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15 Character Archetypes for Your Next Screenplay

Thinking of ideas for your next screenplay? Every great screenplay needs a strong cast with memorable, complex, heroic, and yet flawed characters. Writing these characters without making them sound overused and cliché can be a stressful task.

Character archetypes are broad-stroke categories of certain universal motifs and behaviors that act as a basic mold for your characters. They are the foundation of characters that we learn to love, hate, debate, and discuss – characters that eventually become a part of us.

You can also use character archetypes as a jumping off point while you’re searching for screenwriting ideas as well.

Here are some of the major character archetypes you should be aware of.

The Hero

This is one of the most common archetypes and appears in nearly every story. A hero is the one with a plan – the one who saves the day. Stories generally portray them as courageous, strong, confident, and motivated characters.

However, they can also be perceived as arrogant and domineering. Their storyline often revolves around them trying to prove their worth and doing the honorable thing, even at the cost of their own well-being.

Example: Captain America in ‘Avengers’

The Wise

Teachers, mentors, philosophers, and the old men with the long white beards fall under this archetype. They are there to help our protagonists make noble choices and guide them through difficult times. They are portrayed as experienced, analytical, and cautious.

Example: Merlin in ‘The Sword in the Stone’, Dumbledore in ‘Harry Potter’

The Jester

They are the hedonists, the jokers, the comedians, and the fools. These characters provide comedic relief and are portrayed as laid-back and funny. In some stories, they are the hero’s sidekick. They balance the hero’s sense of duty with their frivolous attitude and humor. Sometimes, they are also used to point out our hero’s flaws and insecurities.

Example: Chandler Bing in ‘Friends’, Timon and Pumba in ‘The Lion King’

The Caregiver

They are the anti-hedonists. Altruism, selflessness, and generosity are some of their defining traits. They are often the voice of reason for our impulsive characters. Most stories tend to portray these characters as gentle, but fiercely protective of their loved ones.

Example: Mrs. Weasely in ‘Harry Potter’

The Creator

These characters are passionate, driven, imaginative, and artistic. Creators will always put their dreams above everything else, no matter the cost. For them, nothing is more important than the pursuit of their passion and hence are often perceived as egotistic.

In most stories, they are portrayed as highly successful characters, lacking in social niceties and long-term relationships.

Example: Remy in ‘Ratatouille’

The Outlaw

Norms, laws and social conventions mean nothing to them. They are generally portrayed as complex, resourceful characters with a tragic backstory and a good heart. Their rebellious attitude and non-conformity fall in the gray area between right and wrong.

Example: Phoebe Buffay in ‘Friends’, Katniss Everdeen in ‘The Hunger Games’

The Innocent

These characters are optimistic, naive, and trusting. They are hopeful, free, untouched by reality, and choose to look on the bright side of things. Some stories portray them as the undeserving victims of the antagonist.

Example: Primrose Everdeen in ‘The Hunger Games’

The Explorer

Explorers are adventurous, free, curious, and brave. They are always looking for new experiences and the adrenaline rush that comes with it. They are bold and are constantly in search of a more meaningful life.   

Example: Erin in ‘Erin Brokovich’

The Lover

They wear their hearts on their sleeves and make any sacrifices necessary for the object of their affection. They will give up their own identity and freedom for the sake of love. These characters are devoted, passionate, and driven. However, their seemingly endless devotion often paves the way for tragedy. If you would like to see some romance or love story ideas make sure to visit this post.

Example: Romeo and Juliet

The Seducer/Seductress

They are charismatic, manipulative, confident, and provocative. They are smooth talkers who use their allure to get what they want. They prey on the other person’s vulnerabilities to get the upper hand. These characters are not always one of the bad guys – they just tend to have self-serving motives.

Example: Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone With the Wind’

The Ruler

These are the characters in a position of power. Generally, they possess leadership skills, a sense of purpose, and an ability to command respect. However, their defining attributes depend on whether they use their power and authority for benevolence or cruelty.

Example: Cersei Lannister in ‘Game of Thrones’

The Orphan

This archetype is widely used to introduce a sense of complexity in the protagonist. These characters are survivors. They come from difficult and poor conditions and are then elevated to positions of prominence, where they finally get their chance at happiness. Using this archetype is a great way to get the audience to root for your character!

Example: Oliver Twist

The Maiden

In some stories, she is the innocent bystander, while in some she is the hero’s love interest. These characters are generally the damsels in distress and need to be rescued by the protagonist. This archetype is seen across various genres like mythology, fairy tales, and even modern-day movies.

Example: Lois Lane in ‘Superman’

The Hunk

These characters are generally attractive and fit the popular description of “tall, dark and handsome”. However, there are some variations. In some stories, the hunk is portrayed as superficial and unintelligent. In others, these characters are much more complex and have an elaborate backstory. Sometimes, the Hero archetype incorporates this archetype.

Example: Cedric Diggory in ‘Harry Potter’

The Magician

These are the characters who want the world to bend to their will. They tend to be curious and highly intelligent. However, given their blatant disregard for social convention, they are perceived as egotistical and arrogant. They command respect but they are not the kind of people you would voluntarily want to hang out with.

Example: Sherlock Holmes

Remember, archetypes are just the starting point for your characters. Don’t be afraid to creatively interpret and build on these archetypes. Your unique screenplay ideas deserve an equally original and intricate character cast!

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Jay Carver

Jay Carver is a screenwriter, director and producer. Through his production company J-Style Films, he has done work for companies such as Turner Broadcasting. In the past, he has worked with Hollywood actor Omari Hardwick and won several film festivals including "Best Director".

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