We all know the story by now. A struggling, single mother sits on a train. There’s nothing particularly extraordinary about her until the moment when a young wizard with black hair and glasses walks into her head. It’s almost as famous as the story that she would then write. 20 years ago, today, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was released. For many of us, it’s hard to imagine the world without it– like a world without trees. Since then, there have been seven more books (including The Tales of Beedle the Bard), nine movies (including Fantastic Beasts), a West End play, and millions of people around the world captured and inspired by the story of Harry Potter.
For me, the course of my life as a student has been shaped by Harry Potter. Essays and classes and stories, all occurring because I both love Harry Potter and because it is gaining traction as a literary work. It’s not fully there yet– a quick search on JSTOR shows mostly reviews and articles discussing the Harry Potter Phenomenon, and a few discussing the works label it as Popular Fiction– but it’s clear that they’re not going away. As my particular wheelhouse is comparative literature, I have read lists and lists of those “Books You Should Read After Harry Potter” articles but none of them really grabbed me. Sure, Percy Jackson and A Series of Unfortunate Events are fantastic series, but the lists themselves are more “You liked Harry Potter? Have some more YA”. They don’t really have anything to do with Harry Potter.
These books do. I’m not going to be talking about as many things as I normally do in my list posts, but as someone who could fill entire blogs with literary study on Harry Potter, these are some good places to start.
What are Character Archetypes? (Part One)
valeriemclean1919 character archetypes, characters, heroes, Joseph Campbell, The Hero With a Thousand Faces, villains, Writing About Writing 5 Comments
So, I talked a few weeks ago about character motivations and how they should influence and impact the shape of a story, and earlier than that I spoke on how you as the author give a character agency, but before you think about character agency and motivations you should… maybe… have characters?
Building a character is an incredibly difficult part of any writing experience, even if you are just rolling some dice to get some stats. In any narrative work, having believable characters can make or break a production. Even in Science-Fiction and Fantasy, where, by all accounts, your entire cast could be non-human, if they don’t act and behave in recognizably human ways, that puts off an audience. Now, that could be your intention, and we’ll get into that a bit today, but there should be at least one character that your audience should be able to relate to and recognize their own experiences in.
But your characters also need to serve a function. From a strictly Doylist view, all characters are just people that plot happens to. Their function within the story can be categorized, and this is where archetypes come in. A character archetype is simply a category of character which describes the role that the character plays within the story. And with any category there are sub-categories and exceptions, but as with any type of categories, these are broad strokes. There is also the mistake that some writers make in that they start with the archetype and then never go anywhere with it. An archetype isn’t a character, it’s simply their function within the story. You have to give your character a personality and motivation and agency beyond their archetype to make them interesting.
So why use archetypes? Well, because it’s a pattern that you can follow. It’s a way to build your story and your character before you have a clear idea as to what your story and your character is. I mean, you probably have a good guy and a bad guy, they have a fight, Triangle wins. Triangle man.
(Also this is part one because there are far more archetypes than I’m going to list here, but here are a few to start out with.)