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 trope is a subversion of the hero archetype in the form of a main character who lacks the qualities of the typical hero. Morally ambiguous and often self-serving, they tend to be deeply wounded and flawed individuals with stories that often end in tragedy.
FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Severus Snape (The Harry Potter series), Scarlett O’Hara (Gone With the Wind), Holden Caulfield (The Catcher in the Rye), Harley Quinn (the DC universe), Tony Soprano (The Sopranos), Walter White (Breaking Bad)
COMMON STRENGTHS: Adaptable, Ambitious, Bold, Confident, Creative, Decisive, Discreet, Focused, Independent, Industrious, Intelligent, Meticulous, Patient, Perceptive, Persistent, Protective, Resourceful, Talented
COMMON WEAKNESSES: Abrasive, Cocky, Controlling, Cynical, Devious, Dishonest, Disloyal, Greedy, Hypocritical, Manipulative, Obsessive, Perfectionist, Rebellious, Reckless, Selfish, Sleazy, Unethical, Vindictive, Violent, Volatile
ASSOCIATED ACTIONS, BEHAVIORS, AND TENDENCIES
Being pragmatic about what needs to be done
Working according to their own moral code (which others may not agree with)
Having a strong survival instinct (being resilient)
Determinedly pursuing their goals
Having good listening skills
Knowing how to read people
Fooling even their closest loved ones into seeing the antihero the way they want to be seen
Refusing to entertain doubts about their motives or choices
Doing whatever it takes to save themselves
SITUATIONS THAT WILL CHALLENGE THEM
Someone discovering a secret the antihero desperately wants to keep under wraps
Being betrayed by someone close to them
Working with someone who points out their hypocrisy
TWIST THIS TROPE WITH A CHARACTER WHO…
Successfully navigates a change arc instead of ending up the same or worse than where they started
Has a unique skill or hobby
Has an atypical trait: flamboyant, nature-focused, scatterbrained, witty, wise, etc.
CLICHÉS TO BE AWARE OF
The emotionally flat antihero (or one with no positive emotions)
The lone wolf antihero who has no friends
The antihero with no character arc and no capacity to change
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.