Define Your Terms

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Over the weekend I dived into another of my new books, very kindly given to me by Mr. and Mrs. Knighton, called 45 Master Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt. It outlines the Jungian archetypes in some detail, both as heroes and villains, and gives examples of each in literature, TV and film. It’s very handy in giving some guidance to character development, but to be honest it was a comment in the introduction that really made me think.

If you think of your character in terms of the stereotype, you only get a general idea of the character.

The thing is, what’s the difference between a stereotype and an archetype? One is an outline of a typical and often used principle. The other is… well, the same. An archetype is the broad strokes of a character – you have to give them distinctive and individual details yourself. Wikipedia describes an archetype as a universally understood symbol, but surely that’s an equally applicable description of stereotype? If you do a google image search, you get most of the same images for either term.

I’m not saying for a moment that you shouldn’t use archetypes as building blocks for your characters. But I do think you need to keep in mind that they are stereotypes. Once you’ve used an archetype to establish the broad strokes, you can’t leave it there.

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