12 Archetypes for Compelling Character Creation

How to develop characters that readers will recognize and love

Characters serve as a central part of any story and are often what compels a reader to continue reading more than anything else in a novel. Some readers can forgive poor plotting, pacing, and thematic weight when the characters resonate with them enough (of course, a truly good book does all of these well). Perhaps this is because we, as people, see ourselves in certain characters, or because we can’t help but be transfixed by the choices characters make. Some characters have made such an indelible impact on the world that they are recognizable even to those unfamiliar with their stories. Think of Don Quixote, for whom the word quixotic was invented, or Don Juan, known around the world for being a womanizer. These characters have transcended their work to become archetypes all on their own. 

But what is an archetype? In general, it is something that serves as a very typical example of a certain person or thing. In storytelling, a character archetype is a character defined by particular actions or traits. Understanding character archetypes will not only help you build better, more realistic characters, but they will also help you across all forms of storytelling. Marketing and branding strategies, for example, often use character archetypes to better target audiences with messaging. 

In this blog, we’ll cover twelve of the most common character archetypes used in fiction and explain why they work. 

The 12 Mechanical Hero Archetypes

As many types of characters exist as people in the world. But here, we’ll tackle the twelve mechanical hero character archetypes that are most often associated with stories that in some way follow the Hero’s Journey. Keep in mind, however, that these types of characters don’t only appear in the Hero’s Journey story template, nor are they the only character archetypes to exist. 

The Lover 💘

The Lover follows their heart and values romance, passion, and humanism. Often idealists, they can be naïve and irrational as well as deeply committed and loyal to friends, partners, and causes. While we commonly associate the Lover character archetype with romance and relationships, they symbolize more than just romantic love. Their passion can be for a cause, nature, or even life itself.

In storytelling, the Lover often goes on a journey of growth that sees them mature and lose some of their naïevity. They may face the consequences of being too idealistic and have a tragic ending, or else face a crisis of identity and faith when confronted with a betrayal. Examples of this character archetype in popular fiction include Romeo and Juliet (Romeo and Juliet), Samwise Gamgee (The Lord of the Rings), and Don Quixote (Don Quixote), all of whom represent different types of Lovers. Romeo and Juliet embody a passionate at-first-sight romantic love with tragic consequences whereas Samwise Gamgee represents a stalwart and loyal friendship-focused love. Meanwhile, Don Quixote depicts the lustful, passionate, and irrational side of the Lover character archetype. Jane Bennet from Pride and Prejudice also fits into this archetype.

The Hero 🦸

In the Hero we have the protagonist, a character who rises to meet a challenge and save the day. As a character, the Hero demonstrates courage, perseverance, and honor, confronting major obstacles with a strong moral compass. However, the Hero can succumb to the pitfalls of overconfidence and hubris. Think of popular protagonists throughout history including Achilles (The Iliad), Harry Potter (Harry Potter series), Luke Skywalker (Star Wars: A New Hope), Eleven (Stranger Things), Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), and Miles Morales (Spider-Man).

A narrative with the character archetype of the Hero typically revolves around their journey, challenges, and growth. They may sacrifice themselves for the greater good or overcome tests and obstacles and return home with a reward. In the classic Hero’s Journey story template, the Hero’s character arc serves as the pivotal arc of the story. 

The Magician 🧙‍♀️

A powerful figure shrouded in mystery, the Magician enables transformation and change. They often possess supernatural abilities, occult knowledge, or extraordinary skills. But while they are extremely powerful and may seem omnipotent, they are susceptible to arrogance and corruption. Popular examples of the Magician character archetype include Prospero (The Tempest), Gandalf (The Lord of the Rings), Howl (Howl’s Moving Castle), and Morpheus (The Matrix). 

In storytelling, the Magician often serves as a catalyst for change and may provide guidance and mentorship to other characters, especially the Hero or protagonist. Because the Magician wields enormous power, they are also often a figure of authority. Thematically, they often symbolize the balance of light and dark, creation and destruction, or order and chaos. 

The Outlaw 🤠

The Outlaw character archetype is a rebel—defiant and nonconforming to fictional societal standards. Sometimes an antihero, they are usually morally ambiguous, especially in contrast to a character like the Hero’s stricter moral compass. They may represent freedom, independence, and resistance and are often seen as an outsider by other characters. In many stories, they serve as a foil for a more moralistic character, proving that not everything is black and white. Some Outlaws go through a redemption arc or have a tragic ending. 

Popular examples of Outlaws include Robin Hood (English folklore), Han Solo (Star Wars: A New Hope), Jack Sparrow (Pirates of the Caribbean), and Killmonger (Black Panther). 

The Explorer 🧗

The Explorer character archetype embodies the spirit of adventure with a deep sense of curiosity and yearning to discover. Open-minded about new experiences, they often embark on quests in search of knowledge or personal growth. Because Explorers have such a strong connection to nature and yearn for freedom above all, they find it difficult to stay in one place and get bored easily with daily life. They are never satisfied with themselves, their surroundings, or others. Often, their journey symbolizes more than just the physical world—it is a way to explore the inner world as well. 

Indiana Jones (Indiana Jones series), Lara Croft (Tomb Raider), Odysseus (The Odyssey), and Arya Stark (Game of Thrones) are popular examples of the Explorer character archetype. 

The Sage 🦉

Imagine a character like Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars, Merlin from the Arthurian legends, and Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter. What do all of these characters have in common? They fit the Sage archetype. 

The Sage is characterized as having a lot of wisdom and knowledge that they use to take on a mentor role for the protagonist or other characters. While they are somewhat similar to the Magician character archetype, they are less defined by having omniscient power and more by incredible wisdom. They also tend to hold back from the action, heeding a more cautious approach, which can backfire on them. In storytelling, they usually help the protagonist navigate challenges, make important decisions, and grow throughout the course of their journey. They may be an authority figure and often have some kind of deep insight into the future or truths of the world. 

The Innocent 🧒

The Innocent represents purity, naïvety, and a sense of wonder in fiction. Inherently trusting, they are vulnerable to exploitation and manipulation. Like the Hero, they have a strong moral compass and always strive to do what is right. In a story, they may serve as a beacon of light in dark situations. 

If the Innocent is at the center of a story, they may embark on a journey of self-discovery and personal growth where they are forced to navigate the complexities of the real world. Other characters feel a sense of responsibility over them and seek to protect and guide them. In many narratives, the Innocent experiences a loss of innocence which serves as the turning point for their character arc and results in growth and maturity—in a best case scenario. This loss of innocence may also lead them to becoming cynical or having a darker, more tragic end. 

Examples of the Innocent character archetype include Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Pippin Took from The Lord of the Rings, Buddy the Elf from Elf, and Gavroche from Les Miserables

The Creator 🧪

The Creator imagines, innovates, and brings ideas to life. As visionaries, they often express themselves through artistic endeavors such as writing, painting, sculpting, and inventing. Throughout the narrative, the Creator solves problems with creativity and ingenuity, thinking outside the box to find solutions to overcome obstacles. They often strive for perfection and value freedom and autonomy over everything else. 

The Creator character archetype looks like Daedalus from Greek mythology, Sokka from Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Iron Man/Tony Stark and Shuri from Marvel comics and the MCU. 

The Ruler 👑

The Ruler is, quite simply, a character who exerts legal, emotional, or sometimes spiritual power over others. They might be a regent of some kind, an authority figure like the principal of a school or police officer, or a parent. They are characterized by having a leadership role that puts them in a position of authority over others and by the way they govern. 

Often associated with stability, order, and responsibility, the Ruler may experience conflict with other characters due to an imbalance of power or because of the way they rule. They may undergo a redemption arc where they learn the responsibilities of leadership, confront their own shortcomings, and strive to be a better ruler. Alternatively, they may give into absolute power and become the ultimate antagonist. 

Characters who fit this archetype include King Viserys from House of the Dragon, Aragorn from Lord of the Rings, President Snow from The Hunger Games, Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, and Napoleon the Pig from Animal Farm

The Caregiver ❤️‍🩹

The Caregiver is a character who supports others and makes sacrifices on their behalf, often embodying honor, selflessness, and loyalty. With a nurturing and compassionate nature, they provide physical, emotional, or spiritual care and support to others. They often put the needs of others before their own and tend to lack personal ambition or leadership qualities. They protect others and provide unconditional love, demonstrating empathy and understanding. For a protagonist or other characters, the Caregiver character archetype may represent home. 

Examples of this kind of character include Mary Poppins, Charlotte from Charlotte’s Web, Miss Honey from Matilda, and Marlin from Finding Nemo

The Everyman 👤

When you think of a normal, everyday person, who do you think of? Or, rather, what traits make this person normal and everyday to you? In character archetypes, the Everyman represents the common person. They often serve as the relatable and ordinary protagonist who the audience sees themselves in. The Everyman typically shares the same moral values and principles as the general intended audience and may serve as a foil for extraordinary characters. Their normality contrasts the exceptionalism of others. Typically, the Everyman embarks on a quest for identity seeking purpose and belonging. Despite their ordinary status, they often serve as an agent of change within the narrative, inspiring and transforming other characters. 

Characters such as Bilbo Baggins, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, Arthur Dent from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Homer Simpson fit the Everyman character archetype. 

The Jester 🤹

Finally, we have the Jester, a character archetype who provides comedic relief as well as key insights. Sir John Falstaff from Shakespeare’s Henry V and King Lear’s Fool from King Lear are two canonically important examples of the Jester. While these characters are, quite literally, fools, their jokes often reveal essential narrative truths throughout their respective plays. In this, we see what the ideal Jester character should be—someone who lightens the mood amidst tension and drama but who also provides satire and social commentary on the events taking place. 

The Jester also often engages in tricks and pranks, adding playfulness and unpredictability to the narrative like Puck does in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. A Jester may serve as a narrative foil to more serious or stoic characters, such as Jaskier does in The Witcher compared to Geralt and other characters. While typically seen as comedic relief, they also incite the protagonist to change. Other popular examples of the Jester character archetype include the Weasley twins from Harry Potter, Dustin Henderson from Stranger Things, and Winston Bishop from New Girl.

Building Compelling Characters

Now that you know what the twelve mechanical hero archetypes are, let’s build some of your own characters using these questions and identifiers. 

Character Building Questions

  1. Who is your character? (name, age, basic information)
  2. When and where does your character exist? 
  3. Where has your character just come from? 
  4. What does your character want? 
  5. Why do they want what they want? 
  6. Why do they want it now? 
  7. What will happen if they don’t get it now? 
  8. How does your character intend to get what they want? 
  9. What obstacles/challenges do they need to overcome to get what they want? 
  10. What are your character’s greatest strengths? 
  11. What are your character’s greatest weaknesses?
  12. How do their strengths and weaknesses play into trying to get what they want? 
  13. What are your character’s core values? 
  14. What archetype, if any, does this character fall under based on the above answers to those questions? 

Character Identifiers

  1. Linguistic fingerprint: Determine at least one speech habit specific to your character. In real life, people have habits they fall into when they speak. Providing this to your characters will make them feel more realistic and identifiable.
    1. Example: A character who often trails off at the end of their sentences. 
    2. Example: A character who constantly gives other characters nicknames and uses them. 
  2. Style of dress: Keep your character’s outerwear relatively consistent so that it becomes a part of who they are. This helps readers imagine and identify them throughout the text. It should also reflect their personality—if they value comfort, they shouldn’t wear constrictive clothing. If they care a lot about what others think of them, they may try to dress in a way that will make others admire them. 
  3. Favorite color: How does this affect the way they dress, the things they buy, and the setting around them? 
  4. Hair: Provide readers with the style, length, and color in the text. Make sure whatever you pick matches the character. A character who wants to blend in probably wouldn’t dye their hair a bright color unless that’s what everyone did. 
  5. Facial features: Have at least one identifiable and unique feature per character and mention it at least three times when they are initially introduced in the text. This sets up the identifier as a way for readers to immediately know which character is being described.
    1. Example:
      1. The man before her had a large scar cutting diagonally across his face.
      2. The scar splitting his face twisted as he smiled. 
      3. A bead of sweat dripped over his face, falling down from the side of the scar like a drop of blood. 
  6. Body type: What is your character’s height and weight? How does this affect their movement and presence? Are they traditionally beautiful, plain, unattractive, or interesting?
  7. Smell: What does your character smell like? They could have a distinct body odor or perhaps use a certain kind of soap or perfume. Their breath might smell. Think about how their world may shape the way they smell. 
  8. Food and drink preference: What does your character order at a restaurant? Are they the type to eat the same thing every day? Do they enjoy alcohol? If so, what kind? Are they a coffee or tea kind of person? 
  9. Sexuality: Beyond just what their sexual orientation may be, think about how they approach sex: are they sexually active? Have they ever been sexually active? Are they monogamous or polygamous or something else? Are they very faithful or a cheat? Are they more conservative or more promiscuous? How they approach sex may be important to their interactions with other characters so it’s important to think about this.
  10. Music preferences: What kind of music does your character enjoy? What would they put on during a long car drive or at a party? Do they play any instruments? Again, think about how their personality matches their music preferences and go beyond the obvious. Maybe someone who presents themselves as very cheerful actually listens to extremely sad, depressing music—hinting at a deeper layer to their personality.
  11. Religion: In a fantasy or made-up world of some kind, this can sometimes be tricky as you have to determine if religion exists and what it looks like. But religion can be a very essential and prominent character trait and is important to think carefully through as it may affect other character identifiers from music preference to what they wear to how they speak. 
  12. Politics: Where does your character align on a political spectrum? How does this affect their actions throughout the story? For example, in a feudal world, a character who grows up as a noble may have a very different view about the reigning monarch than a character who is a peasant. 
  13. Education and class: Think about your character’s social and economic status and how that has affected their education. If they’re poor, perhaps they weren’t formally educated but managed to steal books and learn to read. How does this help or hinder them throughout the challenges they face? 

While it’s important to know these character identifiers, you don’t have to state all of them directly in the text. They may be better revealed through subtext or, in some cases, not at all. Sometimes a bit of ambiguity allows the reader to imprint on a character and while you as the writer may know all the answers to these questions, it can be good to let readers’ imaginations fill in some of the gaps. 


Pick one of the twelve mechanical hero archetypes and create a character based on them. Now, use that character to answer the character building questions. Assign character identifiers. At the end of the exercise, write a short paragraph in which this character is actively doing something.


The twelve mechanical hero archetypes offer storytellers a tool to use when building characters in any world. But even when a character fits into an archetype, it doesn’t mean they have to exactly follow every part of it. Think about the various examples given above for each character archetype and how they differ from one another. 

Archetypes are just a place to start as you begin to explore your world and use characters to uncover the best ways to tell your story. Experiment with as many of the character archetypes as you can to find out which ones serve your narrative purpose best—and which ones you enjoy writing the most! Remember, while you can use these archetypes, character building questions, and identifiers to start, your characters must feel unique in order for them to truly compel and gratify readers. Once you have some spectacular characters in an equally enthralling world, don’t forget to submit your work to F(r)iction!

Maribel Leddy

Maribel Leddy is a passionate writer, editor, and creative content strategist based in New York, New York. She graduated from Johns Hopkins University with a B.A. in Writing Seminars and has been with Brink since 2018. With experience in writing professionally for over five years now, Maribel enjoys crafting engaging, thoughtful, and well-researched content across a variety of topics and industries. For fiction writing, her favorite genres are science fiction and fantasy. She currently lives with her sister and their two cats, Cleo and Chai.

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