Writer’s Glossary: Archetype

Today on Writer’s Glossary…


Plato suggested that all things have their perfect form –  the archetype. When talking about archetypes in fiction, they are a typical or perfect form of a character type.

For instance, Superman is the archetypal hero. He is good looking, strong, humble, fights

archetypes in fiction

Superman is the archetypal hero

for good and protects the weak. Gandalf is the archetypal wise man, who helps the hero and draws him into the story. Women get to be wicked stepmothers and evil temptresses or fairytale princesses.

Stories also have archetypes, such as ‘the hero’s journey’, which forms the basis of, most famously, Star Wars, but also Lord of the Rings and The Wizard of Oz or Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Archetypes are useful because we know they are timeless and they work. However, handle it poorly and an archetype can become a cliché, making readers roll their eyes because it feels like they’ve read it before.

Star Wars and Buffy share the same story and character archetypes, but the settings and characters are so different that they feel fresh. In fact, Buffy is a cliche who becomes an archetype, as her arc takes her from vapid, high school cheerleader to hero. Once again, Joss Whedon shows us how it’s done.

Take an archetype, set it somewhere new or flip it on its head and you’ve got the basis of a strong story.

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