Archetypes and the Writer

An archetype is an innate, universal model of personality traits which influences human behaviour.

Over the course of his career, psychologist Carl Jung developed his theory on certain archetypes which occur time and again across different cultures. These include archetypal events, such as birth, death, separation from parents, initiation, marriage, the union of opposites; archetypal motifs: the apocalypse, the deluge, the creation; and archetypal figures, we hold in our collective unconscious and are contained within the self.

Jung’s archetypes tend to combine with each other and interchange qualities, thus it is difficult to delineate between them. This said, some character archetypes are particularly notable.

Academic Joseph Campbell expounded on Jung’s theory in respect of literature, positing eight archetypes which he identified as common themes which create an immediate sense of familiarity with the reader. This leads the reader to connect with the characters and, in so doing, invest in the story.

For writers, an understanding of the archetypes, and their respective strengths, weaknesses and psychological issues, can enhance the fictional characters and provides inspiration. 

Carl Jung’s archetypes

  1. The Hero
  2. The Lover
  3. The Sage
  4. The Magician
  5. The Outlaw
  6. The Shadow
  7. The Everyman
  8. The Explorer
  9. The Jester
  10. The Ruler
  11. The Innocent
  12. The Caregiver

Joseph Campbell’s archetypes

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