Characters all start from the same place; with an archetype. Wikipedia defines an archetype as “…a universally understood symbol, term, or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated.”
These archetypes speak right to our subconscious. They are the ancient symbols our brains immediately understand and have some idea what to expect from each.
What comes to mind when you read about the character who’s always playing the comic relief? Or the one who acts as the peacemaker? What about the guy who doesn’t always fit in? Or the one who believes with all his heart and soul he was born to lead?
If you said Jester, Judge, Deviant and Alpha, you guessed the right archetypes.
The Inspirational Twist
Archetypes alone are not enough to create a good character. Use an archetype straight out of the box and you risk creating a stereotype. You don’t want readers saying they’ve seen that before while they stifle a yawn.
For example, when I created Cole Morrison, one of our leading men in Loyalties, I already knew he was a rogue. He’s a show off, arrogant and refuses to stay down even when the odds are against him.
If this were all there was to Cole, he wouldn’t be very interesting. I can’t think of one person who would want to hang around that for very long. This is why we need something more. Something that goes beyond the expected. This is why we create layers.
Some of the best and most memorable characters are the ones who have multiple layers. They may be the Jester on the outside, but on the inside, they long to be the Alpha. They may be several archetype aspects all rolled into one interesting bundle.
Mingled with those layers is motivation, the back story reasons for why a character does what he does. In Cole’s case, his father all but abandoned him and his three older brothers. Cole had to fight for any kind of attention, competition was pretty fierce in the Morrison household. To stand out, he had to be confident and brash, either that or get lost in the shuffle. Deep down, all he ever wanted was his father to notice him. As he grew up, his actions (both positive and negative) got him the attention he craved. And as long as he got attention, why stop?
All of our characters in Loyalties have these layers. The layers are the unspoken pieces of mystery the reader picks up and wants to examine more closely. These layers are so important, especially when you’re writing a series of books. You want threads leading down other paths. Each one is a story in itself.
Do you use archetypes for your characters? Maybe you do already and don’t realize it. Take a look at the characters you’re writing now. Can you see where they came from?