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Looking at Archetypes Through a Psychology Lens

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, March 6, 2021

We have all talked of and considered character archetypes when designing and building characters.

There are many sets to pick from and it's not really a shocker that most of them, if not all, have their roots at psychology. (I'm looking at you, Carl Jung)

Far be it from me to break with tradition! Psychology is where you want to look when designing a character and learning how to write them in a believable manner, or at least set their baseline in a way that won't get you lost when Plot Happens to Them.

A big trap that we're often warned against is that if we do use archetypes to create and build characters, we run a serious risk of making cardboard, flavorless characters that have little depth or originality. And that is true at all times- however, some tools are better than others in approaching archetypes.

With no offense to Carl Jung's genius, the 12 archetypes may potentially be the worst guide to use for building a powerful, original character. Not because they are wrong or they don't exist, but because they have a predisposition for being ‘cookie cutter’: they tend to appear to present a creator with a ‘precut’ or ‘premade’ doll and authors can be tempted to just dress that ‘doll’ rather than actually make it theirs.

Other guides make it a lot easier not to fall into that trap, and I want to start talking about them!

Each one is based on personality theories, which often have very different explanations on how personality is formed and developed. This is what makes things fascinating, because despite the difference in explaining why a person's personality has developed as it has, the actual range of personality types and profiles overlap! If I wanted to be provocative I could say they are the same personality patterns, but described differently with different aspects to them brought to the forefront.

And that is where the wealth of information lies for a writer, creator, and artist! Seeing what the different impacts are when different aspects of one's personality is brought to the forefront is a masterclass on how to write and present your character.

And despite the fact that many of these theories have not (or cannot) be proven scientifically as to the ‘why’s' (e.g. the ever-present nature vs nurture argument that is posited in various iterations in the different theories) these explanations can serve beautifully for your worldbuilding, whether fantastical or not. Pick the one you like the most or serves your story the most, and run with it consistently as if it were true!

Another element is that depending on the personality theory, aspects and variables such as time, sociocultural influences, risk and resilience factors, environmental intervention, etc. are given different levels of importance and weight: some come with a window of time, beyond which a variable can have little to no effect. Some consider personality to be something that can be worked around or worked with.

And all of them have spinoffs! The most basic of which is that each personality theory has some kind of categorization. These categorizations then are further developed by psychologists who ascribe to the theory by recognizing ‘blends’ of those categories. And then, if the theory remains popular long enough, you got the ‘change/replace/redefine’ psychologists who seek to strengthen the theory by changing it (and this is how more personality theories are eventually made. They are like plants that multiply by asexual reproduction.

So I want to start looking at character building through different personality theories, and perhaps offer insights on how to use them to make your characters ‘feel real’ and all that jazz.

Next week, I'll start with Temperament!

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Banes at 9:18PM, March 6, 2021

I found what I read on Jung previously to be fascinating! One thing I never understood - His name is Jung, but he's kind of Old!

hushicho at 2:12PM, March 6, 2021

Frankly I hate Jung and Jungian studies. It's always better to look around and decide things for yourself. Read frequently, and in abundance; look around you, and try to absorb and analyze, compare and contrast, the things that you see. If you rely on Jung, or anyone for that matter, you will always run the risk of having flat characters.

L.C.Stein at 12:02PM, March 6, 2021

Thanks for writing this! I've always been interested in personality theory, which has not only stems from personal growth, but also in realizing how people interact and what motivates people. There are so many variations on an archetype that you can create new characters, and I think that culture, environment and experiences can cause the archetype to manifest in different ways.

marcorossi at 10:42AM, March 6, 2021

@Tantz_Aerine Thanks for the reference! I'll manage to find a copy!

Tantz_Aerine at 7:32AM, March 6, 2021

Corruption: We will!

Corruption at 7:24AM, March 6, 2021

Just looked up Archetypes, and realized something. We need to distinguish between Archetypes (basic concepts that may not even be relating to characters) and Stereotype (Characters designed via generlization of a group). More simply put: Archetypes are based on general ideas. Stereotypes are based on general groups

Tantz_Aerine at 7:23AM, March 6, 2021

Corruption said it better than me :D

Tantz_Aerine at 7:20AM, March 6, 2021

Marcorossi: You want his "Archetypes and the Collective Unconscious" books and essays. Here's a couple of quick refs & C. G. Jung, Two Essays on Analytical Psychology (London 1953) to get his original descriptions. Of course as I said, more scholars expanded on his theory. (Initially he started with just 4 archetypes, etc).

Corruption at 7:12AM, March 6, 2021

If I remember correctly (I read Jung years ago), the 12 archtypes were depicting parts of a persons mind. The Shadow was the parts we refuse to accept about ourselves and suppress. The animus (I think it was called that) was the bit for the feminine traits in a guy, and musculine traits in a woman. Not Archtypes as used in writting I consider archtypes to be a cheap trick when it comes to character creation, although I admite that ifyou want to convey an impression assocciated with them, they can work. If you use them, try to think of why they are like that, and alter them to fit the background this creates. This gives them variety and lets them fit in. For example, a wise a just king may be that because he was raised to realize that if he isn't like it, people would use it to overthrow him, and he is well trained in PR for his mistakes. Suddenly he is much more interesting.

marcorossi at 6:47AM, March 6, 2021

I've read my fair share of Jung, but I never found a reference to 12 archetypes; I think this is a formalisation done by others. My main issue with "archetypes" is that it is a way to mix roles with characterisation. Example: In story A we have the Knight who fights the Dragon to save the Princess; in story B we have Snakie Plisskeen who fights assorted bad guys in New York to save the president of the USA (a middle aged man). These two stories have the same structure, and the president in B is the same of the princess in A. This is clear if one thinks in terms of functional roles (Propp) but generally archetypes refer to characterisation so they fail in this respect. Also Campbell was a fraud, as is obvious if you try to map the Iliad or the Odissey on the "Hero journey". Meh.

bravo1102 at 1:07AM, March 6, 2021

Excellent article.

Gunwallace at 12:47AM, March 6, 2021

"I'm looking at you, Carl Jung," through a device designed to protect my eyes from a solar eclipse, because that's the only way to look at you.

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