How to write interesting characters based on archetypes with examples such as Shrek, RWBY, The Lizzie Bennett Diaries, and The Bright Sessions.
For all kinds of creative writers, they know what it feels like to be stuck somehow. A story must have an intriguing plot with good elements on world-building and consistent themes. But that's not all. The audience's guide into the story are the characters. They are the ones for the audience to observe, relate, and reflect upon. Without them, general entertainment would feel lackluster and boring. The characters themselves, however, have to be developed enough to carry on the plot and standout on their own. An undeveloped character can still make the story boring, which is why it's important to flesh them out as if they're real people. This, my creative writing friends, is the guide to how to make interesting characters.
Before jumping into specific ways for writers to mess around with, we must establish the fundamental characteristics for characterization and their development.
1. Flaws and Conflicts
Conflicts can be external, but internal conflicts are the ones that can hook the audience in. A character may feel imperfect about themselves in a specific way. He or she could lack confidence in their abilities, feel too modest in their social skills, or follow a strict pattern to how things should be done. These internal conflicts can be resolved, but the character still needs to have flaws. Personal flaws are either something that the character overcomes or not. The internal battle within that character will convince the audience that he or she is a real person.
2. Personality Traits
Besides conflicts and flaws, a character will only feel like a person if he or she has a personality. This differs based on if the character is a good or bad person. The character can express themselves any way that the writer wants them to be. To let him or her be passive in their personality can come off as boring to the audience. A valuable trick for the writer could be to interview the character to know who exactly that character is on a personal level.
3. Motivations and Quirks
Since a character must be active, he or she must also have goals to accomplish. It all comes down to what the character wants. No desire is too big or small as long as it's relevant to the story. A fun aspect of characterization is adding quirks or special interests to the characters. For example, a character can be into psychology or reading books. Their plotline and goals could be about their special interest. These quirks help bring in an audience who share the same interest as the character. As long as he or she is developed enough to come across as real, it would make for an interesting type of character.
Some writers may use a different approach when it comes to character creation. For me, a fun method I like to use is how to handle character archetypes. An archetype is a type of character that everybody can recognize. It's a bit different when it comes to stereotypes, which is more of a standard and simplified idea of a type of person. Archetypes are popular examples that can be found within any genre a writer may like to write in.
There are many different types of archetypes that writers can consider using in their stories. The first is characters that are based on characters from older or classical pieces of literature. These are characters that appear in classical literature, old legends, myths, fairy tales, and folklore. Sometimes, the new reiterations of these old characters comment on how times have changed from a modern point of view. For example, every single character in the web series RWBY is based on fairy tale characters, characters from folktales, myths, legends, and children's stories. The audience can still recognize which character is based on whom, but hold their own through their distinct personalities and arcs. Another example is The Lizzie Bennett Diaries. As a modern adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the series updates the characters' storylines and themes to engage with a modern audience. The character of Lydia Bennett was changed from a teenage boy crazy girl to an early twenties woman desperate to break out on her own. Both RWBY and The Lizzie Bennett Diaries take specific archetypes from popular stories to modernize them to a worldwide audience.
For stereotypes, they derive from archetypes as long as there aren't any harmful connotations. The problem with stereotypes is that they can bore the audience by how many times it has been seen over and over again in popular media. The best way to handle stereotypes is by subverting them. One of the most popular stereotypes of the male hero is Prince Charming. In short and simple terms, he's charming (obviously), handsome, rich, and sweet. His goal is to save the fairy tale princess from any danger she's in. The only character who subverts the Prince Charming stereotype is Shrek from Shrek. Instead of being a handsome rich prince, he's an ugly ogre who lives in a swamp. He initially believes that he isn't suited to be a hero until he goes on a Prince Charming type of quest that he changes how he sees himself.
Another male stereotype is the high school jock character. He's athletic, stubborn, and dim-minded. He's meant to uphold American ideals of teenage masculinity. There are few examples of characters who deconstruct this type. The only character who does deconstruct this stereotype is Caleb Michaels from the Bright Sessions. He's a football player in high school trying to mind his own business; however, he's an empath. He can feel the emotions of other people around him. His struggles with empathy make him an interesting case of deconstructing toxic masculinity among teenage boys.
Not only does the audience wants to get invested in the story, but so does the writer. That can be hard to do if the writer does not know the character. An easy way for writers to create a character is to write a self-insert character. This is basically having a character represents the writer in any way, shape, or form. The writing community stigmatizes self-inserts believing that writers shouldn't write characters based on themselves. Fiction is not fan-fiction. In actuality, it's perfectly fine for a writer to draw from personal experiences to tell a story. Self-inserts can be fine as long as they are well written. If they can like someone that the audience can relate to, it's fine that the character shares some similarities with the writer.
The one troubling archetype in fiction is Mary Sues. There aren't many of them, but they can annoy the audience as a glorification of a type of idea. Some debate what Mary Sues are. In simple terms, they are one-dimensional characters who are overpowered. The entire story focuses solely on them while disregarding anything else. Mary Sues are typically named for female characters, but male characters can also be Mary Sues with a different name (Gary Stus). Mary Sues are creating only when a writer wants to exploit a single character without considering other characteristics or consequences in the plot. There are a few tips to fixing a Mary Sue. That can be depowering them, lessen their importance to the world or plot, or make them struggle with a specific conflict or consequences regarding their actions.
Thank you for reading and I hope that this inspires you to write captivating characters of your own.