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: Evil personified and seemingly invincible, this antagonist is out to rule the world. They often use fear, intimidation, and the extensive resources (magical, military, or otherwise) at their command to dominate and control others.
FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Sauron (The Lord of the Rings trilogy), the White Witch (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe), Voldemort (the Harry Potter series), Thanos (the Marvel Universe), Emperor Palpatine (the Star Wars franchise)
COMMON STRENGTHS: Adaptable, Alert, Ambitious, Analytical, Bold, Confident, Decisive, Efficient, Focused, Independent, Industrious, Intelligent, Meticulous, Pensive, Perceptive, Persistent, Persuasive, Proactive, Resourceful, Talented
COMMON WEAKNESSES: Callous, Cocky, Controlling, Cruel, Devious, Disloyal, Evil, Greedy, Haughty, Impatient, Inflexible, Judgmental, Manipulative, Obsessive, Perfectionist, Possessive, Pretentious, Resentful, Suspicious, Temperamental, Unethical, Vindictive, Violent, Volatile
ASSOCIATED ACTIONS, BEHAVIORS, AND TENDENCIES
Having a strategic mindset
Being single-minded in their pursuit of the ultimate goal
Carefully controlling their emotions
Having a big presence that fills the room
Wearing clothing meant to make them more intimidating
Walking confidently with long strides
Taking quick, decisive actions
Being emotionally unavailable
Having little tolerance for mistakes; being unforgiving
Easily replacing allies or underlings who fall short of the character’s expectations
SITUATIONS THAT WILL CHALLENGE THEM
Loving a child, parent, sibling, or spouse who disagrees with the character
A seemingly insignificant challenger defeating or eluding the character
Their methods or goals being challenged by a trusted lieutenant
TWIST THIS TROPE WITH A CHARACTER WHO…
Offers a measure of grace when people make mistakes
Cares and offers protection for someone vulnerable
Has an atypical trait: merciful, vulnerable, honest, socially aware, sophisticated, humble, etc.
CLICHÉS TO BE AWARE OF
Dark rulers with a physical deformity that represents their corruption and evil
A dark lord who kills off loyal followers for minor infractions
Megalomaniacs who refuse to listen to anyone’s counsel
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.