3 Ways to Refresh and Revitalize Overused Character Archetypes

Some characters are so cliche that they are like the mockbusters created by The Asylum: copies of greater heroes.

I love Netflix, but then I’m a sucker for bad movies.  We pay $8 a month for the instant streaming service, and when we surf through the possible titles, we see literally thousands of movies that probably should not have been made.  Most of the worst are those movies made by The Asylumcalled “mockbusters”, where they create films that look very close to blockbuster movie house films and then release them direct to DVD on the day the blockbuster film debuts in theaters.

Unfortunately, some writers in the self-publishing industry are not innocent of doing this kind of thing, either.  Few do this intentionally, but many are guilty of rehashing old archetypal characters that we have seen over and over again in order to either “write to the market” or because they can’t come up with an original idea.

Here are some tips:

1. Give Them Depth – Sure you’ve written that swashbuckling hero into your novel and he is every bit as dashing as Han Solo and probably looks exactly like him, but so is Jack Ryan, Jason Bourne, and several other dashing heroes.  They are all sort of the same, but there is one thing that separates them: depth.  Jack Ryan, Tom Clancy’s famous CIA analyst, is not just a dashing hero, but he is also a committed family man, and not very confident with a gun.  Jason Bourne might be a fantastic super soldier, but he also has a checkered past and a problem remembering who he is.  Give your heroes depth.  Plan them out.  Give them quirks and hangups.  Nothing is worse than a flat character that is weak in the motivation department.

2.  The Three T’s – When I’m creating characters, I try to do so by using what I like to call the “three t’s”:

  • Trauma – I give my characters genuine, real world problems to solve.  Something in their past went terribly wrong.  That past traumatic event then taints whatever they do in the present regarding problem solving.
  • Threshold – My heroic characters start out as very un-heroic.  Something happens to them that causes them to be thrust into the role of the hero.  This event (as Joseph Campbell put it) is the “threshold event”.  It is an event that is rife with conflict that causes them to make a decision about their life that forever changes them.
  • Tenacity – This is what drives the character forward.  What is the one thing, goal, or prize that the hero is searching to find or trying to accomplish.  The hero must then set their “teeth” into that thing and not let go, even if it causes them personal pain or even death.  The hero that starts out as ordinary yet finds the tenacity within themselves to accomplish a goal give us all hope.

3.  Quirks – I love these.  My characters all have strange quirks built from the four basic personality types: dove, owl, eagle, peacock.  I have found that these four personality types are perfect for creating quirky and realistic characters.  If we include at least four characters in our novels, each representing one of the four types, we will include the personality types of all of our readers.  This causes them to invest in at least one of the characters in our narrative.  Use the descriptions of the personality types to create unique quirks for your characters that cause them to stand out in the memories of your readers.  For my latest book, my main character is a dove, but he has elements of an eagle that cause some dramatic tension with the other characters who are of other personality types.  It is fun to play around with these personality types and create characters that are believable and interesting.

Published by Roger Colby, Novelist, Editor

Roger Colby is a novelist and teacher who has taught English for nearly two decades. He is also an avid reader of science fiction who feels, like many other sci-fi readers, that he has read everything. He writes science fiction for the reader who is looking for the next best thing, something to excite them into reading again. This blog is his journey as a writer and his musings about writing. He also edits manuscripts for a fee and is an expert at helping you reach your full potential as a writer.

3 thoughts on “3 Ways to Refresh and Revitalize Overused Character Archetypes

  1. Great tips! Thanks for sharing them! As for your three Ts, I think I’m good at the first two, but probably need to focus a bit more on tenacity. And I definitely need better quirks! 😀

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