Character And 12 Archetypes, Explained: What Are Stereotypes, Cliches And Stock Characters?

Joseph Campbell in his “The Hero’s Journey” said the journey of the hero is all about his courage to seek the depths, the cycle of eternity changes within us. In the world of filmmaking, the foundation of the algorithm is quite simple. If you have a deeper understanding of your characters, i.e., protagonist and antagonist, the story will stand out altogether. For example, if you write a story based on a real incident, there is a chance of a deeper message. Our understanding of something is what drives us to write great stories.


“Character archetypes” are something that comes across during psychoanalysis. Carl Jung, one of the pioneers of psychoanalysis, stated that an archetype represents the collectiveness of the human unconscious. For thousands of years, the narrative art form has established these archetypes in a character. Just to provide enough identifiable traits, the archetypes have become more of an influence in the minds of narrators. Moreover, if we want to specify any particular meaning, the heroic and villainous archetypes described in novels, poetries, and ancient mythology are being represented as heroes and villains of today’s world.

What Is A Character Archetype?

The oversimplified definition of “character archetype” is the validation of human experience. It is an emotion that creates a sense of familiarity. It drives an audience towards their own experiences, which they can relate to without even thinking about why it is relatable. Character archetypes are never embedded into the DNA; they are simply the revised forms of a character-driven by generations of empathy and human experience.


From the early days, bonfires and stories have shared a vast amount of narrative styles. The poetries, the songs of heroes, how they fought the battles, how the magic worked in spectacular ways, everything in it had its very own charismatic appeal. Although some archetypes are mostly biblical, which is why they are hard to use in contemporary stories, there are some that a writer must know while founding a story… a good one.

Now, sometimes they raise the question: how are archetypes any different from Stock characters, cliches, or stereotypes? To answer this, we must remember that they are never the same thing; they all have some major differences. Archetypes and Stock characters provide you with the knowledge for characterization, whereas cliches and stereotypes carry the impulse of bad writing.


What are Stereotypes, Cliches, and Stock Characters?

Stereotype is the most simplified version of characterization. When you are using an undesirable, simplified character in your writing, you use this sort of characterization. Whether it is black or white, stereotypes never end up in the gray area.

Cliches are the most negative impulses you must avoid. It is the repetitive plots that, at some point, are guessed by the audience that make your writing dull. Most of the readers like to be surprised. But, if you are under the convenience of using cliches, it had better be good writing; otherwise, the readers will lose focus at large.


Now, the Stock Characters are the ones that represent the archetypes while dwelling in the stereotypes. It is like the narrative wall that interacts directly or indirectly with the audience. In comedy or drama, Stock Characters tend to wear a mask to perform. A well-established Stock character can create an extensive foundation for the protagonist.

See More: How To Write A Screenplay – Script Writing Fundamentals And Important Elements

The 12 Character Archetypes

Regardless of the many, here we are going to discuss a few main archetypes that will help you write a brilliant story. Remember, writing a good story is all about how much you can make your audience relate to your writing. There are 12 main archetypes to be followed when creating a masterpiece:

The Lover

When you are creating a story, you need to mold it with a character that deals with romance. Everyone likes to be loved, and the lover in your story will make them desire such passion.

Strength: A lover can be passionate, willing to accept any kind of challenge that comes between him and his love, but above all, he will be a great human being. A lover is very determined about what he wants to achieve. A sense of belonging always works for this character. His conviction speaks for himself.


Weakness: While he becomes compassionate about love, that potentially makes him more naive than ever. Some of his actions may even seem irrational. The urge of sexual desire at times makes him indecisive. Their willingness to sacrifice for someone they fell in love with is another flaw of this character.

Example: Romeo from Romeo and Juliet may be the best example of this type of archetype.


The Hero

The protagonist of your story who accepts all the challenges and emerges from them with greatness.

Strength: A hero is the definition of willingness, if not courage. There will always be the tendency to fight the impossible battles and the urge to proclaim the honor. Another remarkable quality this archetype poses is perseverance. The impact of this quality only can outspoken the character.


Weakness: While making the main character fight for everything, these characters often end up being overconfident. The egotism at large destroys the character’s foundation itself. It is often seen that a hero becomes the reason for death.

Example: Star-Lord from Guardian of the Galaxy shows us the impact of such archetype. He is restless yet overconfident about everything.


The Magician

Readers tend to look for a powerful figure who can fight against all the odds that reside in the universe created by the author. This is what the magician does.

Strength: The magician in the story must have the qualities that match the Gods. He needs to be omnipotent and omniscient as well as disciplined. A magician’s strategic abilities are the one that attracts the audience. Their abilities are far beyond human understanding.


Weakness: While the character deals with the power of the gods, there is a chance for the rise of arrogance. Being omnipotent there is always a risk of being the destroyer of the world. A magician is hard to trust.

Example: Gandalf from The Lord of the Rings is vastly respected in the dwarf’s world for his wisdom and powers. His powers literally astonished all of us together.


The Outlaw

Within the mediocrity lies the reader’s utmost urge to fight against injustice without caring about society’s establishment. The Outlaw portrays the characterization of such thoughts.

Strength: Outlaws in a story will be independent thinkers, and they will prioritize virtue without thinking about anything else. His mind is filled with logical explanations of happenings. He works beyond the status quo of the society. 


Weakness: In an established society, outlaws are considered criminals by the law. An outlaw doesn’t run by empathy. Not caring about the world can make him hurt the closed ones.

Example: Batman in The Dark Knight became an outlaw at the end. Police started chasing him. He himself brought justice upon himself to save Gotham from greater threat.


The Explorer

The characterization of such archetypes develops with the sole idea of breaking the boundaries and exploring the unexplored.

Strength: The explorer is always motivated by self-interest; thus, the character drives with curiosity.  He always has this driven kind of nature that provides him with instincts. Explorer’s instincts are their strongest suit. Being an explorer they always have a special set of surviving skills.


Weakness: Being an explorer, the flaws it establishes are such as restlessness and never being satisfied. They are not very reliable at times. They can be introverts too. They feel awkward in the crowd.

Example: Sherlock Holmes is more of an explorer than a detective. He gathered his wisdom only by exploring and even so he was very much an introvert.


The Sage

This is a characterization of a know-it-all. You can sense the wisdom once the Sage is established in a plot.

Strength: The Sage represents infinite wisdom and experience. They work like a map to some unraveled mystery. Their insight about anything tends to have key to all problems. Their foundation works on the truth.

Weakness:  Sages never actually take part in any mission. They can provide the intel, but they are way too cautious. They believe their wisdom is more valuable than the lives wasted in pursuit of something valuable. 

Example: The Oracle in The Matrix knew the path where Neo would find the answers.

The Innocent

There is always the turn of a character who is morally sound and has no bad intentions whatsoever. They always see the goodness of the world.

Strength: Innocent’s strength is often their morality and kindness. They are very sincere about their responsibilities. They believe anything and anyone. They Can also be trusted by many.

Weakness: They are physically weak and very vulnerable. Their naivety is also a weakness in their character. Trusting anyone is one of the flaws of this archetype. They suffer the most by relying on people of all sorts. 

Example: Hermione Granger in Harry Potter has done nothing wrong to anyone yet she was called muggle blood all the time.

The Creator

The creator can be an artist or a business guru. This characterization in the narrative tends to create art or structure while the story progresses.

Strength: Creativity is the strongest suit for this character. Although vision is one of the strengths of this archetype, their wisdom can’t be neglected. They are artistically gifted and they adhere to creativity even in the final moments of their lives.

Weakness: Egotism is mostly seen in this archetype. Self-involvement and single-mindedness are also some of the flaws. Creator’s tend to act rigid when they are wronged by someone. They believe in singularity and their own domain which increases the flaws in the character. 

Example: Dr. Victor Frankenstein in Frankenstein belongs to this kind of archetype. He believed in singularity and his greatest creation was a flaw to society.

The Ruler

This characterization has power over other characters. Their goal is to stay on top and be in control all the time.

Strength: The Ruler is the epitome of power and supremacy. Their charisma speaks for themselves. Their urge to own everything makes them the center of resources. A ruler is not less than the omnipotent god except being a human.

Weakness: Rulers don’t accept help. They don’t trust anyone close to him which leads to paranoia. They are not at all trusted by others too. They are ruthless. For the sake of power they can do anything without caring about the law. 

Example: Macbeth in The Tragedy of Macbeth trusted no one once he became the king. Even so he killed his close alliances to be more powerful than ever.

The Orphan

This archetype doesn’t necessarily need to be an orphan; they always look for family. Orphans at times become the protagonist of the story as, with time, they adapt a lot from the surroundings and grow to be a leader or a man who can be trusted with life.

Strength: Orphan’s most vital strength is the feeling the character gets from being the chosen one. Also, their survival instincts are of high levels. Even so, their instinct for learning is very high. They can educate themselves from daily events.  

Weakness: Having no one always leaves with the notion of pleasing everyone, which is a bad side of a character. Also, they lack self-confidence. One of the other flaws of this character is they trust human beings easily. They can be fooled by anyone because of their naivety. 

Example: Harry Potter in Harry Potter has the urge of pleasing everyone being an orphan. But he learns from his journey and we all know the destination.

The Caregiver

This archetype needs to be treated with delicacy. Caregivers are the ones who sacrifice everything. They literally play the role of a sidekick at times.

Strength: They are selfless, loyal, and have an outstanding loving nature. They are very honorable. They have a nice balance of stability and control. Their fluidity in decision making can always be trusted.

Weakness: They lack leadership at times, and in many ways, they are naïve as well as vulnerable. They are blindfolded by where they put their trusts. For the loved ones they won’t hesitate to take the bullet.

Example: Sirius Black in Harry Potter lacked the leadership quality but his decisions were trusted by Harry Potter. Even so, he died taking care of Harry. What a character!

The Joker

The funny character in the narrative who provides comic relief, often in the shadows of the unspeakable truth.

Strength: Sense of humor and likeability are the main strengths of this archetype. They can also be pretty much insightful. Even in their dullest moment, they can make you laugh out loud. 

Weakness: Jokers can be obnoxious. Their frivolousness and selfishness, too, can’t be ignored. They can never be trusted. They are talkative. If not written with care, sometimes their presence can turn out to be a disaster rather than a relief. 

Example: Scrat in Ice Age always came out of nowhere to save the last of his food. It was so hysterical yet insightful for the audience.

These are the 12 most discussed and crucial archetypes in character development. A writer must go through the different archetypes to establish a very prominent connection with the reader. Regardless to say, the more layers with the archetypes can bring out the best form of writing. To build characters like Sirius Black or Professor Snape, the emotion they have carried through generations, and the other archetypes are crucially important to establish their foundation. So, to build one archetype remarkable, one needs to establish the others with intensive care as well.

Shovan Roy
Shovan Roy
Shovan Roy is a creative content writer. Formerly he used to write film reviews on an international film festival website named Beyond the Curve International Film Festival. He also interviewed global directors. He also interviewed one of the characters from the show 'Trailer Park Boys', Mr. Bernard Robichaud, platformed in Netflix. Shovan tends to write through the third person narrative and he loves to do psychoanalysis. He can't say that he has mastered it but that is some sort of hobby of his. Film is a platform where he loves to spend most of his time learning.

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