Equal Writing

The Difference Between The 12 Archetypes And Stereotypes

While stereotypical writing is often described as weak, archetypes are taught in film school and many creative writing courses. Aren’t archetypes and stereotypes both generalised categories for people? Why are stereotypes criticised, while archetypes are often desired?

When I did my research for this article, I was surprised to find that archetypes as defined by the psychologist Carl Jung were closer to stereotypes than I thought.

Still, we can create a difference between archetypes and stereotypes ourselves.

Definitions of Archetypes and Stereotypes

Archetypes are patterns of behaviour, which we recognise in myths from all over the world. The most typical example is the brave hero, who wants to save the world of evil forces.

A stereotype is a generalisation of specific category of people. Does a computer geek always wear glasses? It is often a prejudice or a cliché.

Criticism of Archetypes

The psychologist Carl Jung described 12 different archetypes, that tend to occur in human behaviour and therefore are recurring in myths and stories. However, that is a decade ago and his archetypes implied gender roles and conservative ideas of masculinity and femininity. Over time, the archetypes were renamed several times, for example, the Wise Old Man became the Sage. Now, we still have 12 archetypes without gender definition. See, it’s possible.

Gender defined archetypes still occur though, for example the Bad Mother, who is often the evil witch or stepmother of a story. Gendering those archetypes makes them often lean closer towards prejudices. It is easier to avoid such gender based clichés by informing yourself about Intersectional Feminism.

Let us dive into the 12 different archetypes and find according stereotypes, then break them. This way we can see how characters can be based on archetypes without being stereotypical.

The 12 Archetypes and according Stereotypes

#1 The Hero

Heroes are brave and courageous, want to change something in their world and are afraid of fear itself. They do not want to appear weak and therefore tend to overestimate their abilities, can be self-centered and refuse help.

Stereotypical Hero

Another name of the archetype is “The Warrior”, which is still often linked to masculinity. A stereotypical warrior would be a physically strong male fighter oozing with testosterone, who fights the dragon to save the city.

Breaking the Stereotype

The easy way to break the stereotype would be to make the warrior a woman. Another way is to make him soft. Maybe he hates killing and prefers to compromise with the dragon. Or make him refuse the ‘price’, which is often the King’s daughter, because he is into men. Think of Harry Potter, who is extremely narcissistic. Repetitively, Ron and Hermione have to tell him, that it is their world, too, and they should be just as involved in saving it as him. He is a hero archetype without being a stereotype, since he’s an average magician in most of his lessons – and a child.

#2 The Rebel

The Outlaws or the Rebels are known for their hate of conforming to the rules. They want to change what does not work in their eyes. They are ready to revolt or take revenge and tend to commit crimes. Their biggest fear is being powerless.

Stereotypical Rebel

A stereotypical outcast in a high school drama would be a lover of rock music, wearing black, driving a motorcycle, playing guitar or drums in a band and skipping school.

Breaking the Stereotype

Take any of the previous stereotypical descriptions and make them into something unexpected. Like let them drive a smart. Make them like romantic pop songs or cry when reading their favourite book.

#3 The Magician

The Magicians or Inventors dream of altering reality. They hate it, if things don’t go the way they’ve planned, and they are very talented negotiators – or manipulators.

Stereotypical Magician

The Bad Witch, that seduces a man to make him give her, what she wants. She is beautiful, cunning, has a way with words and manipulates all around her.

Breaking the Stereotype

Is anyone evil without a reason? Often the Bad Witch just embodies an emancipated woman. So make it an emancipated woman, give her pride, make her negotiate instead of seduce. The gender switch works here, too.

#4 The Scholar

Scholars are great advisors whose goal is wisdom. They hate ignorance and are afraid of being outwitted. Their overthinking can turn them into passive bystanders.

Stereotypical Scholar

The old archetype is the new stereotype: The introverted, lonely Wise Old Man.

Breaking the Stereotype

There is no need for a scholar to be old nor male nor lonely. You could make them an extremely annoying know-it-all with a weakness for sweets.

#5 The Explorer

Explorers wander the world, sometimes aimlessly though and have an independent mind. They crave for freedom and are afraid of the lack of it. It is hard for them to fit in.

Stereotypical Explorer

An extroverted pirate with a group of outcasts, always running from relationships, who does not feel responsible for anything. He changes his mind spontaneously.

Breaking the Stereotype

Again, explorers are often men, since women are often linked to family, home, children and security. Therefore, making the pirate a woman can make a big difference. Also, freedom and relationships don’t exclude each other. 

#6 The Innocent

Innocents are naïve optimists, afraid of breaking the rules. Therefore, they often live traditional lives, can be religious and are easily impressed.

Stereotypical Innocent

Another high school drama favourite. The white, blonde, blue-eyed daddy’s girl, who wouldn’t share a bed with a boy before marriage and loves pop music.

Breaking the Stereotype

She really does not need to be blonde, white and light-eyed nor a ‘she’. They could listen to Metal to give them an edge. Or be the black sheeps of an atheist family. Or struggle so much with their non-straight sexuality because of their conservative beliefs.

#7 The Leader

Leaders always try to take charge in communities and are afraid of others taking their place or chaos. They want to lead their group towards a certain goal and often tend to be oppressive.

Stereotypical Leader

The authoritarian dictator, who has no mercy for his subjects. His wife is afraid of him. Or the cheerleader, popular, calls her girlfriends ‘bitches’ and excludes people, who are different or a threat.

Breaking the Stereotype

A leader is a team player, so they can be kind, too. There is room for introversion and they don’t need to be loud.

#8 The Helper

Helpers are afraid of selfishness and are often taken for granted or exploited, while they offer their aid for nothing in return. They can inspire others around them with their compassion.

Stereotypical Helper

The helper is often the main character’s best friend, secretly in love with them, always there but not very distinct. They are often calm, good, kind, introverted and the grey mouse next to the main character.

Breaking the Stereotype

Can a human be truly altruistic? This is a controversial question you can use to break the stereotype. Helpers might think they are altruistic, but they often want loyalty or sometimes even love in return. The helper aids in a way, they think is right and helpful, but it might not be helpful at all for the development of the other person. They are masters at playing guilt games. A helper does not have to be a good person.

#9 The Solid Citizen

As the name suggests, the solid citizens want to be part of a group and fear being left or stand out. To fit in, they are not always true to themselves. They have many ‘friends’ who might turn out to be not very close.

Stereotypical Solid Citizen

A good neighbour who always sticks to the rules, has a traditional straight family in a house with a garden, 9-5 job, loves small talk.

Breaking the Stereotype

It’s easy and necessary to break the stereotype of the solid citizen, otherwise this character is just flat. Give them something, that makes them stand out and what they are trying to hide. The group they want to belong to does not necessarily need to be a conservative group. It can just as well be a feminist group, in which the member always adapts other people’s opinions but acts at home in a very different way as they say.

#10 The Joker

Live life to the fullest – Jokers enjoy life and crave to make the world a joyful place. They laugh a lot and like making people laugh and are afraid of boredom. They have few serious moments.

Stereotypical Joker

Another case of a male dominant archetype, the joker is often the extroverted class clown with bad grades and does not care about his future. He lures the main character into trouble, often by making them help out in a trick, that leads to a catastrophe.

Breaking the Stereotype

Another gender switch or giving the character a hard-core sad backstory like the death of a loved one. A thoughtless person can still have good grades, too.

#11 The Lover

Lovers are committed partners, craving for deep relationships but are also people-pleasers. They are afraid of rejection and unfaithfulness.

Stereotypical Lover

Another annoyingly frequent female stereotype. The 50ies-house-wife, who does everything for her husband to please him.

Breaking the Stereotype

Gender switch. It also does not need to be a house-wife or -husband. They can work in an area, that is helpful for their relationship, but they do not really like it. For example, because they would need to move away to do what they actually like. There are many different ways to make lovers less stereotypical of which you can read more about in my article about non-stereotypical relationships.

#12 The Creator

As the name suggests, the creator is a creative person aiming to produce something of value. They tend to be perfectionists and are afraid of poor results.

Stereotypical Creator

An eccentric, queer artist caring for nothing but their paintings, who often prefers polygamy and never commits to a relationship.

Breaking the Stereotype

The archetype does not suggest that the creator does not like commitment. This is a stereotype. An artist needs a support system to strengthen their belief in themselves, so they don’t get buried by never-ending perfectionism.

You can easily use different archetypes and cross them to avoid stereotypes. For example, a hero can fight for love.

Avoiding Stereotypes by way of Crossing Archetypes

You can easily avoid stereotypes by way of crossing archetypes. This way, you might find your character to be an exploring magician or an innocent hero.

Sometimes, a character is actually a cross-over but this becomes the big reveal of the story. A hero who turns into an outlaw, or an innocent, who actually is a magician. The innocent helper, always at the main character’s side, suddenly reveals himself as the manipulating villain (magician).

Instead of revealing themselves as the villain, they also can slowly turn into villains after experiencing their worst fear becoming true.

The solid citizen suddenly gets bullied because of jealousy. She turns into an outcast and wants to take revenge.  

The Danger Of Starting Writing A Story With An Archetype

In fact, I feel it is hard to start your character with a set archetype. You might create flat characters consisting of manifested ideas. In my opinion, archetypes are more helpful, when you have already created characters and plot and can use them to sharpen your outline. It is your call. I can imagine it is just as well possible to start with a prompt about an innocent explorer using the traits of both archetypes.

How Big Is The Difference Between Archetypes And Stereotypes?

The difference between archetypes and stereotypes lies in their details. An archetype is extremely basic – so basic, that you can apply several stereotypes to it. To write non-stereotypically, you can either create characters not based on any stereotypes at all or you can use clichés to break them.

Sources of the 12 archetypes: INDIVIDUALOGIST

Ich bin Xenia - Autorin, zertifizierte Freie Lektorin, Social Media Expertin und Übersetzerin. Ich liebe es, Storys in allen Formen zu konsumieren, zu analysieren und zu erzählen - Bücher, Fotografie, Filme und Serien. Wenn du & ich zusammen arbeiten, sollst du dich wohl fühlen. Du kannst mir alle Fragen zu deiner Geschichte stellen - du befindest dich bei mir in einem Safe Space, einem Ort, an dem du dich sicher fühlen kannst. Aufgrund meiner jahrelangen, dramaturgischen Ausbildung ist mein Inhaltslektorat sehr intensiv - denn ich möchte dein Juwel mit dir schleifen. Gleichzeitig ist mein Lektorat aber auch sensibel - denn dein Juwel soll nicht zertrümmert werden.

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