire and emulate in her freedom. 

The Best Friend clashes with The Seductress. She would see his openness as weakness, while he would feel intimidated and teased.

She'd probably convince him to kill her husband so she could collect life insurance.

Character Archetype: The Charmer

Our next archetype is impossible to ignore. The silver tongued devil himself; the charmer. 

He can swoon anyone, male or female; friend or foe. He always seems to know what to say to get out a tight spot.

Or at least he thinks he knows...

All eyes on him at all times, and he wouldn't have it any other way.

Strength

His charisma is not only entertaining but makes those around him feel special. He livens up the party. Or creates it.

He can run the con, charm his way in and out of things, and he knows how to bring a sense of class to an environment, even if it's all a fake. 

Weaknesses

He's selfish, and self obsessed. He'll use his abilities for his own personal ends, with little care as to how it effects others.

Ego can also be the enemy of success. He's blinded by his own self worth, and perhaps even his own charms. He lacks empathy and sometimes perspective.  

Potential Occupations

This is one of the character archetypes that thrives around people.

Salesmen, bartender, and millionaire playboy... any and all of these could be the charmers in your story. 

Keep in mind that whatever he is, he might be faking it. 

Example of the Charmer in Media

One great example is Danny Ocean in Ocean’s Eleven.

Character Archetypes - Oceans Eleven

The charmer is probably the best dressed character archetype

George Clooney, often plays these roles, and a while before him they would have belonged to Clark Gable. 

Clooney was at his charmer best as casino thief Danny Ocean. A people-person, with contacts throughout Las Vegas, and enough charm to rob a casino.

How about a lesser known example?

Connie Nikas from Good Time
Character Archetypes - Good Time
Connie is very far from any hero archetype. He’s downright diabolical. He convinces nearly every individual he meets to go along with his ridiculous plans. 


Yet, he only thinks of himself and dumps people the moment he doesn’t need them.


A classic?

John “The Cat” Robie in To Catch a Thief

Character Archetypes - To Catch a Thief

Cary Grant brought charisma and charm to every role. It was famously said that he could walk into a room backwards with grace.

A charming burglar is very much a stock character, but it’s a stock character because it works.

The more dashing the criminal, the more we forgive his crimes.

Robie is slick, and he knows how to pose on rooftops.

Archetype Compatibilities:

The Charmer goes well with The Seductress. They recognize each other’s weapons of persuasion and play cat-and-mouse games. 

Think Body Heat, or Double Indemnity.

The Charmer just can't win with The Crusader, though.

While his charms are usually effective, they won't work with her. She's hell bent on her agenda, focused on tangible things and results. She won't play his games, or buy his line.

It might be fun to watch him try though...

Character Archetype: The Lost Soul

Seen with his head down or in a hoodie, the Lost Soul is a downtrodden man. Life isn’t kind to him.

He’s both troubled and confused. Adrift in the ocean of life. A great candidate for therapy. 

strengths

Because of his loneliness, the Lost Soul observes and listens. From his quiet spot alone he has a view of the world passing by. 

Despite his vulnerability, he does hope for better things not just for himself but for others. He’s patient, soft-spoken and calm.

Weaknesses

Let's be honest he's a bit of a drag. 

While he’s a good listener, he will end up bringing you down. He won’t have much energy for roller coasters or happy hour.

Potential Occupations

Most likely the Lost Soul is either unemployed or working a dead end job. 

Example of the Lost Soul in Media

Gil Gunderson from The Simpsons

Character Archetypes - The Simpsons

You’re not a sad sack stock character unless your tie is off.

Based on the equally pathetic Shelley Levene from Glengarry Glen Ross, Gil is the ultimate sad sack.

At every job we see Gil have is going badly.

He wants success, and he hopes desperately for it. But it's never in the cards for him.

Another case?

Tobias Fünke in Arrested Development

Character Archetypes - Arrested Development

He experiences a character arc about every twenty seconds, yet never learns.

Tobias takes every acting gig he can, from a Blue Man Group alternate to high school plays. It's hysterical and hard to watch at the same time.

Bless him for not giving up, though.

Let's get a little animated!

With Eeyore in any Winnie the Pooh.

Character Archetypes - Winnie the Pooh

Look at that face. Poor guy. 

I guess not so "animated..." after all.

Archetype Compatibilities

The Lost Soul gets along best with The Crusader. Her refusal to wallow in self pity may inspire him, and she would see the fruits of her labor fight alongside her. 

The Lost Soul clashes with The Nurturer. The size of his problems and the gentleness of her approach would prevent her effectively helping him.

He would feel the same as before, and she would be wracked with guilt for not being able to cure his woes.

Character Archetype: The Professor

Methodical, precise and dangerously intelligent. The Professor is an expert in his field and pragmatic to the core.

A fun day for him is a bunch of difficult crossword puzzles.

Strengths

His greatest weapon by far is his intellect. Need a character to bring some logic to a scene? Need someone to bypass emotion and focus on facts?

The Professor is the one to turn to.

Weaknesses

He’s an “indoors” kind of fellow.

A good person for logical problems, but not emotional ones. He isn’t adept at drama or philosophy, and has zero interest in chatting about feelings. 

Potential Occupations

Scientist, engineer, or super-villain... Anything that allows him opportunity to think hard, even if it’s diabolical. 

Example of the Professor in Media

Louis Bloom in Nightcrawler

Character Archetypes - Nightcrawler

This movie had a story structure that revealed the characters darker side.

Louis Bloom is tactical, intelligent and expert at his craft. When applying for a job he probably knows more about the company than the interviewer. 

He's a Professor archetype that’s using a busted moral compass. He’s a sociopath, uncaring about anyone or anything except his occupation.

Another classic case?

Doc Brown from Back to the Future

Character Archetypes - Back to the Future

Nice hat

Doc is the mad scientist stock character. 

Whether it’s electrocuting himself or willingly buying a Delorean, Doc Brown will go to any lengths in the pursuit of his scientific craft.

An example from TV?

Frasier Crane in Frasier

Character Archetypes - Frasier

Expert at character analysis...except when it comes to himself

This is a version of the professor that not only knows his intelligence but adores it. 

His overanalyzing destroys his relationships and he is almost incapable of fixing that.

At least he can rely on wordplay games and coffee with his similar professor archetype brother, Niles.

Archetype Compatibilities:

The Professor goes well with The Librarian. Their desire for organization and perfection would result in a tightly scheduled, but agreeable, relationship. 

The Professor would not be happy anywhere near The Spunky Kid. His fastidious nature and her casual fun would clash horribly. Neither would bend to the other’s lifestyle. They'd both be miserable.

And watching it might be... hysterical. 

Character Archetype: The Swashbuckler

The swashbuckler lives for adventure. He's always on the move, living by the seat of his pants.

He'll leap before he looks, right into action. First to board an enemy vessel, sword in hand. Swinging into action. 

This character archetype has to swing on something at least once per movie. It's in his contract.

Strengths

He’s never boring, that’s for sure. Call him mad or madly entertaining, he keeps things exciting.

Fear doesn’t exist in his world, which makes him always fun to watch.

Weaknesses

With fearlessness comes carelessness. Many a man of this archetype were last seen next to a burning building. 

Or worse, texting a jilted ex.

Potential Occupations

A pirate. A stuntman. In one classic case, an archeologist/treasure hunter. 

Whatever job he has, thrill seeking has to happen on the side. Or maybe even in the workplace. 

Example of the Swashbuckler in Media

Captain Jack Sparrow is a classic swashbuckler.

Character Archetypes - Jack Sparrow

An archetypes list without a pirate? Not likely.

The dreads. The sword. The eyeliner. Jack Sparrow is a rum-swigging adventurer we love to watch.

And he comes with an engaging character arc. He risks his freedom to protect someone he cares about, all without losing his mischievous nature.

But if adventure has a name it must be...

Indiana Jones! Seen below in one of the greatest modern takes on the Swashbuckler sub-genre: Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Character Archetypes - Indiana Jones

Thief or explorer? A classic hero archetype regardless.

Indiana Jones understands rules. He knows when a situation is dangerous. Yet he takes obscene risks every time. Why?

Because he’s a Swashbuckler. Punching nazis and swiping artifacts is his nine to five. 

Bill Paxton's character in Twister.

Character Archetypes - Bill Paxton

This character archetype isn’t always about whips and guns.... and eye-liner.

It’s about the necessity to push the limits. The insatiable hunger for thrills. Not ducking from danger, but chasing it. Recklessness.

You can’t get more reckless than looking at a tornado  and saying, “Let’s get closer.”

Archetype Compatibilities:

The Swashbuckler gets along best with The Spunky Kid. Their thirst for adventure and fearless joy would result in many fun, possibly destructive, date nights.

The Swashbuckler clashes with The Librarian. His attempts to get her to loosen up would fall flat, and a nasty argument would quickly ensue.

Character Archetype: The Warrior

Duty is everything to this man. It could be for justice, for honor, or for tee ball. The Warrior strives for glory in combat. He pushes himself past all known limits because he's a duty bound soldier. 

Fear, restraint and disloyalty aren’t in his vocabulary except as insults.

Example of the Warrior in Media

A classic case is William Wallace from Braveheart

Character Archetypes - Braveheart

Fighting for freedom, dying for the cause, and wearing face paint. Is there anything more "warrior" than this dude?

Wallace becomes a leader, but that's not where he started, and it's not where he's most at home. He leads from the front lines, from inside the action. 

Another great example is Harry Callahan in Dirty Harry.

Character Archetypes - Clint Eastwood

The 70’s was when hero archetypes got a bit dirty.

Harry has  confidence of The Chief and the fearlessness of the Swashbuckler, but he's a warrior through and through. 

Strengths

If you need a task done, and the Warrior is on your side, you couldn’t ask for someone better. He would rather die than be dishonored. The man will do his duty until it’s done.

Weaknesses

With such a one track mind, the Warrior is stubborn. There’s no reasoning, bargaining or disagreeing with him.

He could be wrong, but he won't stop to think about or consider changing course. 

Potential Occupations

Anything with a set goal that demands determination. Soldier, bodyguard and activist, to name a few. 

Archetype Compatibilities

The Warrior gets along best with The Waif.

He is the perfect hero to come to her aid. Her hidden strength would then be unleashed. They could form a strong pair of dedicated fighters. 

The Warrior will clash with The Boss. Neither would adhere to the other’s forcefulness. Since both refuse to change any aspect of their plans, nothing would get accomplished. Except a lot of in-fighting.

The female archetypes:

That’s it for the male archetypes list, but how about the women? 

There are eight main female archetypes to discuss. From ones as duty bound as the warrior to others as lost and confused as the lost soul. 

Let’s go!

Character Archetype: The Boss

Similar to The Chief, this woman knows what she wants and how to get it. And good luck if you get in her way. 

Headstrong and proud, the Boss can lead her group to victory or to ruin, but will always have her eyes on the finish line.

Examples of The Boss in Media

A great example is the intimidating Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada

Character Archetypes - Devil Wears Prada

“Tough as nails” may be a stock character trait, but it fits too well here.

Miranda is sharp, domineering, and can kill with a simple stare.

And there’s nothing quite like watching her verbally destroy a snarky employee. 

Another great instance is Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Character Archetypes - Virgina Woolf

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf uses character archetypes to construct dynamic story structure

Brash and overpowering, Martha takes full control of any room in which she stands. Her husband is terrified to even speak when she’s nearby. 

Don't forget Cher's Loretta Castorini in Moonstruck.
Character Archetypes - Moonstruck

A bit softer than her Boss counterparts, Loretta’s romantic side changes nothing about her conviction. She demands respect. She explains people’s deepest faults to their faces.

She manages to make Nicolas Cage calm down. That’s a feat in and of itself.

Strengths

She has great confidence and knows how to organize, motivate and lead any group. 

Weaknesses

Confidence can turn to arrogance, and her blunt words can ridicule others. A workaholic to the extreme, she may lose some social skills in the process. 

Potential Occupations

CEO, royalty, politician. Anything where her word is law.

Archetype Compatibilities 

The Boss gets along best with The Chief. Both strong-willed people, but they don’t play mind games as much as other character archetypes. They respect each other’s strength, and with the right boundaries, can form a power couple.

The Boss does worst with The Warrior. Neither would adhere to the other’s forcefulness. Since both refuse to change any aspect of their plans, nothing would get accomplished.

Character Archetype: The Seductress

​Like her male counterpart the charmer, the seductress is one of the most compelling in cinema history. 


Easy to watch, easy to root for, but devastatingly cruel. The seductress has the power to manipulate plot easily. 

She’s strong, clever, and is fully aware of her sexuality’s power.

Examples of The Seductress in Media

One excellent instance of this archetype is Wanda from A Fish Called Wanda.
Character Archetypes - Fish Called Wanda
Some diamonds are stolen, and four men squabble and betray each other. Enter Wanda, who proceeds to seduce each one of them separately and winds up with the stolen gems.


Another take is Dominika Egorova from Red Sparrow.

Character Archetypes - Red Sparrow

Dominika doesn’t just seduce a man at the beginning of this spy thriller. She goes to a special school and learns how to seduce and spy professionally. 

What does she put on her tax forms?

And the classic, Sugar Kane from Some Like It Hot.
Character Archetypes - Marilyn Monroe

You can’t talk about seductresses without mentioning Marilyn Monroe.

Monroe played seductress archetypes more than once, but perhaps never better than in Billy Wilder's comedic masterpiece. 

Strengths

An assertive survivor, she knows how to get out of a tight spot and how to gain the upper hand. Her looks and charm are finely-tuned weapons and she knows how to use them.

Weaknesses

She can be jaded. She's often been pushed around or taken advantage of. Her skills were developed as a means of survival.

The world isn't easy on the Seductress. She has to outsmart everyone at all times, and she trusts no-one as a result. 

Potential Occupations

Spy. Assassin. Model. Saleswoman. If rent is tight... and she's out of options beware because she might use you to create a new one.

Archetype Compatibilities 

The Seductress gets along best with The Charmer. They would recognize each other’s weapons of persuasion and play cat-and-mouse games. The pair could also act as a potent crime-fighting, or crime-causing, duo. 

The Seductress does worst with The Best Friend. She would see his openness as weakness, while he would feel intimidated and teased. It will end in tears. His, not hers. 

Character Archetype: The Spunky Kid

Spirit. Attitude. Sass. Moxie. Call what you want the Spunky Kid’s got it. She’s consistently friendly, upbeat, and doesn’t give up without a fight. 

Examples of The Spunky Kid in Media

This archetype is perfectly defined Tess Mcgill in Working Girl.

Character Archetypes - Working Girl

One of the most understated and underrated character arcs took place in Working Girl

Tess almost seems aware that her sass and tomboyishness may be why her career hasn’t advanced. Yet she never sacrifices it to get ahead. She enjoys being the Spunky Kid.

Another case is Deloris Van Cartier in Sister Act.

Character Archetypes - Sister Act

She’s a lounge singer turned nun, and she despised the shift. 

At first... But once she had a choir to coach, it soon became a chance to turn the nunnery into a playground. Regardless of creed, that mass would be a blast.

Mija in Okja.

Character Archetypes - Okja

She’s too spunky even for a character arc. She wants her pet back, and nothing more.

Don’t take this girl’s adorable pet away. She won’t hurt you, but her determination will make you wish she had. 

Strengths

She’s a joy to have around. Her snarkiness is always good for a laugh, and she will fight for those she cares about. 

Weaknesses

Since she operates as the perfect friend, but then romance becomes difficult. Most don’t see her in "that" light, and she will view those that do with skepticism or denial. 

Potential Occupations

Reporter. DJ. Athlete. And you can find plenty of her archetype hosting Youtube channels.

Archetype Compatibilities

The Spunky Kid gets along best with The Swashbuckler. Their thirst for adventure and fearless joy would result in many fun, possibly destructive, date nights.

The Spunky Kid does worst with The Professor. His fastidious nature and her casual fun would clash horribly. Neither would bend to the other’s lifestyle.

Character Archetype: The Free Spirit

Seen skipping down a road rather a walking, the Free Spirit has a giddy zeal for life. Unlike the Spunky Kid, she cares little about team efforts or campaigns. Whatever strikes her fancy at that moment is what she cares about. 

She lives by her emotions, her various interests, and for whatever lies ‘round the bend.

Of all the character archetypes, the Free Spirit may be the most comfortable in her own skin.

Examples of The Free Spirit in Media

Classic Tv provides us with a perfect example: Lucy Ricardo in I Love Lucy.

Character Archetypes - I Love Lucy

Joyful, spontaneous and scatterbrained, Lucy personifies the Free Spirit. No matter how badly her plans go awry, she would always move onto the next one. 

Thankfully.

Alice from Alice in Wonderland.

Character Archetypes - Alice in Wonderland

Daydreaming about insane story structures.

What’s funny about Alice, especially in the Disney cartoon, is that she isn’t too fazed by the insanity around her. After a while she seems to just accept Mad Hatters and invisible cats as typical things. 

And she doesn’t seem to be in too much of a rush to leave the wacky Wonderland. Perhaps it suits her.

And of course, Phoebe Buffay from Friends.

Character Archetypes - Friends TV Show

A stock character can be hysterical too.

Guitar? Check. Goofiness? Check. Lyrics about smelly cats? Double check. We have a delightful free spirit character archetype reborn as a kind of modern hippie. 

Strengths

Sincere, happy and full of energy. She’s always ready to spice up a dull day. She's comfortable with who she is. 

Weaknesses

She’s the embodiment of ADHD. Unable to discipline her own life and focus on anything for long.  A servant to her scattered feelings and impulsiveness. 

Potential Occupations

Being childlike herself, a kindergarten teacher or coach would suit her well. She would also make a good artist or performer.

Archetype Compatibilities

The Free Spirit gets along best with The Best Friend. Both are optimistic and friendly. She would never take advantage of his vulnerability. He would admire and partake in her freedom. 

The Free Spirit is worst with The Chief. He finds her serenity annoying, and she sees his forcefulness as bullying. These two would ignore each other.

Character Archetype: The Waif

Naive, enigmatic and innocent The Waif is a strange, oftentimes young, woman who fascinates those around her. She is gentle, kind and vulnerable to danger, which makes many want to rescue her. 

What they don’t see is her resilience. While she often doesn’t fight any opposition, she does withstand it longer than to be expected.

A character like this can help form an event-based story structure. If there is someone to be rescued, that’s an inciting incident to fight and resolve.

Examples of The Waif in Media

Dorothy Gale in The Wizard of Oz is one of cinema's most enduring waif archetype examples.

Character Archetypes - Wizard of Oz

She does her chores and longs for a world of adventure. The universe delivered. Although the tornado was a bit of a rough way to take her there.

Along the way she finds her own inner strength. Dorothy makes friends, but in the end she rescues herself.

Another good example is Molly Jensen in Ghost.

Character Archetypes - Ghost

She is vulnerable throughout the film, and deep down still waits for her husband’s return. Molly fits perfectly as the Waif in Ghost’s rescue story structure. 

It’s a tough life... but she did make pottery cool again.

A true "damsel in distress" is Princess Buttercup in Princess Bride.

Character Archetypes - The Princess Bride

A stock character as old as time, because it works.

Most fairytale princesses would function as The Waif, and Buttercup is no different. She awaits the rescue from her true love. 

Strengths

Her gentle sweetness and lack of confrontation make her easy to approach. She tends not to judge, make demands, or beg for help. She glides along, endures hardships, and does it all with unique grace.

Weaknesses

Since she doesn’t deal with problems head on, there is a risk of succumbing to them. Life has made her feel unimportant and small. With this vulnerability she can be easily tricked.

She'll also put up with an awful lot, and may not take control of her destiny.

Potential Occupations

The waif could be anything from a waitress to a princess but regardless of what her role in society is she's also probably a victim in the plot of the story.

Archetype Compatibilities:

The Waif gets along best with The Warrior. He is the perfect hero to come to her aid and her hidden strength would then be unleashed. They could form a strong pair of dedicated fighters. 

The Waif is worst with The Bad Boy. Both conceal their true selves and wait for either early death or rescue. Neither will be able to provide it.

Character Archetype: The Librarian

In many ways the polar opposite of The Free Spirit. She doesn’t have time for games or distractions. Tasks are either done perfectly or not done at all. She’s precise and calculating.

Examples of The Librarian in Media

A popular instance of this archetype is Dana Scully in The X-Files.

Character Archetypes - X-Files

As the skeptical scientist Scully is one of the few who could see weird shapes at night and not immediately cry “Aliens!”

Turn the clock back farther to find another great example in Katherine Hepburn's Rose Sayer in The African Queen.

Character Archetypes - The African Queen

Sayer is a nun with a lot of rules, and she will not suffer a fool. Of course, she's pushed to the brink by Bogart's turn as Charlie Alnut, the steamboat captain (part swashbuckler part bad-boy). How do they fair together on their adventure? 

The answer is what makes it a classic. 

How about Natalie Keener in Up in the Air?

Character Archetypes - Up in the Air

A truly terrible text message ignited her character arc.

She walks fast, talks fast, and doesn’t look back. Her ponytail is as sharp as her words. Natalie changes with great character arc, losing a bit of her rigidness over the course of the film. 

But she never fails to be tough as nails.

Strengths

Dependable, hard-working and focused. She works hard and she follows the rules.

Weaknesses

Overly straitlaced and stuck in her ways. Once the project is done, she won’t have the time nor inclination to celebrate. 

Potential Occupations

Manager, mathematician, and research scientist. 

Archetype Compatibilities:

The Librarian gets along best with The Professor. Their desire for organization and perfection would result in a tightly scheduled, but agreeable, relationship. 

The Librarian goes poorly with the Swashbuckler. His attempts to get her to loosen up would fall flat, and a nasty argument would quickly ensue.

Learning hands-on experience from screenwriting and filmmaking podcasts can help you become the expert craftsman you always wanted to be.

Character Archetype: The Crusader

The definition of a heroine. She’s a fighter without fear or restraint. Her character development revolves around the task at hand. 

Bravery is her calling card. If she has an obstacle to conquer you better hope you’re on her side.

Examples of The Crusader in Media

Hua Mulan in Mulan.

Character Archetypes - Mulan

Already a bonafide hero archetype. The pet dragon is just icing.

It takes a lot of guts to stand up to The Hun army, and Mulan did it all while hiding her true identity. 

Norma Rae Webster in Norma Rae.

Character Archetypes - Norma Rae

Norma Rae never let jail time, or threats, stop her in her quest for fairness.

Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road.

Character Archetypes - Mad MAx

We didn’t expect a Mad Max flick to be on a character development sheet.

Anyone who uses truck grease for facepaint is halfway to Crusader anyway. Being a fearless, sharpshooting savior is the other half.

Whether they be strong, meek or even over the top, character tropes can be altered to improve any screenplay.

Strengths

Fearless, courageous and convincing. Since she gives her mission 110% she is able to persuade others to fight for the cause.

Weaknesses

With eyes locked onto a set goal, it becomes impossible for her to be swayed otherwise. Even if the journey to that goal could result in death, or at least some really bad stubbed toes. 

Potential Occupations

Most certainly an activist, lawyer or firefighter.

Archetype Compatibilities:

The Crusader gets along best with The Lost Soul. Her refusal to wallow in self pity may inspire him, and she would see the fruits of her labor fight alongside her. 

The Crusader does worst with The Charmer. While he could charm others, that stuff wouldn't work with her. She would dismiss him quickly. 

Character Archetype: The Nurturer

Sharing is caring, and caring is this woman’s way to live. She moves from one person in need to the next, bestowing kindness where she can. Her own safety and comfort are minor things to her,. 

Examples of The Nurturer in Media

How about Elinor Dashwood in Sense and Sensibility?

Character Archetypes - Sense and Sensibility

She’s gets a hilarious finale to her character arc.

Always putting herself last, Elinor takes the mantle of family caretaker without complaint. 

With a handy table of character tropes you can piece together the arcs and relationships in your script.

Pollyanna Whittier from Pollyanna.
Character Archetypes - Pollyanna

Probably knows more about character analysis than we do.

Pollyanna is like a traveling therapist. She makes a bully meek, an angry priest peaceful and a bitter loner sociable. She inspires multiple character arcs while coming across as casual as possible. All in a few days. That’s impressive. How about another classic: Mary Poppins in Mary Poppins.
Character Archetypes - Mary Poppins

Mary Poppins flies in when the kids need comfort. 

Strengths

She always puts the needs of others before herself. Pleasant to be around, as well as optimistic. Best of all, she has the actual skills to support all those around her.

Weaknesses

The Nurturer loathes disappointing others. In moments where she can’t help someone, she regards herself as the sole problem. She can also be overly idealistic, believing she can truly help everyone.

Potential Occupations

Nurse is obvious, but she would also be an excellent therapist, teacher and social worker.

Archetype Compatibilities 

The Nurturer gets along best with The Bad Boy. He needs someone he can be vulnerable with, and her instinct is to care for others. 

The Nurturer does worst with The Lost Soul. The size of his problems and the gentleness of her approach would prevent her effectively helping him.

He would feel the same as before, and she would be wracked with guilt for not being able to cure his woes.

Wrapping up

With all these Character Archetypes, you can now more easily create scenes of romance, friendship and drama. 

Get creative and think about which characters you'd like to see together, which characters truly can't stand each-other, and which characters you'd like to see grow. 

Keep writing and leave a comment below to let us know which archetype this list doesn't include!

READ NEXT: How to write better character development

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