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Some 21st Century Character Archetypes

This first appeared in 2012. New version edited and updated. I read a lot of books and I watch a lot of films and TV series, typically in the evening to wind down from spending all day on the laptop working. I’ve identified several tropes of the modern age. I don’t know if any appear at the fantastic website TV Tropes so forgive me if I’m repeating any from there.

Oh by the way, there are some spoilers here.

Anti-villain(ess): Accompanying the anti-hero/heroine that is a well established character archetype, I came up with the concept a few years ago to use for villains that you would feel a certain amount of sympathy. The anti-villain is bad but they are not entirely unsympathetic; you understand their reasons for being the way they are. Perhaps nature or nurture has put them on one side of the coin. Sometimes you desperately want them to wake up because in some ways, there is an element of the noble about them – they are a man/woman of their word and have been wronged, or they are so pitiful you feel sorry for them. It isn’t enough for them to be charismatic or likeable, hell, I would even say that it isn’t necessary but sympathy and empathy are important in drawing this line. Good examples include Boomer from the new BSG and Scorpius from Farscape, Gollum from Lord of the Rings and… perhaps… maybe even Darth Vader.

The Enslaved One: One of the older archetypes is “The Trickster” somebody pretending to be good but is actually bad. The most commonly known is Iago from Othello. But The Enslaved is on the side of the villain by virtue of the fact that the primary villain has a hold over him/her. Not actually a bad person, The Enslaved is usually the one carrying out the most heinous acts… but does so unwillingly. Their role is usually to engage the trust of the protagonist and then betray it in the worst ways imaginable. Sometimes they are liberated, sometimes they meet a tragic end. Good examples of The Enslaved are: Doctor Yueh from Dune, most of the characters in Needful Things, but especially Brian Rusk. Finally, we could include Lando Calrissian from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back perhaps…?

The Mary Sue. Most people know this one by now. Essentially, the creator is putting themselves in the story. The character looks like the author, sounds like the author, is from a place similar to where the author is from and inevitably shares her qualities. She also manages to end up with number 8 in the above list. He doesn’t ever put a foot wrong and she does nothing but simper over him. They’re just too darn perfect together and right for each other.

The Blank Slate. The opposite of The Mary Sue and also a feature of YA fiction aimed at girls. This character has little personality like number 25 but rather than having no spark by design or accident, the writer has deliberately created a clone onto which the reader can impose themselves. Yes Bella Swan, I’m looking at you. With no physical description, a paper-thin personality and little in the way of defining characteristics Meyer wants the reader to superimpose themselves onto her.

Sacrificial Step Dad: The main character is the father but he’s not been a good father. His aim in the story is to get his kids back. But unfortunately, there is a step dad in the way. He’s nice, reliable, and good with the kids. So naturally, he has to die so bastard dad can get his family back. This is not always the case but Sacrificial Step Dad needs to die anyway. The most recent example for me is Sean Astin’s character “Bob” in season 2 of Stranger Things and the dull step-dad who was so distastefully done away with in the shockingly awful disaster movie 2012. After saving the family more than once they killed him off. Nobody mourned him; his only crime was being dull.

These for are my contribution and no doubt we can think of many examples of each of these types.

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2 thoughts on “Some 21st Century Character Archetypes

  1. Wow – I guess I don’t think in terms of archtypes. At least, not on purpose. I guess I am aware of them, but – obviously – not as much as I should be. Guess I better go read up on these! 🙂

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