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: This character is someone who makes the ultimate sacrifice to save someone else. During the course of the story, they may be symbolic of Jesus Christ or simply model his characteristics, such as selflessness, generosity, mercy, and forgiveness.
FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Aslan (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), John Coffey (The Green Mile), Gandalf (the Lord of the Rings trilogy), Simon (Lord of the Flies)
COMMON STRENGTHS: Calm, Confident, Courageous, Decisive, Empathetic, Focused, Gentle, Honorable, Humble, Idealistic, Inspirational, Just, Kind, Loyal, Mature, Merciful, Protective, Responsible, Spiritual, Trusting, Unselfish, Wholesome, Wise
COMMON WEAKNESSES: Fanatical, Humorless, Hypocritical, Inflexible, Judgmental, Know-It-All, Manipulative, Melodramatic, Obsessive, Reckless
ASSOCIATED ACTIONS, BEHAVIORS, AND TENDENCIES
Being a good listener
Being innocent or even naïve
Not being ego-driven
Being willing to make sacrifices to help others
Frequently standing up for what they believe in
Being a natural leader
Having a strong spiritual side
Defending the vulnerable
Remaining calm in high-pressure situations
Thinking of the greater good rather than their personal desires
Speaking wisely; giving good advice
Never giving up hope
Being driven by purpose
Being able to find meaning in suffering
Using non-violent means to achieve their goals
Being quick to forgive others
Having an overall positive outlook
Rebelling against the system if it’s unjust
Having an underdeveloped sense of humor
Being overly preachy or moralistic
Viewing problems through an overly simplistic lens
Being out of touch with the culture
Coming across as different or odd
SITUATIONS THAT WILL CHALLENGE THEM
Discovering the person they’re sacrificing themselves for is despicable
Having no choice but to resort to violence
Running afoul of the law because of their actions
Facing an injustice they can’t do anything about
Seeing many people in need and not being able to help them all
Working with someone who is frustrating or annoying (because they need constant support, are always negative, are prejudiced, etc.)
Learning new information that makes them realize they shouldn’t follow through on a promise they made
TWIST THIS TROPE WITH A CHARACTER WHO…
Is loud, has a good sense of humor, and is the life of the party
Has flaws or personal demons that interrupt their attempts to do good
Struggles with doubt
Has an atypical trait: nature-focused, quirky, scatterbrained, childish, witty, indecisive, etc.
CLICHÉS TO BE AWARE OF
The completely naïve and wholesome Christ figure
The Christ figure who has an overt message to share
A Christ figure with no flaws or internal conflicts who is portrayed as the ideal human
The Christ figure who throws out his arms during the moment of final sacrifice, making the symbol of the cross as he dies
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.