Characters vs. Archetypes: Round One!

Posted on March 21, 2013 By

Back when we were all much younger, I wrote that storyworlds don’t need specific characters, but should focus on character archetypes instead. This might may have led you to suspect that my brain had been replaced with shiny objects. After all, hugely successful storyworlds such as those of Star Wars, Harry Potter, and even Downton Abbey are full of specific characters. In fact, you can’t even have a story without characters — they’re sort of essential, since it’s their actions that create the plot.


It’s all true. Well, not the part about my brain, but the point that characters — specific characters — are key ingredients to any story. But I’m not talking about specific stories. I’m talking about storyworlds.


Storyworlds must contain all the stories that could be told. That means infinite stories, driven by infinite characters. Infinite means that trying to create all those specific characters is the road to madness. It’s better to paint them in broad, archetypical strokes.


Think of it like this:

Stories revolve around characters.

Storyworlds revolve around character archetypes.

For example, if you want to tell a story about a farm boy discovering his destiny as a mystic knight, that’s great. You’ve created a cool character (the farm boy) with a cool story. But that’s just one story.


On the other hand, if you create a storyworld that includes the mystic knight archetype, you’ve suddenly opened yourself up to a whole expanded universe of unique characters and their stories. What about the mystic knight who falls from grace? Or the one on the impossible quest? The one with the strange affliction that makes the other knights shun her? The one who tries to retire and open a bakery, but is stalked by enemies from his past?


One character can give you one story.


One archetype can give you more stories than you could ever tell.

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