Archetypes That Make Sense

In a complete story, characters perform a function.

Wouldn't it be nice if you had a set of eight basic characters from which to draw upon while writing a story? And wouldn't it be nicer if they operated completely independent of the "hero"?

As previously explained, the character archetypes found in the Hero's Journey mono-myth are a complete waste of time for anyone interested in writing a story. They define a vision of character that is so narrow, that they become useless to anyone trying to write a story that isn't about a "hero's transformational journey." And there are a lot of writers who aren't.

The Dramatica Archetypes on the other hand are, by design, objective and therefore can be used in any story regardless of purpose.

Light Swords and Explosions in Space

It should be obvious that the impetus for writing Star Wars had little to do with the intricacies of refined character development. As such, the characters in that film come off flat and to a point, obvious. Yet, they still work. Why is that?

In my classes, I present a collection of slides describing each and every Archetype. Definitions of each are provided, along with their corresponding character within Star Wars. Examples from the Robert Zemeckis film Contact are also provided.


Archetypes and Balance

There is balance within the archetypes. Protagonists have their Antagonists, Sidekicks have their Skeptics, and Reason has Emotion. Without that balance, a story will feel one-sided and the audience will feel cheated. You can't have one side of an argument without supplying the other. To that end, it is important to bring up the concept of the Contagonist.

The Contagonist is solely a Dramatica innovation and one that becomes demonstrably necessary when considered within the context of balance. The Guardian character, perhaps one of the most widely used character archetypes in all of narrative fiction, cannot exist in a vacuum. That character needs their counterpart in order for their function within a story to seem genuine.

Useful Tools for Writings

So there you have the eight basic character archetypes, defined clearly and objectively without the use of "masks." Each has a function within the story: the Protagonist pursues the goal while the Antagonist tries to prevent that from happening. The Sidekick cheers them on while the Skeptic cynically disapproves. Reason gives level-headed advice while Emotion provides the right side of the brain with comfort. And finally, the Guardian chips in and actually helps out while the Contagonist just gets in the way.

But what makes these far superior to Tricksters or Shapeshifters is that they are defined NOT by their relation to the hero, but rather by their function towards or away from the story goal. Sidekicks don't have to be attached to the Protagonist and Contagonists don't have to act as servants to the Antagonist. All that matters is that they perform their functions in regards to the story goal. Regardless of what kind of story you are trying to write, and as long as you buy into the idea that stories are about solving problems (which I think everyone can universally agree on), it then becomes clear that archetypes based on the goal of a story actually serve as useful tools for a writer. Any kind of writer.

The only problem with these guys is that they're kind of boring if used as is. Coming up next, we'll dive into these characters in more detail, see what makes them tick, and show ways of actually making them interesting.

Originally published 11-28-2009

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