What's an archetype and how can you use it?

Every character, setting, and milieu is an opportunity for the writer to convey a message.

Every word, action, and thought of the characters in your story contributes to the armature of your work. Whether you design those details with care and intention, or let it happen by accident, is entirely up to you.


Since our social, cultural, and psychological realities have been shaped by archetypes for so long, they are one of the most valuable tools for communicating subtle and subconscious messages in your writing.


This is already happening all around you: every product, advertising campaign, and celebrity of any medium or genre is enbodying an intentional archetype chosen for their specific niche. And we too, as feminist storycrafters, can use archetypes to influence readers and shape culture.

Here’s an overview of the 12 archetypes I use in my classes and in my writing:

Here's a quick-glance overview of the archetypes, as I use them:

homework

Writing Practice: Create an archetypal character

Download the PDF and print it out, or just study the image above. Think of the main character in your story as you read back through the archetypes. Choose one that feels closest to your character.


Use these two questions to help you:

  • What fundamental human need is most pressing for her, right now, at the beginning of this story?
  • What is her “super power”?


Note that the super powers here are virtues anybody could cultivate. And ask yourself, which of these virtues will your character need, in order to complete her journey?


You may find yourself torn between two or three archetypes that seem super close. In that case, flip a coin! This is an exercise, not a marriage. Don’t get mired in the details.


Once you’ve settled on an archetype, brainstorm a list of 10-25 words that seem to connect with that archetype.

Then, using that lexicon, write your character’s origin story in archetypal language. Try to keep it between 3-5 pages, and see if you can demonstrate how and why this character is connected to the armature you’ve chosen for this story.

This is the end of our intro course, but please let me know what you think and I will for sure let you know when the bigger toolkit is available on this topic.