15 Character Archetypes for Your Next Screenplay
Thinking of ideas for your next screenplay? Every great screenplay needs a strong cast with memorable, complex, heroic, and yet flawed characters. Writing these characters without making them sound overused and cliché can be a stressful task.
Character archetypes are broad-stroke categories of certain universal motifs and behaviors that act as a basic mold for your characters. They are the foundation of characters that we learn to love, hate, debate, and discuss – characters that eventually become a part of us.
You can also use character archetypes as a jumping off point while you’re searching for screenwriting ideas as well.
Here are some of the major character archetypes you should be aware of.
This is one of the most common archetypes and appears in nearly every story. A hero is the one with a plan – the one who saves the day. Stories generally portray them as courageous, strong, confident, and motivated characters.
However, they can also be perceived as arrogant and domineering. Their storyline often revolves around them trying to prove their worth and doing the honorable thing, even at the cost of their own well-being.
Example: Captain America in ‘Avengers’
Teachers, mentors, philosophers, and the old men with the long white beards fall under this archetype. They are there to help our protagonists make noble choices and guide them through difficult times. They are portrayed as experienced, analytical, and cautious.
Example: Merlin in ‘The Sword in the Stone’, Dumbledore in ‘Harry Potter’
They are the hedonists, the jokers, the comedians, and the fools. These characters provide comedic relief and are portrayed as laid-back and funny. In some stories, they are the hero’s sidekick. They balance the hero’s sense of duty with their frivolous attitude and humor. Sometimes, they are also used to point out our hero’s flaws and insecurities.
Example: Chandler Bing in ‘Friends’, Timon and Pumba in ‘The Lion King’
They are the anti-hedonists. Altruism, selflessness, and generosity are some of their defining traits. They are often the voice of reason for our impulsive characters. Most stories tend to portray these characters as gentle, but fiercely protective of their loved ones.
Example: Mrs. Weasely in ‘Harry Potter’
These characters are passionate, driven, imaginative, and artistic. Creators will always put their dreams above everything else, no matter the cost. For them, nothing is more important than the pursuit of their passion and hence are often perceived as egotistic. In most stories, they are portrayed as highly successful characters, lacking in social niceties and long-term relationships.
Example: Remy in ‘Ratatouille’
Norms, laws and social conventions mean nothing to them. They are generally portrayed as complex, resourceful characters with a tragic backstory and a good heart. Their rebellious attitude and non-conformity fall in the gray area between right and wrong.
Example: Phoebe Buffay in ‘Friends’, Katniss Everdeen in ‘The Hunger Games’
These characters are optimistic, naive, and trusting. They are hopeful, free, untouched by reality, and choose to look on the bright side of things. Some stories portray them as the undeserving victims of the antagonist.
Example: Primrose Everdeen in ‘The Hunger Games’
Explorers are adventurous, free, curious, and brave. They are always looking for new experiences and the adrenaline rush that comes with it. They are bold and are constantly in search of a more meaningful life.
Example: Erin in ‘Erin Brokovich’
They wear their hearts on their sleeves and make any sacrifices necessary for the object of their affection. They will give up their own identity and freedom for the sake of love. These characters are devoted, passionate, and driven. However, their seemingly endless devotion often paves the way for tragedy.
Example: Romeo and Juliet
They are charismatic, manipulative, confident, and provocative. They are smooth talkers who use their allure to get what they want. They prey on the other person’s vulnerabilities to get the upper hand. These characters are not always one of the bad guys – they just tend to have self-serving motives.
Example: Scarlett O’Hara in ‘Gone With the Wind’
These are the characters in a position of power. Generally, they possess leadership skills, a sense of purpose, and an ability to command respect. However, their defining attributes depend on whether they use their power and authority for benevolence or cruelty.
Example: Cersei Lannister in ‘Game of Thrones’
This archetype is widely used to introduce a sense of complexity in the protagonist. These characters are survivors. They come from difficult and poor conditions and are then elevated to positions of prominence, where they finally get their chance at happiness. Using this archetype is a great way to get the audience to root for your character!
Example: Oliver Twist
In some stories, she is the innocent bystander, while in some she is the hero’s love interest. These characters are generally the damsels in distress and need to be rescued by the protagonist. This archetype is seen across various genres like mythology, fairy tales, and even modern-day movies.
Example: Lois Lane in ‘Superman’
These characters are generally attractive and fit the popular description of “tall, dark and handsome”. However, there are some variations. In some stories, the hunk is portrayed as superficial and unintelligent. In others, these characters are much more complex and have an elaborate backstory. Sometimes, the Hero archetype incorporates this archetype.
Example: Cedric Diggory in ‘Harry Potter’
These are the characters who want the world to bend to their will. They tend to be curious and highly intelligent. However, given their blatant disregard for social convention, they are perceived as egotistical and arrogant. They command respect but they are not the kind of people you would voluntarily want to hang out with.
Example: Sherlock Holmes
Remember, archetypes are just the starting point for your characters. Don’t be afraid to creatively interpret and build on these archetypes. Your unique screenplay ideas deserve an equally original and intricate character cast!
Make Your Screenplay Ideas Stronger
If you’re interested in making your screenplay ideas stronger while you’re executing it, make sure to check out these e-books below that will help you. Concept is king and coming up with compelling titles for your work are critical to getting people’s attention.
Learn to Write Stronger Story Concepts, Themes & Loglines
There’s a saying that “Concept is King”. I tend to agree with this. Think about it. The concept of your story is the overall idea at its most basic core. It’s what makes us want to read your book, screenplay or see your movie after millions of dollars has been spent on developing it. You‘ve probably read a book or screenplay that was well written with lots of clever wordplay, but when’s the last time you have heard anyone excited about a mediocre concept? For me, concept is king, but execution is just as important. After all, what good is a cool idea if the author can’t tell the story in the best way it could possibly be told? Imagine if the movie “Karate Kid” was just a movie about a boy learning karate and receiving a black belt at the end to make his single mother proud. What if “The Godfather” was just about an old mob boss who ran his organization with an iron fist then just died at the end of the movie. How would that be any different from the thousands of mob flicks we’ve never even heard of with forgettable plots? These are concepts you most likely would forget an hour after watching them on the big screen.Learn More
How to Name Your Fictional Characters (Plus More Than 2,500 Names & Meanings To Get Your Creative Juices Flowing)
You know what’s just as bad as hitting a brick wall with the plot of your screenplay or novel? Hitting that same brick wall even harder when it comes time to give your protagonist or any other character that perfect name. Having the right name for your characters not only helps them to become memorable, but can help sell the story as well. Sebastian Dangerfield (“The Ginger Man”), Tony Starks (“Iron Man”), Atticus Finch (“To Kill A Mockingbird”), Luke Skywalker (“Star Wars”), James Bond (“Casino Royale”)…the list goes on. Imagine pitching your screenplay or novel with any of these character names.Learn More