Developing a well-rounded character takes time and purpose. I tend to be a panster (a writer who writes by the seat of their pants), but I have learned to develop my characters thoroughly before beginning to write.
Many authors do a character interview to help get to know their characters. I am slowly learning to do that using Susan May Warren’s SEQ technique (check out her book about it here), but I have also added my own twist to discovering the inner workings of my characters.
So what are those key components to take into consideration when developing a character?
In addition to SEQ, I like to explore my characters archetypes, positive personality traits, negative personality traits, and character backstory. Today I just want to focus on archetypes.
What are Archetypes?
Archetypes are just universal patterns of behavior that have positive and negative aspects.
Caroline Myss, “a pioneer in the field of energy medicine and consciousness”, suggests each person has a combination of about 12 archetypes that make up their psyche, each having varying degrees of presence in your life depending on your situation. I don’t get into all that “new age” feel stuff, but her collection of 72 Archetypes Cards are very useful in developing fictional characters.
Some examples of her archetypes are:
- Child – Orphan
- Child – Wounded
Developing Character Archetypes
For my characters, I choose between four and six archetypes that define who they are during my story. In fact, the list above is the archetypes I chose for my hero and heroine in my WIP.
Each archetype has positive and negative traits. Because the prostitute archetype might be a little concerning to you, I will share that one as my example.
“The Prostitute archetype engages lessons in the sale or negotiation of one’s integrity or spirit due to fears of physical survival or for financial gain. We prostitute ourselves when we sell our bodies or minds for money, or when we compromise our morals and ethics for financial gain… The core learning of the Prostitute is that self-esteem and self-respect make you impervious to selling out.”
– “Prostitute”, Caroline Myss Archetype Cards Booklet
Caroline Myss adds more, but as you can see from this description that “Prostitute” is not exactly what you first think. No, my heroine is NOT sexually immoral or active. What she does do is compromise her morals due to her fears of physical survival.
Have you ever compromised your morals due to self-preservation? It doesn’t have to be big and earth-shaking. It could be the one time you blamed your toddler sibling for eating all the cookies before dinner, even though you believe lying is wrong. See how the archetype can be used for everyday situations?
Picking out four to six archetype cards really helps to round out your characters and make them multi-dimensional. The general strengths and weaknesses are outlined for you to expand upon and fine-tune for the uses of your own story. Characters can even have overlapping archetypes, yet be completely their own person, just like the human race in real life.
Because archetypes are universal in nature, readers will connect to your characters because they see aspects of themselves within the story.
When developing your own characters, I highly recommend taking into consideration their archetypes. If you struggle with archetypes, I suggest picking up Caroline Myss’ Archetype Cards.
What other archetypes are you familiar with? Still confused? Leave a question below. I promise to get back to it as soon as I can.
Do you have any resources you use to help develop your own characters?