Guides

The 12 character archetypes

The Boords Team
The Boords Team
|
19 min read
19 min read

In blockbuster films and best-selling books, there are certain types of characters that appear repeatedly. They're known as character archetypes. In this post, we're going to get to know them.

Some people say there are five common character archetypes. Some reckon eight. Others think 99. For this guide, we're going to keep it classic and stick to psychologist Carl Jung's system, aka #Jungian style. Jung decreed that there are 12 character archetypes – and we'll explain them all below.

A bit of background: Jung believed that human beings all over the world have a universal character (archetype) within them, and that each of the twelve primary types has its own set of values, meanings, and personality traits. He collected the twelve common archetypes into three sets of four – ego, soul, and self – with each set sharing the same motivation for why they do things.

  1. 1. The Innocent
  2. 2. The Orphan
  3. 3. The Hero
  4. 4. The Caregiver
  5. 5. The Seducer
  6. 6. The Rebel
  7. 7. The Lover
  8. 8. The Creator
  9. 9. The Joker
  10. 10. The Mentor
  11. 11. The Magician
  12. 12. The Ruler

1. The Innocent

Often a child, this archetypal character is someone who sees the world as a good and wholesome place... until something happens to change their perspective. As they go through the story, this character type will learn some tough lessons about the world, and do some growing up.

  • Strengths: Optimism, imagination, purity
  • Weaknesses: Naivete, physical powerlessness, vulnerability
  • Motivation: To find happiness or truth
  • Examples: Buddy – Elf, Dorothy – The Wizard of Oz, Hermione Granger – Harry Potter

2. The Orphan

While this archetypal character doesn't literally need to be an orphan, they're often looking for a new family. Orphans make great protagonists because they've got a lot to gain if the story goes in their favour. Usually, they're a regular person that's snatched from obscurity, becoming the main character in the story.

  • Strengths: Empathy, survival instinct, a sense of being chosen
  • Weaknesses: Lack of self-confidence, eagerness to please
  • Motivation: To connect, be accepted, and be understood
  • Examples: Harry Potter, Oliver Twist, Luke Skywalker – Star Wars, Frodo – The Lord of the Rings

3. The Hero

Sometimes known as the warrior, this stock character is the person you put in your story to crush the enemy and save the day. While they might suffer from a crisis of confidence along the way, they'll rise once more like a phoenix from the ashes, and complete the hero's journey. They're the man or woman with a plan.

  • Strengths: Confidence, talent, physical / mental strength
  • Weaknesses: Egotism, over-confidence
  • Motivation: To prove their worth by saving the day
  • Examples: Wonder Woman, Captain America, Rocky Balboa, Batman

4. The Caregiver

The caregiver takes many forms – parent, spouse, best friend – and you can rely on them to do their best to protect their child, lover, or friend. Sometimes they play an active sidekick role, while other times they're mostly in the background.

  • Strengths: Loving nature, selflessness, generosity
  • Weaknesses: Naivete, vulnerability to exploitation
  • Motivation: To help and protect other people
  • Examples: Samwise Gamgee – The Lord of the Rings, Mary Poppins, Dustin Henderson – Stranger Things

5. The Seducer

These beautiful, irresistible character types use their good looks and irrepressible charm to spin every situation. They come in every shape, size, and gender, and offer power, sex, money, and influence to get what they want. However, anything on offer usually comes with a high price.

  • Strengths: Beauty, charisma, amorality
  • Weaknesses: A lack of loyalty, integrity, and morality
  • Motivation: To be in control
  • Examples: Villanelle – Killing Eve, Tony Stark – Iron Man, Delilah – Samson and Delilah

6. The Rebel

The rebel character type is a person who won't settle for the status quo. They have a strong sense of justice, and they'll do whatever it takes to make things fair. They're not always natural leaders – some appear as a kind of everyman anti-hero – but they sure know how to shake things up.

  • Strengths: Resilience, resourcefulness, ability to inspire
  • Weaknesses: Lack of power, status, and resources
  • Motivation: To change the world and restore justice
  • Examples: Han Solo – Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Katniss Everdeen – The Hunger Games

7. The Lover

This character archetype will do anything for love. Their heart is firmly on their sleeve, and they're utterly devoted to the object of their affection – sometimes at the expense of their own safety. The lover makes for a great protagonist in a story... but their journey often ends in tragedy.

  • Strengths: Devotion, passion, selflessness
  • Weaknesses: Willingness to sacrifice themselves for their lover
  • Motivation: To be one with their beloved
  • Examples: Edward – Twilight, Jack and Rose – Titanic, Samwise – The Lord of the Rings

8. The Creator

For these creative wizards, the most important thing is making things. Sometimes the creator is a classic artist type, but they can also appear as more of a business guru. They can be a bit of a loner, sacrificing anything – friends, family, themselves – in their quest to build something that leaves a mark.

  • Strengths: Drive, creativity, vision
  • Weaknesses: Perfectionism, egotism, self-sacrifice
  • Motivation: To build something that leaves a legacy
  • Examples: Steve Jobs, Daniel Plainview – There Will Be Blood, Willy Wonka – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

9. The Joker

Predictably, the joker is out for a laugh and a good time. They play the fool and don't take life too seriously. In times gone by, the joker (then called the jester) might serve as a sage in disguise – offering wise words, masked by humour. Nowadays, the joker character in a film is likely to be there simply as light relief.

  • Strengths: Sense of fun, likeability, joyfulness
  • Weaknesses: Unreliability, frivolousness, selfishness
  • Motivation: To have an easy time living for today
  • Examples: Stifler – American Pie, Timon and Pumbaa – The Lion King, Tigger – Winnie the Pooh

10. The Mentor

Everyone needs a mentor, even a superstar protagonist. Sometimes called a sage, the mentor appears to guide your protagonist, preparing them for the journey ahead. They can be a parent, friend, or simply any wise old man with a long beard.

  • Strengths: Wisdom, calmness, experience
  • Weaknesses: Caution, reluctance to act, being hardened from past experiences
  • Motivation: To nurture the next generation
  • Examples: Obi-Wan Kenobi – Star Wars, Gandalf – The Lord of the Rings, Albus Dumbledore – Harry Potter

11. The Magician

Forget cute old men in silk shirts pulling rabbits out of hats – the magician character archetype can be a lot more sinister. Much like the mentor, they seek enlightenment and wisdom. However, the magician also wants to impose their wishes on the world around them. This trickster's skills are often far beyond what people can understand.

  • Strengths: Strategic ability, knowledge, experience
  • Weaknesses: Hubris, anger, willingness to destroy
  • Motivation: To create order from chaos, and shape the world
  • Examples: Frank Underwood – House of Cards, Jay Gatsby – The Great Gatsby, Saruman – The Lord of the Rings, Sherlock Holmes

12. The Ruler

This personality type loves to be in control. While they might not wear a literal crown, they certainly wear a figurative one. Their goal is to stay on top. Some ruler characters do this with kindness, while others are much more dictatorial.

  • Strengths: Leadership, power, charisma
  • Weaknesses: Suspicion, paranoia, inability to accept help
  • Motivation: To be top dog
  • Examples: King Arthur, Miranda Priestly – The Devil Wears Prada, Mr Burns – The Simpsons

Show off your different archetypes with Boords

Carl Jung was a huge fan of Boords. It's the online storyboarding app for creators. And rebels. And lovers. For most types of people, actually.

Simplify your pre-production process with storyboards, scripts, and animatics – then gather feedback – all in one place. Creating storyboards (and character archetypes) has never been simpler.


Thanks to No Film School, Reedsy, ScreenCraft, and SoulCraft, for their helpful posts on character archetypes.

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