Archetypes In Storytelling

Carl Gustav Jung was a famous Swiss psychiatrist and psychologist who lived from 1875 until 1961.

Aside from being the founding father of analytical psychology, Jung also devoted much of his time to the study of religious and mythological symbology.

In the course of his inquiry, he noticed similar patterns and themes emerging despite the fact that the subject matter had very different origins.

From this observation, he put forward his theory that we are not born as ‘a blank slate’ but that we all carry a set of elements ‘pre-programmed’ into our psyche.

Jung labelled these elements ‘archetypes’ and argued that they are ‘universally’ human and represent the sum of our experience as we have evolved over time. Because they are common to all of us, we can recognise and identify with them on an emotional level.

In total, Jung identified 12 separate archetypes. Before we take a look at them in more detail, please pause for a moment and think of some of your favourite stories and the characters portrayed in them.

It shouldn’t take you too long to realise that characters with similar traits recur time and time again in storytelling. It’s for this reason that archetypes can be a helpful tool for characterisation when telling your own stories.

Now let’s take a look at what defines each one…

1. The Hero

Characteristics: Strength, courage

Weaknesses: Arrogance, delusions of grandeur

2. The Sovereign

Characteristics: Order, stability, control

Weaknesses: Entitlement, greed

3. The Magician

Characteristics: Powers of perception, intuition

Weaknesses: Hubris, trickery

4. The Sage

Characteristics: Wisdom, intelligence

Weaknesses: Passiveness, arrogance

5. The Creator

Characteristics: Nonconformity, imagination

Weaknesses: Over dramatisation, perfectionism

6. The Jester

Characteristics: Humour, irreverence

Weaknesses: Being misunderstood, inefficiency

7. The Innocent

Characteristics: Trust, honesty

Weaknesses: Naïveté, denial

8. The Explorer

Characteristics: Independence, bravery

Weaknesses: Aimlessness, alienation

9. The Rebel

Characteristics: Risk taking, individuality

Weaknesses: Lawlessness, fanaticism

10. The Lover

Characteristics: Belonging, self sacrifice

Weaknesses: Obsession, jealousy

11. The Citizen

Characteristics: Fairness, accountability

Weaknesses: Righteousness, recklessness

12. The Caregiver

Characteristics: Compassion, empathy

Weaknesses: Arrogance, delusions of grandeur

As you can see from the list above, each archetype has its own set of qualities which propel the character in the story forward.

By the same token, they possess weaknesses which provide an opportunity for them to face a set of challenges which they must overcome in order to complete their own journey of transformation. 

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