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All About Archetype

Think about the characters you love in your favorite sequels, series, or novels. What did you love most about them? I can tell you were quick to say “their roles in the story.” These roles are the same reasons why we have heroes, villains, and even supporting characters in a story. But you must have noticed that there is an unmistakable similarity in the roles of these characters in every author’s story. For example, the hero always ends up saving a life or preventing the occurrence of a disaster in the story. The villain is always responsible for every kind of evil in a story. Did you know this is because of a literary tool called archetype? Let’s talk about archetypes.

The definition of archetype

Archetype is a literary device that entails the formation or creation of characters using a set of qualities that are well known to readers. You may have a few questions about the literary device. Questions like "is the role of a character that we refer to archetype?" Or "is it the rules that dictate the creation of a character in a story?" Technically, the title of a character’s role itself is a rule. The title “hero” dictates that the character will possess specific qualities or traits which are familiar or specific to a reader. Therefore the title hero is an archetype.

The term archetype comes from Carl Jung’s work, a psychologist who believed that archetypes are basically memories of human universal experiences. There are a couple of known archetypes in the literature.

Examples of archetypes in literature


A hero is a character who possesses traits such as bravery, courage, sympathy, perseverance, selflessness, intelligence, and other good traits. In a story, the hero is always responsible for preventing any kind of evil from befalling the other characters.


A villain is a character that possesses traits such as selfishness, ruthlessness, heartlessness, pride, and other bad traits. The villain is usually responsible for imposing any kind of evil on the other characters.


A ruler is usually a character that has power over other characters and whose decisions are mostly not supposed to be questioned. The ruler may be a good character or a bad character. A ruler is mostly given a high social status in a story.

Magician or wizard

This is a character with the ability to manipulate supernatural forces in a story, either to their advantage or to other characters’ advantage.


A lover is a character that is influenced by the emotions of love. A lover is usually the character that is perceived as romantic in a story.


This is a character that seeks adventure in new environments or places in the story. An explorer travels to or finds places other characters in the story have not been to.


This is a character that possesses funny traits. A jester usually speaks, thinks, or acts humorously.


An outlaw is a character that is against the authorities or bodies of power in a story.


A sage is a wise character


A creator is an intelligent character that makes something of importance in a story. Creators can also be referred to as inventors.

Average character

An average character is usually part of the mob. An average character belongs to the low or average class in society. Average characters are usually in every story.


This is a character that possesses selfless traits. Caregivers often sacrifice their lives or something that belongs to them for the good of other characters.

How to use an archetype

Create universal characters. By universal characters, I mean characters that are familiar to readers.

Create characters that have contrasting traits.



Written by Readers’ Favorite Reviewer Keith Mbuya