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: Orphans are characterized by trauma, neglect, and/or rejection. Having lost their own family (or never having had one to begin with), they’re driven by a need to belong and will go to great lengths to find acceptance. This makes orphans especially susceptible to manipulation and abuse which, over time, can result in them becoming withdrawn and further isolated.
FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Harry Potter (the Harry Potter series), Oliver Twist (Oliver Twist), Kya Clark (Where the Crawdads Sing), Simba (The Lion King), Will Hunting (Good Will Hunting)
COMMON STRENGTHS: Alert, Cautious, Discreet, Empathetic, Humble, Independent, Intelligent, Loyal, Observant, Perceptive, Persistent, Private, Proactive, Resourceful, Spunky
COMMON WEAKNESSES: Abrasive, Apathetic, Childish, Cynical, Defensive, Dishonest, Evasive, Impulsive, Insecure, Irresponsible, Oversensitive, Paranoid, Rebellious, Reckless, Resentful, Rowdy
ASSOCIATED ACTIONS, BEHAVIORS, AND TENDENCIES
Being highly observant
Sticking like glue to the trustworthy people in their life
Being highly attuned to injustice, manipulation, and other forms of abuse
Fighting for justice and equality
Having just a few close friends
Being unable to see the faults of the people they’re loyal to
Getting involved in toxic relationships (because it’s what the character is used to)
Adopting a victim mentality
Being highly independent (because they’ve had to be)
SITUATIONS THAT WILL CHALLENGE THEM
Suspecting that a trusted friend is being dishonest
A friend questioning the motives of someone close to the character
Being forced to face their unresolved past trauma
TWIST THIS TROPE WITH A CHARACTER WHO…
Has been orphaned but maintains their optimism and hope in humanity
Has learned a valuable skill or ability because of their abandonment
Has an atypical trait: obedient, respectful, diplomatic, confident, fussy, scatterbrained, etc.
CLICHÉS TO BE AWARE OF
The literal orphan whose problems are solved when they’re adopted into a family
Groups of orphans banding together to form their own family or community
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.