Writing Masterclass: The Orphan Archetype

I recently discovered that in some cases the Orphan archetype is the transformation from an innocent character to a warrior or hero type character. They believe that all men (or women, or any other pronoun) are created equally and because of that, they can seek justice as their primary motivation when people are not treated fairly. (Think Batman).

Of course, the literal meaning of Orphan is to be without parents or a parental figure but as writers, we can treat this a little less literal and take a more obscure approach to make our characters more interesting. If we’re taking an abstract approach to the idea of being parent-less we may suggest that our protagonist is without direction, without a mentor and if our character is struggling with an identity because of their lack of direction then they are more likely to make mistakes.

Think of the film Oliver. When we watch the situation play out we see a young boy making simple mistakes that our own parents would have warned us about, i.e. Don’t talk to strangers. It seems simple, but without guidance what’s to say our character knows any better? In this respect, they are similar to the innocent archetype.

What differs between the Orphan archetype and the Innocent archetype is what our character decides to do with the information they learn. Where an Innocent character might keep remaking the same mistakes because they assume that everyone is being honest with them, an Orphan archetype will be more susceptible to change as they absorb the mistakes with a sponge.

Obviously, there are many ways to interpret this character trope, as there are with the many other that Jung shared and it’s this personal interpretation that creates new and exciting characters. If we learn the basics then we have all the tools to develop the realistic and well-defined protagonists, villains, and side characters.

I hope this article offers some insight into the world of character theory and helps to coax that character you’ve been nursing in your brain for some time. Let me know what you thought in the comments below.

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2 thoughts on “Writing Masterclass: The Orphan Archetype

  1. It’s interesting to think that an archetype can add depth to a character, particularly this archetype. I took a course on children’s literature as an undergrad and my professor discussed how the Orphan archetype can be traced back to fairy tales (think Hansel and Gretel, who are abandoned by their parents, or even characters like Little Red Riding Hood that just lack mentors to guide them, as you said). People tend to think that fairy tales as such simple children’s stories but they’re more than that, just as an archetype can be overused but that doesn’t mean that, if properly handled, they can’t add depth and complexity to our characters.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment! I agree with you, I think that an archetype is a good place for a new writer to start. If we learn the basics then we’re best prepared for when we decide to write more complex characters but saying that you are right in saying that an archetype can be complex in itself, it just needs some fresh ideas that maybe haven’t been overused to make the characters intriguing.

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