Archetypal Character Arcs, Pt. 23: Summary of the Archetypal Character Arcs

This post (as the final one in our series) is intended as an easy reference that lists comparisons of the archetypal Positive-Change Arcs, so you can see them all in one place. Each of the individual posts on the specific archetypes does, of course, go into much more depth and offers much more information. But this post should provide a handy overview, both to give you a zoomed-out look at the entire life cycle of character arcs, but also for use as a tool when you’re trying to decide which archetype a character might be or which archetype is best suited to your particular story needs.

Remember: the arcs are not about becoming the central archetypes, but rather reaching apotheosis and transitioning out of the height of that archetype’s power into Death/Rebirth.

Overview of All Archetypes in the Life Cycle of Archetypal Character Arcs

Beginning “Flat” Archetype: Child

Maiden Arc

Shadows: Damsel (passive); Vixen (aggressive)

Subsequent “Flat” Archetype: Lover

Hero Arc

Shadows: Coward (passive); Bully (aggressive)

Subsequent “Flat” Archetype: Parent

Queen Arc

Shadows: Snow Queen (passive); Sorceress (aggressive)

Subsequent “Flat” Archetype: Ruler

King Arc

Shadows: Puppet (passive); Tyrant (aggressive)

Subsequent “Flat” Archetype: Elder

Crone Arc

Shadows: Hermit (passive); Witch (aggressive)

Subsequent “Flat” Archetype: Mentor

Mage Arc

Shadows: Miser (passive); Sorcerer (aggressive)

By Sydney Watkins.

Story Type for Each Archetype

Maiden: An Initiation

Hero: A Quest

Queen: A Battle

King: An Awakening

Crone: A Pilgrimage

Mage: A Mission

Arc for Each Archetype

Maiden Arc: Innocent to Individual (moves from Protected World to Real World)

Hero Arc: Individual to Protector (moves from Normal World to Adventure World)

Queen Arc: Protector to Leader (moves from Domestic World to Monarchic World)

King Arc: Leader to Elder (moves from Regal World to Preternatural World)

Crone Arc: Elder to Sage (moves from Uncanny World to Underworld)

Mage Arc: Sage to Saint (moves Liminal World to Yonder World)

Symbolic Settings for Each Archetype

Maiden: Home

Hero: Village

Queen: Kingdom (Hearth)

King: Empire (Palace)

Crone: Hut (Underworld)

Mage: Cosmos

Thematic Lie vs. Truth for Each Archetype

Maiden: Submission vs. Sovereignty.

“Submission to authority figures is necessary for survival.” versus “Personal sovereignty is necessary for growth and survival.”

Hero: Complacency and/or Recklessness vs. Courage

“My actions are insignificant in the overall scope of the world.” versus “All my actions affect those I love.”

Queen: Control vs. Leadership

“Only my loving control can protect those I love.” versus “Only wise leadership and trust in those I love can protect them and allow us all to grow.”

King: Strength vs. Surrender

“Physical strength is the pinnacle of human achievement.” versus “Spiritual strength requires me to relinquish my physical strength.”

Crone: Death vs. Life

“All life ends in death.” versus “Life is Death and Death is Life.”

Mage: Attachment vs. Transcendence

“My love must protect others from the difficult journey of life.” versus “True love is transcendent and allows life to unfold.”

Archetypal Antagonists for Each Arc

Maiden: Authority and Predator

Hero: Dragon and Sick King

Queen: Invaders and Empty Throne

King: Cataclysm and Rebels

Crone: Death Blight and Tempter

Mage: Evil and the Weakness of Humankind

(Note: I will be exploring these archetypal antagonists in a small supplemental series this fall.)

Archetypes’ Positive Relationships to Own Shadow Archetypes

Maiden

Either Damsel finally owns her Potential by embracing her Strength.

Or Vixen learns to wield her true Potential with true Strength.

Hero

Either Coward finally uses his Strength because he learns to Love and wants to defend what he loves.

Or Bully learns to submit his Strength to the service of Love.

Queen

Either Snow Queen finally acts in Love for her children by accepting Responsibility.

Or Sorceress learns to submit her selfish Love to the greater love of Responsibility.

King

Either Puppet finally wields his Power out of a growing Perception.

Or Tyrant learns to submit his Power to the bigger picture of Perception.

Crone

Either Hermit finally accepts her Perception in order to grow into Wisdom.

Or Witch learns to submit her Perception to the truths of greater Wisdom.

Mage

Either Miser finally opens himself up through his Wisdom to gain Transcendence.

Or Sorcerer learns to surrender his worldly wisdom in exchange for true Transcendence.

Archetypes’ Relationships to Subsequent Shadow Archetypes as Represented by Other Characters

Maiden inspires Coward or outwits Bully with her inspiration.

Hero rescues Snow Queen or releases Sorceress with his love.

Queen empowers Puppet or overcomes Tyrant with her power.

King rallies Hermit or defeats Witch with his sacrifice.

Crone invigorates Miser or destroys Sorcerer through her wisdom.

Shadow Archetypes Overview

Damsel is Submissive (to protect from consequences of Dependence)

Vixen is Deceptive (aggressive use of Dependence)

Coward is Ineffectual (to protect from consequences of Courage)

Bully is Destructive (aggressive use of Courage)

Snow Queen is Defensive (to protect from consequences of Love)

Sorceress is Manipulative/Vampiric (aggressive use of Love)

Puppet is Irresponsible (to protect from consequences of Power)

Tyrant is Oppressive (aggressive use of Power)

Hermit is Misanthropic (to protect from consequences of Insight)

Witch is Punitive (aggressive use of Insight)

Miser is Selfish (to protect from consequences of Enlightenment)

Sorcerer is Evil (aggressive use of Enlightenment)

***

And that’s a wrap! We have come to the end of our in-depth exploration of progressive archetypal character arcs. Have fun applying them to your stories (and your life)!

Related Posts:

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! How do you think you might start using archetypal characters in your own stories? Tell me in the comments!

Sign Up Today

hwba sidebar pic

Sign up to receive K.M. Weiland’s e-letter and receive her free e-book Crafting Unforgettable Characters: A Hands-On Introduction to Bringing Your Characters to Life.

About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. It’s been a great series and this as a handy reference to wrap it with. I will admit I started reading this wondering “how is she going to summarize this?” And then I found out. Thank you for half a year of torturing my poor feeble mind into creativity!

  2. Grace Dvorachek says

    I will definitely be coming back to this post as I slowly discover my characters’ archetypes! It was really helpful to see them all together and in order on the same page. Thank you so much for this series!

  3. Your profound series of character arcs will become the foundation for all my current and future novels. The arcs being into clear focus the characters, their stages in life, plus a framework on which to develop their personalities, hopes, fears, and interactions.

    A major thank you for this research and effort. This is a milestone in the art of authorship.

  4. Great series! Thank you as lot! What will be the next about?

  5. To be honest I’d have read a bit more about how different archetypes coesxist in one character with examples. They were mentions that a Flat character may be arching in a secondary arc or vice cersa but it is hard to understand in theory.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s a complex subject for sure. I’m sure I’ll be writing about it more in the future. Thanks for the feedback!

  6. Brooke Upton says

    This has been my favorite series you’ve ever done. Knowing what types of positive change arcs my characters are following really helps me pinpoint their Lies and Truths. One thing I’ve noticed is that all the feminine arcs are about growing into your own power, while all the masculine arcs are about learning to use that power for the good of others.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yep, totally. Glad you enjoyed it!

    • nice summary thanks for that – I hadn’t understood that distinction before – makes a lot of sense.

      In the tarot – another archetypal system – the feminine is the one in touch with spirit and inspiration – the masculine is the one responsible for taking that inspiration and manifesting in the outer world – and then coming back for further inspiration to keep on track.

  7. Michael Saltar says

    Wow! This reference guide is incredible! Thank you for continuing to share your gift with the world.

  8. Eric Troyer says

    Fascinating series! Nice wrap. Reading through all the “Thematic Lies vs Truths,” it struck me that many are actually both truths that have to be balanced. For example we all have to submit to authority figures to a certain degree but developing our personal is important. Finding that balance seems to be key to reaching maturity for that arc, and that balance will be different for everyone. Anyway, interesting to think about. Thanks for getting me to think!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Really good point. I hadn’t totally thought of it that way, but actually I think that’s a great insight into thematic “Lies” in general. They’re rarely outright lies, more just imbalanced and incomplete perspectives.

  9. Magnolia Steele says

    I have really enjoyed this series and it has been so helpful! Thank you!

  10. Thank you for this overview! Throughout this series I’ve been trying to figure out where my current characters fit into this. I just realized one is the Coward and the other is the Bully. It’s a romance, but I hate flat character arcs and usually have them both arc before they’re able to be happy in the relationship. To paraphrase Rumi, finding their barriers to love is their true job—not simply falling in love. They’ll each have to arc into the Hero, I think, before they can get on with their life arcs.

    It seems an odd pairing, though. I wonder what I’m working through.

  11. Pretty incredible, Katie! I have always been impressed by your analytical and research skills. Well done!

  12. Chris Moore says

    This series has been an extraordinary, generous intellectual gift to your readers–the research, organization, and clear presentation of a massive amount of material, explained and summarized for our benefit. I was especially struck by your final phrase: “and your life.” It’s where my head has been the entire series, comparing these phases to my personal experiences and how they relate to my growth–the person I am, and the person I am becoming. I too am “a fighter (albeit a tired one), a writer, a child of God.” Perhaps entering the Crone arc makes one pensive. This wrap-up is a fabulous reference aid, and I appreciate the thought and effort that went into all of it. Thank you, Katie!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks very much for the kind words, Chris. I definitely find that the more I study story theory, the more I find that applies to my own life–and vice versa. Not so surprising though, I suppose. 🙂

  13. Are you going to publish this into a physical copy like the Character Arcs series?

  14. Jenny Chasteen says

    I’ve enjoyed this series so much I’m sad to see it go! It’s been incredible food for thought about my books and about life. I’m looking forward to the antagonist archetype series, and to the book!

  15. Susan Omran says

    I too have enjoyed this series immensely and am so grateful to you, Katie, for taking the time to create and post. You are the best!

  16. sanityisuseless says

    Could I be one of the beta readers for the book?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks for the offer! I don’t generally do betas on non-fic anymore, but I appreciate it.

  17. I’m using the archetypes to help structure a memoir. Can’t wait for the book and thank you so much!

  18. Michael P Bowles says

    Enjoyed this article. The summary is very helpful. I was wondering about how you would go about classifying Chekov characters. Say the station master in “Champaign”?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Oh, gosh, it’s been so long since I read Chekhov. I’m not even sure if I read that story.

  19. Sue Galliano says

    Thank you for making the very intense subject of character arcs very understandable for the new writer. It has been a pleasure to follow this series. that has opened my eyes to the way characters evolve and change. I appreciate your sharing of this information and look forward to the book in the future.

  20. just went through all of my notes on the characters in my novel that I started writing a few weeks before this series started. wow! they’re way different now after half a year. My biggest problem starting was that my characters made no sense. I can’t believe that was only six months ago. my characters all thank you except the mentor who will die once i finish the midpoint (sorry) but I think I got a much better understanding on how I should make them and what I should make them do in the future.

  21. Fantastic series!!! My characters have more depth now.

  22. Awesome sauce from beginning to end!!

  23. If someone were to create an ebook, with this collected all in one easy reference, then we could purchase it from her… Just sayin!

  24. Thank you for wrapping it all up in one place, it’ll be so helpful! So, I’m curious, will you include the next series about archetypal antagonists in the upcoming book version too?

  25. Need to not follow new comments. Glad to see so many people responding.

  26. Joan Kessler says

    This has been such a great series, and now the Master List! Awesome! Thank you for all this wonderful material.

  27. Thank you so much for all of this, KM. I wouldn’t be surprised if you could create a workbook for this someday.

    I do have a question, if you have time to answer. A long story, or perhaps a series, could move a POV character into and out of shadow archetypes, couldn’t it? As an example, a POV character could go from maiden to hero to snow queen to king to witch to mage, yes?

    I’m just wondering if you think it’s possible to integrate positive and negative change arches into a single narrative about a single character.

    • sanityisuseless says

      That would be interesting. I feel like you’d have to have a lot of rising and falling and repenting and sinning but I feel like if you did it well you could pull it off.

    • Grace Dvorachek says

      Interesting… the thought had crossed my mind about this, too. Though I’d had in mind more of a series of books–each about the same character as they progress through life. Along the way, different archetypes would also interact with the character. It would be a journey through all of the Flat and Positive Change Archetypes, beginning with the Child and ending with the Mage. Or a shortened version could simply go through the Positive Change archetypes, allowing time in between for unspoken Flat arcs.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Definitely. Shadow archetypes are always present, to one degree or another, in all the positive transformations. So in a long enough project, it’s definitely possible to fully explore some of them.

  28. sanityisuseless says

    I wondser, if it’s kind of “time” for, say, the Maiden Arc, but nothing happens to kick start it, what happens? Would they stagnate into the Damsel/Vixen? Would they just wait for a call to action for the arc?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The Maiden Arc is usually moved into action simply by puberty or at least external initiations such as graduating high school or having to move out of the parental home. But if these things do *not* happen or do not initiate the arc, then, yes, the character is likely to at least partially stagnate within the related shadow archetypes.

  29. Micah Charlson says

    Just wondering here: any thoughts on a post (or several) tying (/integrating) this all in to your discussion of the Karpman Drama Triangle? Asking for a friend. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I see all of the Karpman Triangle’s characters fitting into the shadow archetypes. Villain and Hero are more likely to be aggressive, while the Victim is more likely to be passive.

  30. Josiah DeGraaf says

    While I haven’t been commenting regularly on each post, I’ve learned so much through this series and have been impressed by the depth of research you put into this subject. I’m going to be referring back to this series for years to come. Will there eventually be a book compilation of these posts?

  31. Thanks so much for this wonderful series – and more to look forward to with the autumn series around antagonist archetypes – which sounds super exciting.
    Thanks also for your wise words – last post – on finding these archetypes within ourselves and writing to those that resonate. I write MG so most of my hero characters are at the initiation stage of the maiden, finding separation from parents and other outside influences. However supporting characters are often in the other archetypal shadow positions – snow queen/sorceress or coward/bully – and it is wonderful to have gained insight into all these journeys.

    This is a great series – will continue to come back to refer to it – until the book comes out – yay! Thanks again.

  32. Staci Ana says

    So, I know I haven’t commented in like, eternity! But I’ve been reading every post of this series, and can I just say that this was awesome? Because it was! 🙂 And I’m definitely going to refer back to this post. Wish you the best!

    -Staci Ana

  33. John White says

    I can’t thank you enough for this series. A wonderful compilation. Have you considered making this available as a PDF or even another printed book? I’d pay to have this as a handy tableside reference.

    Love the way your mind works, Ma’am.

  34. Sarah Anne Walsh says

    I can’t wait for the book version. Yes I will buy it. Your hard work is truly appreciated. Thanks for helping make me a better writer. You are a blessing!

  35. I was just look at Erik Erikson’s stages of psychosocial development on wikipedia and one does not have to squint too hard to see it is very similar to your cycle of character arcs, though it ends at the equivalent of the Elder Arc, I think, and doesn’t stretch as far as Crone, Mentor and Mage.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erikson%27s_stages_of_psychosocial_development

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thank you for this! I think I remember having briefly run into this (or at least something really similar to it) years ago, but I’d forgotten all about it. Will have to study it more thoroughly now. Hopefully, he has a book. Thanks!

      • You’re welcome. 🙂 Yes I think there might be several models I’ve seen that reflect this ego cycle also. But the storytellers got there first!

  36. I know you mentioned this not necessarily being comprehensive, but for the most part, I’m able to pin down which archetype a character is. But there is one that I find conspicuously missing: the Trickster. Would you say the trickster archetype is actually a character type that could technically fit into any of these archetypes? I ask this because “trickster” types are one of my favorite character tropes, and as “shapeshifters” they can technically come in many different forms.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, a character can embody more than one archetype. What I’ve discussed in this series are a proposed system of archetypes that represent human change and growth throughout a lifetime. But other archetypes such as the Trickster can show up at any point and in any character.

  37. John Warfield says

    Superb…It’s amazing how my characters designed before reading these posts straddled archetypical frameworks without settling into any. Time to reconfigure. I learned a lot with this series and will purchase the book. No screen beats good old fashion paper, glue and coffee when it’s time to study. Thanks again KD – you’ll make better writers of us all.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.