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: Awkward and shy, wallflowers typically stick to the fringes. Some are happy being in the background while others wish they could break out of their shell and into the spotlight.
FICTIONAL EXAMPLES: Mr. Darcy (Pride and Prejudice), Anne Elliot (Persuasion), Penelope Featherington (Romancing Mr. Bridgerton), Charlie (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), Willow Rosenburg (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)
COMMON STRENGTHS: Cautious, Courteous, Creative, Diplomatic, Discreet, Gentle, Humble, Imaginative, Independent, Introverted, Kind, Observant, Pensive, Perceptive, Private, Responsible
COMMON WEAKNESSES: Cowardly, Evasive, Gullible, Inhibited, Insecure, Nervous, Obsessive, Oversensitive, Pessimistic, Resentful, Timid, Uncommunicative, Weak-Willed, Withdrawn, Worrywart
ASSOCIATED ACTIONS, BEHAVIORS, AND TENDENCIESBeing introverted
Disliking small talk
Being a good listener
Having keen observation skills
Choosing hobbies and activities that allow the character to shine privately
Having a vivid imagination
Not engaging, even when they should—in a bullying situation, for instance
Difficulty setting and maintaining personal boundaries
Trusting people they shouldn’t
Being sensitive to crowds, noise, or excessive stimulation
SITUATIONS THAT WILL CHALLENGE THEM
Being in a large social gathering, especially if there is almost no one there they know or feel comfortable with
Having a public misstep put on social media for everyone to see
Being put on display—having to give a speech or sing a solo, for instance
TWIST THIS TROPE WITH A CHARACTER WHO…
Has a hidden well of self-confidence in certain situations or areas of expertise
Has a dark secret that no one suspects
Has an atypical trait: bold, verbose, vain, fanatical, flirtatious, sophisticated, etc.
CLICHÉS TO BE AWARE OF
The awkward introvert who must always be rescued from social interactions by others
The frumpy bookworm who undergoes a near-instantaneous transformation to attractive, confident, and refined
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.