In 1959, Carl Jung first popularized the idea of archetypes—”universal images that have existed since the remotest times.” He posited that every person is a blend of these 12 basic personalities. Ever since then, authors have been applying this idea to fictional characters, combining the different archetypes to come up with interesting new versions. The result is a sizable pool of character tropes that we see from one story to another.
Archetypes and tropes are popular storytelling elements because of their familiarity. Upon seeing them, readers know immediately who they’re dealing with and what role the nerd, dark lord, femme fatale, or monster hunter will play. As authors, we need to recognize the commonalities for each trope so we can write them in a recognizable way and create a rudimentary sketch for any character we want to create.
But when it comes to characters, no one wants just a sketch; we want a vibrant and striking cast full of color, depth, and contrast. Diving deeper into character creation is especially important when starting with tropes because the blessing of their familiarity is also a curse; without differentiation, the characters begin to look the same from story to story.
But no more. The Character Type and Trope Thesaurus allows you to outline the foundational elements of each trope while also exploring how to individualize them. In this way, you’ll be able to use historically tried-and-true character types to create a cast for your story that is anything but traditional.
DESCRIPTION: Heroes are driven to fight for the oppressed and defend the defenseless, and they succeed by employing their own specific mix of strengths, talents, and skills. In addition, some form of sacrifice is usually required for them to win.
NOTES: In the context of storytelling, the terms hero and protagonist are used interchangeably, but when it comes to archetypes, the two are distinctly different. A protagonist (the main character whose goal drives the story) with the characteristics described above will be a hero. But not every protagonist is a hero; it’s actually quite common for secondary characters to play this archetypal character. As an example, in Where the Crawdads Sing, Kya is the protagonist of the story, but its her lawyer, Tom Milton, who represents the hero type.
Secondly, please note that “hero” in the context of this entry is used as a gender-neutral term, similar to artist, athlete, or doctor.
FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Atticus Finch (To Kill a Mockingbird), Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games series), Aibileen, Minny, and Skeeter (The Help), Luke Skywalker (Star Wars: A New Hope), Elle Woods (Legally Blonde)
Adventurous, Bold, Confident, Courageous, Disciplined, Focused, Honorable, Idealistic, Independent, Industrious, Inspirational, Intelligent, Just, Persistent, Resourceful, Responsible, Talented
Cocky, Nosy, Obsessive, Perfectionist, Pushy, Stubborn, Workaholic
ASSOCIATED ACTIONS, BEHAVIORS, AND TENDENCIES
Having a specific goal in mind and working toward it
Gathering allies that complement them and assist in the pursuit of the goal
Having a strong moral code
Being sensitive to injustice
Speaking up or stepping forward when others won’t
Utilizing certain strengths or skills in the pursuit of their goal
Making sacrifices to achieve the goal
Struggling with personal flaws or demons
Learning from their mistakes
Seeking to learn or improve skills and abilities that will aid them in their task
SITUATIONS THAT WILL CHALLENGE THEM
Losing a minor confrontation with an adversary
Being betrayed by an ally
The death of a mentor
TWIST THIS TROPE WITH A CHARACTER WHO…
Has a moral code that’s in flux, making it difficult for them to know right from wrong
Wants to right a wrong or save others but can’t find a person or cause to fight for
Has unresolved trauma that gets in the way of their success
*Heroes are one of the most common archetypes found in stories, so they have been tweaked, altered, and reworked to avoid clichés many times over. Thus, it can take some ingenuity to come up with a new spin on this character type. It may help to explore tropes that represent alternative versions of this archetype to see how they’ve been rewritten, such as the reluctant hero, the tragic hero, the chosen one, superheroes, and antiheros.
CLICHÉS TO AVOID
The perfect hero: lots of positive traits but short on flaws
The hero who already has everything they need to defeat the enemy; they just have to look within and tap into it to succeed
Heroes with predictable journeys and story endings
Other Type and Trope Thesaurus entries can be found here.
Need More Descriptive Help?
While this thesaurus is still being developed, the rest of our descriptive collection (16 unique thesauri and growing) is accessible through the One Stop for Writers THESAURUS database.
If you like, swing by and check out the video walkthrough for this site, and then give our Free Trial a spin.
Becca Puglisi is an international speaker, writing coach, and bestselling author of The Emotion Thesaurus and its sequels. Her books are available in five languages, are sourced by US universities, and are used by novelists, screenwriters, editors, and psychologists around the world. She is passionate about learning and sharing her knowledge with others through her Writers Helping Writers blog and via One Stop For Writers—a powerhouse online library created to help writers elevate their storytelling.