Archetypes. I never realized how useful and important they are. Not all archetypes – there are many – but these seven are important for writers:

  • Herald
  • Herohero
  • Shadow
  • Mentor
  • Trickster
  • Shapeshifter
  • Threshold Guardian

Perhaps it’s better to call them masks that characters wear. One character can wear many different masks in a story.

Take any good story, take any good movie or television show, can you find these seven archetypes?

They are important for the dramatic function they add to a story

  • The herald announces the story and tells the other characters (and the readers) why this story is important.
  • The hero, some say, is made up of all these archetypes. The hero in a story is the character who changes the most.
  • The shadow is the other side of the force, the evil person (who considers himself or herself as a hero)
  • The mentor is a mask that people identify with, Obi Wan, Glenda, the good witch.



  • The trickster adds humor and cuts down people with bloated egos.
  • A shapeshifter brings a lot of tension into a story. What will he be like tomorrow?
  • Threshold guardians provide another challenge for the hero. He or she has to overcome them or absorb their power.

For added depth to your story, for characters that are not stereotypes, consider adding these archetypes.


6 responses to “Archetypes

  1. Thanks for the refreshing course on archetypes. As I am coming to fiction after spending almost two decades interpreting Biblical literature as a pastor, I have a number of classic archetypes floating around in my brain, but it can be helpful to identify them and intentionally include them in the story.

    Thanks again.

    • Religion is a great source of archetypes. Joseph Campbell wrote a 4 volume series called “The Masks of God.” I assume this is how different cultures look at God.
      I’d be interested in your work. I’m an ex-Catholic priest. Keep me in the loop.

      • Thank you for your interest. I’m currently completing a trilogy of short stories – “Life”, “Liberty” and “The Pursuit of Happiness” which I expect to publish as a collection some time this year. I’m also working with some current and former theater professors to adapt them into a script. If you follow my blog, I often provide sneak previews and updates.

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