Simplifying Character Archetypes

I read a blog from one of my favorite authors a while back about character archetypes. Here is the link.  There are a lot of methods for characterization out there, probably as many as there are authors, this one simplified most of them into a coherent model. But, I simplified it even further.

First, I would like to break down the one from the talented K. M. Weiland’s blog. She puts eight main characters in opposing pairs. These are: protagonist and antagonist, sidekick and skeptic, guardian and contagonist, and reason and emotion. She goes further into detail, but it breaks down like this:

1.   Protagonist – the main character
2. Antagonist – the one directly opposed to the main character
3. Sidekick – agrees with the main character
4. Skeptic – on the same side but is doubtful of the main character
5. Guardian – teaches the important things necessary for the main character to fulfill his or her goal
6. Contagonist – pushes the main character away from his or her goal
7. Reason – makes decisions based on reason
8. Emotion – makes decisions based on emotion

The protagonist is the main character, the one that is most affected by the events of your plot. If they aren’t the one making all of the changes, all of the changes better make things worse for them. You know what, no. Eventually the protagonist has to do something our they’re not the protagonist, you’d have to change the whole viewpoint of the story and that’s a whole other entry. Some examples are: Snake Plisken I escape from New York, Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, and anyone who has the story named after them.

The antagonist stands directly opposed to the protagonist. If the protagonist starts out not making any bog changes, the antagonist will change rings for the worse until the main character has to act to stop him. Other names for him are: the villain, the bad guy, the final boss, etc. You know this one, they’re characters like Darth Vader, Voldemort, or Sauron.

The sidekick is typically the main character’s best friend. But, they don’t have to be. They can be the protagonist’s biggest fan or just a supporter. Think the adoring fan from The Elder Scrolls IV Oblivion or one of The Doctor’s companions from Doctor Who.

The skeptic isn’t against the main character but they’re not for them either. The skeptic is against the antagonist but doesn’t think that the main character is right in his or her actions. They are a good source of tension outside of the main conflict. A good example would be Morigan from Dragon Age.

Most of the time, the guardian guardian is an old guy with a beard but they don’t have to be. Gandalf, Obi Wan (original trilogy), Dumbledore, these are all old guys with beards. But, the guardian is anyone who teaches the main character what he or she needs to complete his plot goal.

The contagonist, this one is not as commonly understood. Short answer, they oppose the work of the guardian. They push the main character’s development backwards, that isn’t an excuse not to have a fully developed protagonist. Unlike the antagonist, they may or may not oppose the main character on purpose. But they do have to oppose them. A good example would be Borimir from The Lord of the Rings. Here’s a more in depth article on the contagonist.

The reasonable character makes their decisions through logic and reason. They will offer advice based on evidence. Think, C-3P0 or Sam Winchester.

The emotional one is the opposite of the reasonable one. They make decisions based on feelings, like Han Solo when he said, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” Both the emotion and the reason are advisors to the main character.

Miss Weiland then goes on to add the love interest as another one that can be combined with one of those mentioned above, that’s where the “and a half” part comes in. I tried using this and it worked really well. It gave me some structure and direction where I needed it and a way for me to understand how my characters interact with one another.

Combining the love interest with one of the other slots keeps them a fully developed character and not just an object that keeps the main character on track. It’s a great way to see where they fit in your plot. So I took it two steps further.

When I used this method, I had two characters just hanging out with no place in the story. These two were reason and emotion. So, I took these two characters and did what miss Weiland did with the love interest.

1. Protagonist
2. Antagonist
3. Sidekick
4. Skeptic
5. Guardian
6. Contagonist

The reason and emotion characters can occupy one of the other slots or be left out entirely. I still keep them, but they fit better as sidekick and skeptic or guardian and contagonist. They could even occupy unrelated slots like sidekick and guardian.
Each of these are based on their direct relationship with the main character. If you have multiple pov’s, I would recommend doing a chart of these with each pov in the protagonist slot. Any comments or suggestions are welcome, tell me what you think.

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