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What is an Archetype in the Narrative?

What is an archetype? Archetypes are powerful storytelling tools that have been used for centuries to captivate audiences and convey universal themes.

Understanding the concept of archetypes is essential for any storyteller looking to create compelling narratives that connect with their audience.

In this article, we will delve into the significance of archetypes in storytelling, their role in character development, and how they shape the narrative structure.

Let’s start with the definition of archetype in the context of literature and storytelling.


What is an archetype?

An archetype, in the context of literature and storytelling, refers to a universal symbol, theme, or character type that represents a fundamental human experience. Archetypes, such as the hero, mentor, or villain, appear across different cultures and stories, conveying common meanings and emotions. They serve as recognizable patterns that evoke specific responses in readers or audiences.

Understanding the meaning of archetypes

To understand archetypes, we must explore their meaning and origins. We define archetype as a universally recognized symbol, theme, or character representing a particular idea or concept.

It is deeply rooted in the collective unconscious, a concept introduced by renowned psychologist Carl Gustav Jung. The collective unconscious is a reservoir of shared experiences, images, and symbols inherited and carrying a primal, instinctual meaning.

Archetypes tap into this collective unconscious, evoking familiar emotions and connecting with audiences on a profound level. They are timeless and transcend cultural boundaries, making them a powerful tool for storytellers to communicate complex ideas in a relatable and accessible manner.

The significance of archetypes in narrative

Building upon Jung’s research, Joseph Campbell, a prominent American scholar in comparative mythology and the history of religions, embarked on defining the archetypal elements within a narrative. These archetypes serve as a foundational framework for storytelling, encompassing varied elements, protagonists, plots, and historical contexts.

In 1949, Campbell published The Hero with a Thousand Faces, a seminal work where he delved into the analysis of myths and narratives. He aimed to identify a recurring archetype—a structure consisting of elements, characters (referred to as Character Archetypes), and events—that manifested throughout stories.

Campbell’s model proposed a consistent pattern, an archetypal framework he termed “the Hero’s Journey“. According to this model, every narrative adhered to a universal structure, emphasizing the timeless nature of storytelling.

question may arise: how can the narratives be so different if they have the same structure as the archetypes and stages of the Hero’s Journey?

What makes the difference is the narrative context and the part defined for each character.

Consider Ulysses, the determined mythological Hero embarking on a ten-year voyage towards home, yet yielding to the allure of fleshly pleasures trapped by the sorceress Circe. Picture Alice chasing the white rabbit into Wonderland through a tunnel. Reflect on Harry Potter, grappling with his internal duality, combating the part of Lord Voldemort within. These characters exemplify the Hero despite their stark differences, showcasing the multifaceted nature of this archetypal figure.

What is a character archetype?

We’ve introduced Character Archetypes, as outlined by Campbell in narrative construction.

Defining these figures is pivotal for crafting a story’s characters, a crucial prerequisite for story development. While novice writers may prioritize the plot, character development is equally crucial and integral to the narrative.

Archetypal characters embody universal traits, motivations, and conflicts. An archetype serves as a blueprint for character development, laying the foundation for unique, believable characters with their human nature marked by strengths, flaws, and contradictions.

For instance, the Hero archetype signifies the protagonist’s transformative journey, overcoming obstacles to achieve their goal. The Mentor archetype guides and supports the Hero, offering wisdom along the way.

It’s important to note that characters evolve in the most engaging stories. The association between a character and an archetype isn’t necessarily fixed; characters may shift functions as the story unfolds.

Campbell’s archetypes

Campbell defined eight Character Archetypes:

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

By clicking on the link to each archetype, you will access an article that explains its characteristics, its role in storytelling, its relationships with other archetypes, and famous examples in literature and cinema.

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

Joseph Campbell

Develop your characters with bibisco novel writer 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 are made up of conflicts, uncertainties, and mistakes, which evolve throughout the story. This is what makes a story interesting.

With bibisco novel writer software, you can easily define the role and behavior of your character thanks to the character development tools.

character development tools in bibisco -  "Whats an archetype?" in blog article "What is an archetype in the narrative?"
character development tools in bibisco

Conclusion: what is an archetype?

Archetypes play a crucial role in storytelling by providing a framework for understanding and interpreting narratives. Tapping into the collective unconscious, they serve as a common language between the storyteller and the audience, enabling a deep emotional connection.

Archetypes also help to establish the themes and motifs present in a narrative. They represent universal concepts such as love, fear, power, and transformation, enabling storytellers to explore these ideas in a way that resonates with their audience.

By using archetypes, storytellers can tap into their audience’s shared experiences and emotions, creating a powerful and immersive storytelling experience.

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