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 the stereotypical politician. Charming, hypocritical, morally flexible, and often corrupt, they’ll say and do anything to get votes.
FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Greg Stillson (The Dead Zone), William “Boss” Tweed (Gangs of New York), Frank Underwood (House of Cards), Mayor Richard Wilkins (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
COMMON STRENGTHS: Adaptable, Ambitious, Analytical, Calm, Charming, Confident, Decisive, Diplomatic, Enthusiastic, Extroverted, Focused, Friendly, Funny, Intelligent, Observant, Persistent, Persuasive, Resourceful, Socially Aware
COMMON WEAKNESSES: Cocky, Cowardly, Dishonest, Disloyal, Evasive, Hypocritical, Lazy, Manipulative, Self-Indulgent, Selfish, Sleazy, Unethical, Vain, Verbose, Vindictive, Weak-Willed
ASSOCIATED ACTIONS, BEHAVIORS, AND TENDENCIES
Knowing what they want and being singularly focused on those goals
Instinctively knowing what to say and how to say it
Thinking strategically and analytically
Deftly working a room
Adaptability; being able to think on their feet
Speaking ambiguously so they can be flexible in their pursuits
Using scapegoats as fall guys when things go south
Working hard to keep potentially harmful past events buried
SITUATIONS THAT WILL CHALLENGE THEM
Facing public backlash and personal repercussions (such as a spouse leaving them) for their corrupt actions
Encountering a legitimate opponent who is both competent and ethical
Losing key allies or political leverage
TWIST THIS TROPE WITH A CHARACTER WHO…
Has a secret desire for redemption and engages in small acts of kindness to “balance the scales” for their behavior
Has noble motivations behind their unethical actions
Has an atypical trait: subservient, grumpy, idealistic, introverted, quirky, etc.
CLICHÉS TO BE AWARE OF
The behind-the-scenes puppet master who uses manipulation and seduction to achieve their nefarious ends
Cardboard baby-kissing politicians who are obviously fake, but no one seems to notice
Have you seen this trope before? Let us know which characters are good examples of the stereotype—or ones that have been tweaked into something a bit more interesting.
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.