How To Create a Character

Posted by Anthony North on January 17, 2011

Stories need characters, but if you simply match the character to the story, then it will fail. To create a successful character you need to be much more subtle, and take advantage of a rich storytelling culture that has been around for millennia.
We are told that stereotypical characters are cliché, and this is quite true. But an advance on the stereotype can provide a character that can literally get under the skin of the reader, and if successful you’re a winner straight away.
It is all to do with the archetype. The psychologist Carl Jung realized that archetypal characters exist in dream and myth. Principal archetypes are the sage, the mother, the hero, the child, the seductress and the trickster.
You will find them throughout myth. The sage ranges from Jupiter to our image of God. Now guess who he is in Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter. Why are those characters so good? Because they take their form from myth.
Throughout life we constantly soak up images of these mythological archetypes, and we do so because, in reality, they are expressions of stages of our lives. The mythological character is our psyche writ large.
The writer who can successfully transfer this image to a story is helped by a lifetime’s enculturation. Consider the hero of myth, the loner, coming from nowhere, vanquishing the monster and transforming people’s lives. Hercules? Or James Bond.

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One Comment

  1. tom alex said on July 24, 2011

    There may be an unlimited amount of archetypes. Aroond 1,500 ad there was a doctor who traveled around Europe to gain midical info. What great meat foe a story. I could be “The Travelin Crackhead” flying about the globe giving sage advice…

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