Character Archetypes Series: #1 What is an archetype?

Character Archetypes Series: #1 What is an archetype?

An archetype, by definition, is the first example of something.

Carl Gustav Jung talked a lot about archetypes in the field of analytic psychology. He defined archetypes as the unconscious content of a group that replicates certain behaviors according to particular constants.

From these studies, Joseph Campbell, an American scholar of comparative mythology and history of religions, started to define the archetypes of a narrative. They are a canvas that guided every narration, albeit with different elements, protagonists, plot and historical periods.

His studies led to the publication in 1949 of the essay The hero of a thousand faces.

Campbell analyzed the structure of many myths and narratives in order to define an archetype, that is, a structure of elements, characters (called Character Archetypes) and events that are repeated in the course of the story.

According to his model, each narrative was composed of a pattern that was always the same, or rather an archetypal model, which he called “the Hero’s Journey”.

Character Archetypes: what and which are they?

We introduced the concept of Character Archetypes identified by Campbell in the narrative.

The definition of these figures is fundamental to create the characters of a story and is an essential prerequisite for the drafting of a text.

Many novice writers tend to focus all attention on the plot of the story, leaving aside the characterization of the characters which, however, is as fundamental as the narrative texture.

The archetypes are in fact models of behavior. They are models of the roles that the character must play and that represent the narrative functions in the story.

Each character has a different role and function within the narrative. And for each of them, their human nature must emerge, characterized by strengths, defects and contradictions. 

Different types of hero

We think of Ulysses, a tenacious mythological hero who sails for ten long years in the direction of home. But who lets himself be tempted by the pleasures of the flesh bewitched by the sorceress Circe.

Think of Alice, who in Wonderland follows the white rabbit in his lair, falling into the tunnel that leads her to Wonderland.

Or even to Harry Potter, who lives his internal duplicity by fighting the part of Lord Voldemort that is inherent in him.

These three characters are some typical examples of the figure of the Hero, although they represent diametrically opposed characters.

Characters and archetypes

In the most interesting stories, the characters evolve.

So the association between a character and an archetype is not necessarily fixed. There are characters that are born with a particular function and that in the course of history acquire another.

Because the engine of every story is the conflict of the characters and their evolution.

Campbell’s archetypes

Campbell defined eight Character Archetypes:

  1. Hero
  2. Mentor
  3. Ally
  4. Herald
  5. Shapeshifter
  6. Shadow
  7. Guardian
  8. Trickster

In the articles that follow in the coming weeks, I will describe them carefully, one by one.

The phases of “The Hero’s Journey”

Character Archetypes Series: #1 What is an archetype? - Hero's journey.
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Illustration by Valentina Forni @cloudandcowfish

While there are eight Character Archetypes, the Hero’s journey consists of twelve distinct phases.

The call to adventure signifies that destiny has summoned the hero.


The ordinary world

Let us start with the first phase, the “Ordinary World”.

The hero leaves one world to begin his journey and enters a second world.

Although it’s the starting point and the one that the protagonist leaves after a short time, the Ordinary World is anything but marginal.

It’s the element that reinforces the story. It makes the reader grow fond of it because it gives the protagonist a reason to complete the journey and return to his habits, his world, or his loved ones.

The “Call to Adventure” is the second stop. Here the objective of the Hero’s journey is established and coincides with the moment in which something happens that starts the rest of the narrative.

The other two phases are connected to each other: the “Refusal of the Call” and the “Meeting with the Mentor”.

Without the Hero who refuses the action and initially shun their duty, there would be no meeting with the Mentor, the one who guides the protagonist during the journey with his wisdom.

The First Threshold

When the Hero finally accepts the challenge, we find “Crossing the First Threshold” and it’s the point of no return.

The story now begins and we only look forward to what will happen during the journey.

In the area of ​​“Tests, Allies, and Enemies”, the Hero faces the first challenges, meets Allies, Enemies and you understand the parts of all the characters. Who is on the good side and who is on the bad side.

The Second Threshold

The second threshold is the “Approach to Inmost Cave”.

This is the most dangerous part of the Journey and of the story. It’s when internal struggles of a team happen. It’s the moment in which the Hero understands something more about himself. 

We then move on to the “Supreme Ordeal”, the most critical and hard part of the test in which the Hero risks his own life.

If he passes it, the Hero goes directly to the next phase, “Reward”, in which reaches his reward or its goal.

Then, we set out for the return “The Road back”, where we see a different Hero from the one who left, who has learned a lot from himself and from the journey. 

The Third Threshold

The third threshold, the last one, is the “Resurrection” which could also be called the litmus test.

It’s the moment in which the Hero proves to have really changed.

Where even the reader recognizes himself in the awareness of the Hero until the final phase, “Return with Elixir”. In this phase, the Hero return to his world, from which he started and that concludes the story.

Develop your characters with innovative novel planning software such as bibisco

bibisco helps you to create your story thanks to its novel planning software.

As explained, archetypes are fixed and predefined patterns of behavior that recur in narratives.

The characters, however, are the “mobile” element of the story. They made up of conflicts, uncertainties, mistakes and which evolve over the course of history.

This is what makes a story interesting.

With bibisco, you can easily define the role and behavior of your character thanks to the interview mode.

Character Archetypes Series: #1 What is an archetype? - bibisco character's interview
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bibisco character’s interview


This article opens a long series of eight other articles about the Character Archetypes.

A question may arise: how is it possible that the narratives are so different from each other if they have the same structure as the archetypes and stages of the Hero’s Journey?

What makes the difference is obviously the context of the narrative itself, as well as the part that is defined for each character.

The nature of each character changes during the story, making them more real and thrilling for the reader.

Some characters amaze us because, in the end, they turn out to be friends like Professor Snape, who turns out to be the one who always looked after Harry Potter, or traitors, like Gollum in The Lord of the Rings.

So, in addition to the plot, it’s the characters that make the difference in the narrative, and in this bibisco helps you to perfectly build the personality of the protagonists of your next story.

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