Character Archetypes Every Screenwriter Should Consider
Character archetypes are a significant part of the screenwriting process. It’s a healthy dosage of trying to determine what kind of character is best for your script while not falling under the cliché trap. Thankfully, there are specific character archetypes in virtually every film for screenwriters to analyze.
Even the most avant-garde or experimental kind of film has character archetypes in their scripts. Regardless, if you need help writing character archetypes for your script, you’re in the right place. Down below will highlight what an archetype is and a few character archetype examples. Let’s take a look!
Still from 'Of Mice and Men'. Photo credit: DVD Beaver
What is an Archetype?
An archetype refers to an emotion, character type, or event reoccurring across the human experience. Think of it as a sense of familiarity with a character. It makes it easy for audiences to understand a character without even diving too deeply into the film.
An archetype shouldn’t be confused with a stereotype, cliché, or a gimmick. These premises are more or less bad archetypes and can result in bad characters. A character doesn’t follow the hero archetype for the sake of being the hero. It’s a multi-layered process of creating memorable and high-quality characters.
Character Archetype Examples
Below are a few key character archetype examples you should consider for your script. Keep in mind, these aren’t the only character archetypes to be mindful of. Also, be careful when utilizing these archetypes that you don’t write so specifically to that archetype where it becomes tedious or unnecessary. There’s a nice balance between sticking to an archetype and going with your plot.
A lover character is a character who is driven by love. Coming of age films most frequently have lover-oriented characters, as well as more serious romantic dramas. A great way to develop a lover archetype is to create a great deal of conflict amidst their love interest.
Anything that prevents them from achieving the loving relationship they’re interested in makes for great interest. Just be mindful that lover characters have done it time and time again. Try to think of a way that makes your character unique and separates them from the typical lover archetype.
● Romeo and Juliet
● Noah Calhoun (The Notebook)
● Belle (Beauty and the Beast)
A hero is the most prominent archetype where a main character rises to meet a challenge and save the day. There are plenty of films that utilize a side character hero, a character who sacrifices themselves for the greater good of the story. Saving Private Ryan uses this example throughout the film as the various soldiers in it lose their lives.
The main component to be aware of while writing the hero is that every great hero needs an enemy or villain to be against. Batman can’t exist without the Joker, just like Luke Skywalker can’t exist without Darth Vader. On a more extensive system, Gotham City can’t function without its villains, and the Rebels in Star Wars can’t operate without the Empire.
● Luke Skywalker (Star Wars)
● Wonder Woman (Wonder Woman)
● Harry Potter (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone)
On the opposite end of the spectrum, from the hero’s point of view, is the outlaw. An outlaw archetype is an antihero who refuses to abide by society’s demands. Great outlaw archetypes can range from being Tony Soprano as the main character of The Sopranos to being a side character like the joker.
What’s vital while writing outlaw archetypes is to create a character who isn’t evil or doing wrong things for the sake of doing evil. Every villain has a reason for what they’re doing.
If you can somehow create an outlaw archetype where the audience begins to sympathize with them at some point, that tends to be very effective. An outlaw archetype also doesn’t need to be a villain; it could be a “good guy” who just doesn’t abide by the rules, such as Harry Callahan from Dirty Harry or Batman.
● Han Solo (Star Wars)
● Harry Callahan (Dirty Harry)
The innocent archetype is a character whose purpose is solely based on doing what’s right. An innocent character is best utilized when their scenes are paired with the opposite kind of character. A great example is from Cormac McCarthy’s The Road between The Boy and his Father.
For those who don’t know, The Road is a 2009 film about a man (Viggo Mortensen) and his young son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) wandering through a post-apocalyptic world trying to survive. The Boy wants to find the good in the desolate wasteland while his Father doesn’t trust anyone.
● Lennie Small (Of Mice and Men)
● Buddy the Elf (Elf)
● The Boy (The Road)
A jester archetype is based around the notion of comedy. A jester is supposed to entertain the audience with laughter. Just about every kind of script can benefit from a jester character at some point. Even if the script is earnest, some comedy from a jester archetype is helpful from an entertainment perspective.
● Frank and Estelle Costanza (Seinfeld)
● R2D2 and C-3PO (Star Wars)
● Ace Ventura