Writing Masterclass: Hero Archetypes

In some ways, the hero archetype is the most used character trait in fiction. Every big franchise has a hero of some description: Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen, Lisbeth Salander to name a few. Whether it’s the classic: “I’m something special” hero like Potter or the tragic hero who has suffered an ill fate like Hamlet, they are seemingly ever present in our books, our films and everything in between.

So how can we make our heroes stand out in front of the rest?

To learn to be different, we have to first address the basics, learn to write obvious characters well before we then give them complex narratives and backstories. The best way to learn about the hero archetype is to learn their subcategories.

Types of Heroes:

Everyman hero. I once read a book that was written from the perspective of the sidekick as his friend realised he had superpowers and was called to his adventure. It was this sidekick friend that leveled out the story, making him a relatable character and rooting for him when he found himself in a terrible situation. In a way, this character was an everyman hero.

Tragic hero. In Hamlet’s ultimate decision to have his revenge his path was set for self-destruction. It’s these characters that go against the classic hero stereotype, it’s these characters that have us screaming at our books, trying to tell the character that they are about to make a stupid decision. It’s simultaneously soul destroying and oddly satisfying to see the characters demise as a result of a bad decision.

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Classic hero. There are ordinary people and then there are ordinary people with a special ability or talent that make them stand out from a crowd. These are the classic heroes. These are the romantic heroes that make you want them to succeed. These are the lightning bolt scarred Harry Potters, the force wielding Luke Skywalker, or the super hacking genius Lisbeth Salander.

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Superhero. When I think of a stereotypical superhero I think of superman. Not DC’s recent gritty remake, but the old 1978 Superman classic. The innocent, heartwarming orphan who wants nothing more than for everyone to just get along, fighting for justice where he can.

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The Anti-hero. Think Iron Man. The anti-hero is someone who starts their story as far as possible from being a hero, someone who is maybe dishonest or selfish. As we delve deeper into the story we can see their heart emerging. Another good example of this is Jay Gatsby. His heart was in the right place, he just took a dishonest route to get to his goal.

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In some ways, there are some comparisons to be made with the anti-hero and the villain archetype. Both have questionable moral compasses and are the protagonists of their own stories. When you start breaking down the boundaries of black and white and what it means to be a hero and a villain is when the stories become really interesting.

Which heroes have inspired you to write? Let me know in the comments below.

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5 thoughts on “Writing Masterclass: Hero Archetypes

  1. I like specific classic heroes such as Harry Potter but my favorite type within the hero archetype is the anti-hero. I love that I get to see the good shining through the bad, and the bad usually makes for some great (albeit dark and vulgar) humor and honesty. The one who always comes to mind for me is John Constantine from Hellblazer. Smokes, drinks, swears, but all that pain comes from a good heart.

    Liked by 2 people

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