As a writer, I often feel my weakest component is my character development — I just don’t feel my characters come to life on the page. That said, I’ve had reviewers comment on how real my characters appear, so maybe I’m being overly critical of my own work.
Whether you do a great job of character development or need some help, archetypes can fold characters into a story in a way that seems very natural.
What are archetypes?
Archetypes is a term given to characters (real or imagined) as part of storytelling by Carl Jung — the famous psychologist.
Here’s a great treatment of archetypes by Soul Craft:
The psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung, used the concept of archetype in his theory of the human psyche. He believed that universal, mythic characters—archetypes—reside within the collective unconscious of people the world over. Archetypes represent fundamental human motifs of our experience as we evolved; consequentially, they evoke deep emotions.
Although there are many different archetypes, Jung defined twelve primary types that symbolize basic human motivations. Each type has its own set of values, meanings and personality traits. Also, the twelve types are divided into three sets of four, namely Ego, Soul and Self. The types in each set share a common driving source, for example types within the Ego set are driven to fulfill ego-defined agendas.
I encourage you to read their illustrations of the 12 archetypes as you work toward building your characters and crafting your story.
Using archetypes in character development
Unsurprisingly to anyone who reads (and if you’re a writer or aspiring writer, you should be reading a lot), Jung discovered archetypes in literature across cultures and time periods which drove him to suggest these archetypes are universal elements of the psyche. [reference]
A popular archetype in character development is the hero. Often, much of the story revolves around the exploits of our hero and his transformational journey of redemption. But, don’t focus so much on the hero’s character development that the rest of your characters remain flat.
In fact, an archetype doesn’t have to be a single character, but might be a symbol, theme, or plot pattern.
Also, consider that individuals are often a mixture of different archetypes depending on context, so it is important to show growth and don’t fit your characters too rigidly into a single archetype.
Other aspects of character development
Not all of us want to write novels where we spend most of our words getting into a character’s head. But, that doesn’t mean we don’t need strong character development.
In addition to using archetypes to guide you, I found these great tips from Tom Pawlik, author of Beckon and other suspense thrillers. He offers 9 steps in character development:
- Communication style
- History – or backstory
- Character defects
- Restrictions they must overcome
If you’d like to read more about his character development, simply check out his article here.
5 traps in character development
Just as important as using these tools is avoiding pitfalls when creating characters. Here are some pitfalls I found particularly insightful: [reference]
- Avoid 1 dimensional characters — no one is 1 dimensional so they don’t seem real.
- Avoid stereotypical characters
- Don’t make your characters too perfect – no one is all good, so let them do something bad occasionally
- Be consistent. We’ve all read a story or watched a show and thought “that person would never do that”. Inconsistency is jarring for the reader. This is where editing comes in. I keep a little notebook of my characters to ensure consistency.
- Don’t make your characters dull. No one will care about them
‘Buried Ladies’ is a novel of murder, mystery and the dark web. Read it for FREE at: http://buriedladies.com/read. I’d love your comments.