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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.