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: Rulers are those who preside over others, keeping order, protecting, and taking responsibility for the welfare of their people and lands. Rulers have vast power, which can be used to do good, or evil, and their position hinges on their ability to maintain power and control, whether achieved by good works and earning the love and respect of others, or through threat, manipulation, and fear.
FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Aragorn (Lord of the Rings); President Snow (The Hunger Games Trilogy), Mufasa (The Lion King), Vito Corleone (The Godfather)
Ambitious, Analytical, Bold, Confident, Courageous, Decisive, Disciplined, Intelligent, Just, Loyal, Objective, Patient, Patriotic, Perceptive, Persistent, Persuasive, Protective, Responsible, Socially Aware, Tolerant, Traditional, Wise, Witty
Cocky, Confrontational, Controlling, Evasive, Haughty, Hypocritical, Impatient, Inflexible, Judgmental, Manipulative, Materialistic, Perfectionist, Possessive, Pretentious, Violent, Volatile
ASSOCIATED ACTIONS, BEHAVIORS, AND TENDENCIES
Displaying authority and leadership
A powerful sense of duty
A strategic mindset that never turns off
Being somewhat risk-averse and acting with caution
Always thinking about the big picture
Putting the good of the many first
Respecting traditions and customs, understanding their importance
Viewing every interaction as a way to reinforce alliances, secure needs, and further goals
Being in control of their environment (what happens and when)
Being direct when communicating (and expecting orders to be followed without question)
A defined set of morals (and high standards to go with them)
Taking ownership of failures and missteps and rarely making the same mistake twice
Being very good at masking emotion
Displaying wealth and other symbols of status and prestige
Perfectionistic tendencies and having high expectations of others
Maintaining appearances even in times of stress to never appear weak or not in control
Becoming upset when things do not go as planned
Having a defined set of rules and following them (and expecting others to also)
Relying on trusted agents who have proven themselves loyal over family or class
Living in a way that maintains their reputation (be that a fair ruler, an unforgiving one, etc.)
Following through on promises, threats, and consequences
Forgetting people are people, not chess pieces for furthering goals
Having few close relationships
Rarely (or never) letting down their guard to reveal insecurities or worries
Finding it difficult to ask for help
Being mindful of their reputation and appearance
Being able to make the hard decisions when necessary
Adopting a “the ends justify the means” mindset at times
SITUATIONS THAT WILL CHALLENGE THEM
Having to let go of control or transfer power to another
Having to rely on someone or something that is unproven
A chaotic environment when structure and order is disrupted
Hard choices that go against their morals or ethics
Having a personal vulnerability become known
Discovering disloyalty among their inner circle
Being challenged by a competitor
Moments that require patience
Having to make concessions or compromise
Needing information to make decisions that impact others and not having it
A cognitive challenge that impairs memory or the ability to make clear decisions
Having no choice but to act in a way that will make someone an enemy
Being asked to put personal welfare first (work-life balance, tending to personal relationships, etc.)
When someone knows their secrets or has a form of leverage
INNER STRUGGLES TO GIVE THEM DEPTH
Feeling anxiety and doubt and being unable to show it or confide in anyone
Yearning for the burden of duty to be lifted, and feeling guilt for this desire
Feeling the more they embody a role, the more they lose their sense of self
Wanting to pursue something but knowing they cannot because of their duty, a custom, expectations, etc. (like choose whom to marry, be friends with, or where to live)
Struggling with burnout and having little to no opportunities for self-care
Being terrified of failing or making a mistake but having to mask it
Wanting to confess to something (a mistake, a betrayal) but knowing they cannot
TWIST THIS TROPE WITH A CHARACTER WHO…
Enjoys leading, and is good at it
Faces temptations and struggles just as anyone else would
Is not afraid to share power, and co-leads because two is stronger than one
Is a respected ruler despite not fitting the tall, strong, handsome type
Is an effective and respected leader who just happens to also have a condition, physical challenge, or other atypical factor
CLICHÉS TO AVOID
Ruling with the “iron fist” and yet never being challenged by those unhappy with status quo
Being an inept leader and yet somehow staying in power
Treating soldiers, supporters, and staff poorly, yet somehow they all remain loyal
Being in charge due to a family legacy when others in the story make better leaders
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.
Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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