Shapeshifters and Tricksters – Character Archetypes, Part Two

AuthorHouse welcomes you back! Last week, we introduced the concept of archetypes, common character roles that appear in most enduring legends and stories. While it’s important to put a fresh spin on your characters, you’ll probably find that they fall into one of these categories, even if you didn’t consciously write them to.


In that article, available here, we discussed the “hero,” the protagonist of the story. He’s opposed by the “shadow,” whether it’s an enemy, a repressing society, or a prejudice. At some point, he’ll probably be helped by a “mentor,” a character who’s wiser and more experienced than he. And the adventure begins with a “herald,” a person or event that forces the hero to leave his ordinary world and enter the “special world.”


Hero with a Thousand FacesSo who’s left? Let’s look at the final four archetypes:


Threshold guardians – These are the gatekeepers, the people or events that block the hero’s way at important points in the story. They’re like bosses in video games; if you want to get to the next stage, first you have to get past the threshold guardian.


Shapeshifters – TV shows like “Alias,” “24,” or “Lost” are full of these. Shapeshifters seem to be helping the hero at one point, but hindering him later. Their motives are always questionable, and they’ll be accused of being two-faced.




Tricksters – A story’s comic relief, they can serve to lighten the mood. Shakespeare had them, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a Disney movie that doesn’t have at least one trickster character. A help at some times and a nuisance at others, they can always be counted on to cause mischief.


Allies – The last archetype is pretty straightforward. Allies are there to help the character achieve his goal, and could be a partner, boyfriend, sidekick, or even a competitor (remember Apollo Creed in Rocky 3?) Although it should be the hero’s actions that win the final battle, he probably couldn’t have reached that point without allies.


Alice in WonderlandHeroes. Shadows. Tricksters. Meeting with mentors, and approaching inmost caves. Ordeals and resurrections. We’ve introduced all these concepts, and many more. You probably already had some (or most) of these in your story already, just because it felt “natural.” The good news is they enable your story to cross cultural or generational gaps because it’ll feel just as natural to your readers.


AuthorHouse hopes this series has been informative and useful! Take a look at your own writing in the context of the Hero’s Journey and the character archetypes. Do you have a nagging feeling that something’s missing in your story? Maybe the teachings of Joseph Campbell can give you an idea of where you went wrong.


Keep checking back at Author’s Digest for updates, and the AuthorHouse Bookstore for the latest offerings from our self-published authors. See you next time!




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