Archetypal Character Arcs, Pt. 5: The King Arc

If we view the human life and thus the six archetypal character arcs of the “life arcs” as taking on the classic story-structure format of Three Acts, then it is no coincidence that the all-important Midpoint marks the transition from the Queen Arc to the King Arc.

In any story, the structural Midpoint represents in many ways the turning point of the entire story. Within the plot it signifies a shift out of the “reactive” phase, in which the protagonist has been distracted by the Lie and by surface conflicts. Equally, it signifies the shift into the “active” phase, in which the protagonist begins to recognize what the conflict is really about and what antagonist he is really confronting. Thematically, this is represented by a Moment of Truth, in which the protagonist grasps the central Truth of his story (while not yet fully releasing or overcoming his Lie).

In our examination of the six life arcs, the middle two arcs of the cycle, comprising the “Second Act,” are the Queen (discussed last week) and the King. The Queen Arc ends with the protagonist essentially having become the King. Although not necessarily glimpsed within the Queen Arc itself, this signifies a total shift within the overall archetypal story. Up to this point, the arcs have represented the first half of life’s concerns with the exterior world—with one’s relationship to self, others, love, and power from both positions of subordination and of authority.

Obviously, anyone inhabiting the King archetype has reached the apex of temporal life. As Caroline Myss puts it in Sacred Contracts:

The King is an archetype of major proportions, representing the height of temporal male power and authority….

From here, it would seem there is nowhere to go but down. In some ways this is true. From this point, the character descends (and the word is symbolically important) into the second half of life—into old age, crippling mortality, and eventual death. From here, temporal power wanes. Whether the character will rise to the even greater (and in some ways more powerful) challenges of the Third Act of life depend on his ability to successfully fulfill his final charge as King.

The King Arc, then, is about a character at the height of temporal power who is faced with the realization that the greatest good he can do for his beloved Kingdom—which he has so far proven himself so worthy to rule—is to sacrifice himself and surrender the throne. His arc quite literally ends with the traditional low moment of the Third Plot Point as the transition from life’s Second Act to the Third Act.

Reminders: Once again, before we officially get started, I want to emphasize two important reminders that hold true for all of the arcs we’ll be studying.

1. The arcs are alternately characterized as feminine and masculine. Primarily, this indicates the ebb and flow between integration and individuation, among other qualities. Together, all six life arcs create a progression that can be found in any human life (provided we complete our early arcs in order to reach the later arcs with a proper foundation). In short, although I will use feminine pronouns for the feminine arcs and masculine pronouns for the masculine arcs, the protagonist of these stories can be of any gender.

2. Because these archetypes represent Positive-Change Arcs, they are therefore primarily about change. The archetype in which the protagonist begins the story will not be the archetype in which he ends the story. He will have arced into the subsequent archetype. The King Arc, therefore, is not about becoming the King archetype, but rather arcing out of it into the beginnings of the Crone Arc—and so on.

The King Arc: Becoming the Sacrifice

The completion of the Queen Arc signified the rise of a worthy and aligned Ruler. Now represented as the King, the character is one who wields immense power. Symbolically, he is the ruler of a vast and successful empire. He is a good leader, possessing both the maturity to manage the Kingdom (in opposition to his passive counter-archetype the Puppet) and a true compassion for and understanding of his people (in opposition to the aggressive counter-archetype of the Tyrant).

But times are changing. Not only does he grow older, creating the need to prepare a worthy successor, but the Kingdom itself is about to face threats heretofore unheard of. Throughout his life up to this point, the King has proven his ability to courageously and successfully face down all manner of temporal antagonists. But this time the threat proves to be not of this world. A great and mysterious Cataclysm descends—and as the King will soon learn, it cannot be fully defeated by the might of his arm, but can only be quenched if he is willing to surrender all his power and sacrifice himself as propitiation.

Stakes: Glimpsing the Beginning of the End

When a character has everything, it is always clear he has everything to lose. For the King, the stakes are no longer about whether or not he will gain what he must gain in order to move forward in life. Rather, for the first time, they are about whether or not he can understand that he has reached the beginning of the end of his own life and certainly his own temporal power. Can he let go and make the transition gracefully? Or will he hold on, in all futility, and devolve into the Tyrant?

In Women Who Run With the Wolves, Clarissa Pinkola Estés speaks about a journey that is surprisingly inherent within the King archetype:

The king represents a trove of knowledge…. He carries the ability to take inner knowing out into the world and put it into practice, without mincing, muttering, or apologizing. [H]e is involved in the mechanisms of vital process of the psyche: the failing, dying, and return of consciousness. Later in the story … he will undergo a kind of death that will transform him from a civilized king to a wild one…. In psychic terms this means that the old central attitudes of the psyche will die as the psyche learns more. The old attitudes will be replaced by either new or renewed viewpoints concerning just about everything….

Although the plot in a King Arc can be absolutely epic, it is a fundamentally spiritual arc—more so than any that have preceded it. The protagonist is encountering life’s second great threshold, or Door of No Return, which parallels the Hero’s First Plot Point threshold. For the King, this threshold is truly crossed at his own story’s Third Plot Point when he exits his temporal realm of power and begins his descent into what will be the spiritual realm of the Crone.

>>Click here for more about how the First Plot Point and the Third Plot Point are thematically linked in any story’s structure.

In The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell talks about what can be seen as this Third Plot Point threshold for the King:

The ordeal is a deepening of the problem of the first threshold and the question is still in balance. Can the ego put itself to death? … The original departure into the land of trials [i.e., the Hero’s First Plot Point] represented only the beginning of the long and really perilous path of initiatory conquests and moments of illumination.

Antagonist: Confronting the Monsters at the Door

Just as the Hero had to fight a Dragon to protect those he loved, the King must sacrifice himself to the Cataclysm to safeguard the Kingdom. Just like old Beowulf the King, at the end of his saga, the King archetype offers himself to preserve and safeguard the Kingdom.

Beowulf (2007), Warner Bros.

Although the Cataclysm may be initiated by other characters representing negative archetypes (such as the Tyrant, Witch, or Sorcerer—to be discussed later), the Cataclysm itself isn’t necessarily evil in nature. Rather, as a force that must be appeased, it specifically represents the demands of Life and Death. The King cannot retain his power forever; to do so goes against all natural laws. If he is to continue his life’s journey in health and grace—and for the good of all—he must accept that.

Symbolically, the King surrenders into his Third Act as a ritual sacrifice of sorts. This demand for his “death” may look evil and horrible to the younger eyes of the Maidens, Heroes, and Queens. It may even seem so to the King himself to some extent since he does not yet understand the truths of the Third Act. However, as with all the archetypes, what this represents is simply the natural progression of all things.

The King surrenders himself to Death expecting nothing less, but he will be surprised (although not necessarily elated) to discover that this is not the end. Just as the Third Plot Point always symbolizes Death, it also always symbolizes (or at least offers the potential for) Rebirth. And so the King will come to glimpse the truth of life’s Third Act, which can be spoken of in J.K. Rowling’s beautiful line from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows:

And then he greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly, and, equals, they departed this life.

In short, the King will end by discovering that this great enemy he has been facing in the form of the Cataclysm has, all along, been his teacher.

Theme: Sacrificing a King for a Kingdom

At the Midpoint of his arc, the King will come to his Moment of Truth that the temporal battle on which his Maidens, Heroes, and Queens are focused is in fact not the victory they need. Within this realization—and ultimately his true heart in understanding that a leader is really a servant to his people—he reveals himself as a worthy propitiation against this supernatural threat.

In essence, regardless of any opposing human characters, the true antagonist in the King Arc is a supernatural phenomenon—an unbalanced force that must be appeased. Campbell references ancient traditions regarding the “death of a king,” but which just as importantly speak to the necessity of Old Age passing the torch of leadership on to the New Young:

This is the sacrifice that King Minos refused when he withheld the bull from Poseidon. As [Sir James G.] Frazer has shown, ritual regicide was a general tradition in the ancient world. “In Southern India,” he writes, “the king’s reign and life terminated with the revolution of the planet Jupiter round the sun. In Greece, on the other hand, the king’s fate seems to have hung in the balance at the end of every eight years…. Without being unduly rash we may surmise that the tribute of seven youths and seven maidens whom the Athenians were bound to send to Minos every eight years had some connexion [sic] with the renewal of the king’s power for another octennial cycle.” The bull sacrifice required of King Minos implied that he would sacrifice himself, according to the pattern of the inherited tradition, at the close of his eight-year term. But he seems to have offered, instead, the substitute of the Athenian youths and maidens. That perhaps is how the divine Minos became the monster Minotaur, the self-annihilate king, the tyrant Holdfast, and the hieratic state, wherein every man enacts his role, the merchant empire, wherein each is out for himself.

Key Points of the King Arc

For easy reference and comparison, I will be sharing some scannable summations of each arc’s key points:

King’s Story: An Awakening.

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

King’s Symbolic Setting: Empire

Kings Lie vs. Truth: Strength vs. Surrender

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

Kings Initial Motto: “I, the capable.”

(This is via Spiral Dynamics’ “Orange” Meme. If you’re not familiar with Spiral Dynamics, this probably won’t mean anything, but I was fascinated to realize that the six positive archetypal arcs line up perfectly with the “memes” of human development as found in the theory of Spiral Dynamics.)

King’s Archetypal Antagonist: Cataclysm

Kings Relationship to Own Negative Shadow Archetypes:

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

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

King’s Relationship to Subsequent Shadow Archetypes as Represented by Other Characters: Rallies Hermit or defeats Witch with his sacrifice.

The Beats of the King Character Arc

Following are the structural beats of the King Arc. I am using allegorical language in keeping with the tradition of the Hero’s Journey (and honestly because it’s so powerful). However, it is important to remember that the language is merely symbolic. Although in this case the King usually will be a leader in some sense, none of the other mentioned archetypes or settings need to be interpreted literally.

This is merely a general structure that can be used to recognize and strengthen King Arcs in any type of story. Although I have interpreted the King Arc through the beats of classic story structure, it doesn’t necessarily have to line up this perfectly. A story can be a King Arc without presenting all of these beats in exactly this order.

1st ACT: Regal World

Beginning: Replete But Vaguely Unsatisfied

The King has spent his reign fruitfully and faithfully, building the Kingdom into a powerful Empire. He is proud of how he cares for his people, knowing he has brought peace and prosperity through his wise reign. But even as he has grown complacent with his own power and wisdom, he has begun to sense, in the rising twilight of his years, that something is about to change within him—that it must change, that he cannot continue forever in the pleasing purpose of his power.

The world around him has grown up as well. His children/subjects are blooming into maturity, looking trustingly to him for guidance but also beginning to chafe against authority in their growing need for their own personal autonomy. It is a time of peak ripeness in the Kingdom—everything is good, but it also feels like the calm before the storm.

In the beginning of Black Panther, de facto King T’Challa returns to his blessed and peaceful kingdom of Wakanda. (Black Panther (2018), Marvel Studios.)

Inciting Event: Plea for Action Against Unprecedented Cataclysm

News arrives of a great Cataclysm impending upon the Kingdom. The Cataclysm is unprecedented and seems unstoppable—but the King and his subjects have faith: he has never faced something bigger than he could handle before.

One of the messengers (or perhaps a Mage acting as the King’s advisor) may insist this is totally different: it is a supernatural event. This sobers the King, but he doesn’t take it too seriously. He refuses to respond to the Cataclysm as such and decides to treat it as he would any of the physical threats he has overcome during his reign.

In Casablanca, Rick’s little kingdom is increasingly threatened by news of World War II’s encroachment. (Casablanca (1942), Warner Bros.)

2ND ACT: Preternatural World

First Plot Point: Confronts Cataclysm With Administrative and Military Might

As the Cataclysm draws nearer to the heart of the kingdom, the King rides out to face it for the first time. It is not what he expected: it is of another world. But it is also not yet world-ending.

He attacks the Cataclysm with his normal methods of administrative and military might, seeming to push it back, but in fact entangling it fully with his Kingdom.

He also experiences the true threat of its power. Its eye is upon him, and it marks him in some dark way (perhaps in a physically destructive way, but certainly in a way that shifts his perspective of his “completeness” as King up to this point: he is a very small being in the face of this thing). He begins to comprehend his mortality.

Although within the complex morality presented in Princess Mononoke, Lady Eboshi is often thought of as the antagonist, she still represents a caring King archetype in her leadership of Iron Town. She does not know that in wounding the giant Boar, she is unleashing something supernatural. (Princess Mononoke (1997), Studio Ghibli.)

First Pinch Point: Sword Breaks: The Old Methods of Success Aren’t Working

After a series of seeming triumphs in which the King’s choices nominally work in protecting the people from the Cataclysm, everyone is shocked and sobered when the King attempts a gambit against the Cataclysm only to lose his greatest symbol of power (his “Sword”). His human might proves truly fallible against this inexplicable threat. Doubt of his ability to protect them (and rule them) begins to creep into his subjects’ minds. Doubt begins to creep into his as well.

In The Avengers: Infinity War, Tony watches helplessly as everyone around him turns to dust when Thanos snaps his fingers. (The Avengers: Infinity War (2018), Marvel Studios.)

Midpoint: Witnesses True Supernatural Nature of Cataclysm

The King confronts the Cataclysm with a full show of his kingly might—and is stunned in the midst of it all to realize that his courage and his power mean nothing in the face of this unearthly force. He experiences a profound Moment of Truth, in which he realizes the Cataclysm cannot be faced, much less overcome, as he has overcome all other enemies: with mortal might. It is a supernatural force, and it will require a supernatural propitiation.

Most of his subjects do not see this. All they see is that their King has proven himself impotent against the storm. The entire Kingdom is shaken, as their King seems to withdraw from before this grave threat—not only impotent against it, but seemingly overcome by it.

In The Deathly Hallows, Harry’s realization that Voldemort is after the all-powerful Elder Wand signifies that Harry is not just opposing Voldemort but, in essence, Death itself. (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 (2010), Warner Bros.)

Second Pinch Point: Rebellion: Subjects Lose Faith

The King—probably with the help of a Mage Mentor—begins to understand that the only way to stop the Cataclysm is to surrender his crown (and perhaps his life). His time as an earthly ruler is finished; it is time for him to give up his might, give up his youth, give up his strength, give up even his pride. He must begin the descent into the Underworld, accepting old age and death and humbling himself into the Crone. He takes a few steps in this direction, beginning to shed his royal vestments in his preoccupation with understanding this supernatural antagonist.

His subjects witness this with increasing concern. They begin to lose faith in him as the King. The more unfaithful and aggressive among them (Bullies and Sorceresses) push back with a semi-successful coup. The King and his plans are ultimately protected only by those who do remain faithful: the Heroes and Queens who also find themselves growing in maturity through this trial. Whether the King is captured or whether he goes into hiding, he is now separated from the majority of his kingly resources.

In Logan, after barely escaping his own clone at the Munson Farm, Logan’s increasing inability to heal his own wounds becomes obvious. (Logan (2017), 20th Century Fox.)

3rd ACT

False Victory: Tries to Stop the Cataclysm With Kingly Might

In response to the pleas of his followers and the demands of the rebels, the King caves to his own deep desire to avoid sacrificing himself. He seizes a slight chance to stop the Cataclysm through physical means. He meets it “in the field” to do battle. He succeeds in some small measure, but the Cataclysm is not satisfied.

In Black Panther, T’Challa accepts Erik’s challenge to fight for the throne, willing to sacrifice his body to the mortal antagonist but not yet ready to face the true Cataclysm of the deeper spiritual truth about what brought Erik to Wakanda. (Black Panther (2018), Marvel Studios.)

Third Plot Point: Kingdom on the Brink

The Kingdom is now in true peril. The King’s might could not stop the Cataclysm. His subjects reveal their true colors, some proving to be scoundrels, others proving their worth as his true successors. He is heartbroken by his subjects’ suffering, even as he is agonized by the unavoidable necessity of his own sacrifice. Even as his loyal subjects suggest ways to try again in combating the Cataclysm, the King realizes what he must do.

In Braveheart, William Wallace is betrayed by Robert the Bruce at the Battle of Falkirk, leading to defeat and capture. (Braveheart (1995), Paramount Pictures.)

Climax: Bequeaths the Crown, Offers Self as Propitiation

The King passes his Crown to his successor. At first, his subjects don’t understand that he intends to offer himself as propitiation to the Cataclysm. When they do realize his intentions, they are horrified; they do not understand the supernatural aspect of the Cataclysm and do not understand how his sacrifice can help them. They try to stop him, but he will not be deterred.

In Casablanca, recognizing the larger import of World War II, Rick sacrifices himself by sending his love Ilsa away with her freedom-fighter husband, while he himself enters the fray. (Casablanca (1942), Warner Bros.)

Climactic Moment: Sacrifices to Ensure Kingdom’s Survival

The King, divested of his royalty, surrenders to the Cataclysm as a mere mortal—an old man who is willing to face death. His sacrifice is accepted, and the Cataclysm ends.

In Avengers: Endgame, Tony Stark accepts the final burden of defeating Thanos (a Greek word which, not so coincidentally, means “Death”). He snaps his fingers while wearing the Infinity Gauntlet, knowing it will mean his own end. (The Avengers: Endgame (2019), Marvel Studios.)

Resolution: Departs Liberated Kingdom

The King departs the Kingdom, no longer the King but the Crone. He may literally die, or he may simply take on the Crone identity and leave the Kingdom to his successors. The Kingdom is at peace, free of the Cataclysm and prepared to begin a new era of peace and prosperity under a new King who was trained by the old one.

In Dead Poets Society, after John Keating is fired from his teaching job, he leaves the school, sadly, but knowing he has transformed the lives of his students. (Dead Poets Society (1989), Touchstone Pictures.)

Examples of the King Arc

Examples of the King Arc include the following. Click on the links for structural analyses.

Braveheart (1995), Paramount Pictures; The Avengers: Endgame (2019), Marvel Studios; Dead Poets Society (1989), Touchstone Pictures; Logan (2017), 20th Century Fox; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 (2011), Warner Bros.;Casablanca (1942), Warner Bros.

  • Tony Stark in Avengers: Endgame
  • Lady Eboshi in Princess Mononoke
  • Beowulf in Beowulf
  • Rick in Casablanca
  • Margaret Thatcher in Iron Lady (which offers just about all the life-arc archetypes, from Hero to Crone)
  • T’Challa in Black Panther
  • William Wallace in Braveheart
  • Harry Potter in The Deathly Hallows
  • John Keating in Dead Poets Society
  • Marshall Pentecost in Pacific Rim
  • Logan in Logan

Stay Tuned: Next week, we will study the Crone Arc.

Related Posts:

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Can you think of any further examples of stories that feature the King Arc? Tell me in the comments!

Go on the journey with your characters! Check out the Archetypal Character Guided Meditations.

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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.


  1. Y.K. Kay says

    Thank you for another excellent post on character arcs! Before, I thought my protagonist follows the hero’s journey. Now I’m almost certain it’s actually the king’s journey. For sure there are a lot of overlaps… Would you mind sharing your opinion on this? Or do you know good examples where both arcs are present at the same time?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      There are a great many similarities between all the arcs, since they are all “journeys.” Ultimately, though, I think a story is finally one or the other (or many successively), even if it shares similarities with another journey (e.g., the King is “young” and therefore *looks* like a Hero).

  2. Super excited about this new post! I have already been looking forward to these “later-in-life” character arcs, since it’s so cool to think about what happened to our favorite heroes after the “…ever after”.

    It’s so cool to think about the particular opportunities storytellers have when for example they pick up an old movie franchise for sequels – e.g. Star Wars. Of course, the Star Wars sequels were received rather “controversially”… And while many reasons for hating them may have been stupid and small minded – I myself really regretted that the creators “wasted” the opportunity of exploring these “later character ars” in the sequel Trilogy. These arcs could have been so cool both for individual characters (like Luke Skywalker who – with his own hero’s journey completed in RotJ, could have grown into the role of “King” and later “Wizard/mentor”) and the galaxy as a whole (in particular the New Republic as an “entity”): having won the “Hero’s war” they’d now have to figure out how to unite and run a galaxy-spanning society after a divisive conflict. Sadly, instead they went for just another (and imho not very well executed) hero’s journey.

    Sorry for the rant – What I guess I mean to say is: I really love how you present these character arcs and how you show how compelling these stages of live can be! Thanks as always for your amazing thoughts and explanations!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I agree. I think a growing awareness of the older arcs will provide for more resonant sequels of this sort.

    • @Thomas

      There is a whole universe of sequel books to the original six Star Wars movies, in which the original characters mature and change. These were completely ignored when the newer movies were made…thrown out to make way for more “culturally relevant” themes. Many a late night as a teen was spent reading them! Most were enjoyable, although a few were bad apples.

      • Thomas Paehler says

        Ah, yes “Legends” 🙂 <3 That's why I (and I suppose many other fans) felt extra disappointed in the movies… the Expanded Universe had proved that it could be done… (including with e.g. great new female characters like Mara and Jaina)… I spent so much of my kid/teen years immersed in novels, games, playing with action figures… good times 🙂 🙂 🙂

  3. Eric Troyer says

    So, as I understand it, these arcs are periods of change in one’s life. A person may move directly from one arc to another or there may be a period of stability in between often referred to as the “normal world.” Do I have that correct?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Correct. Usually, there *will* be a “resting” period in between the arcs, even if it is just implied in between books. I’ll be addressing these resting archetypes toward the end of the series.

  4. The king must redeem his time.

    Well, so must we all, but this post shows how a character in the king arc *must* be concerned with legacy. What did he accomplish? What will he leave behind, and in what condition? If he is vain and selfish, he will want things to fall apart without him, especially to prove he is “needed”: “Après moi, le déluge.” If he is foolish, he will fail to raise or train worthy successors: Tywin did Cersei no favors. But if he is wise, he will set up worthy institutions and successors who can steer the course: George Washington.

    I like the Pauline attitude of having finished one’s race. Another example is King Theoden’s. As he lays dying in the Battle of Pelennor Fields, he tells Merry he can now go to his ancestors without shame, because he fought the good fight for Middle Earth. This bell rings for me. Just yesterday I wrote a scene where a mortal heroine is explaining why honor compels her to fight her good fight: because unlike her immortal companion, she’s going to see her dead one day. And be judged.

    So many plot bunnies, so little time! This stuff is gold, and I hope you might collect these posts in a book or workbook at some point …

    • This one was harder for me to grasp, mainly because I have not seen many of the movies given as illustrations. But I can see it a bit clearer in the LoR connection.

      And I agree. I also hope you will collect these into a book.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Great thoughts! You’ve really highlighted the heart of being a “true” King versus just someone who holds power.

  5. Usvaldo de Leon says

    Chris Redston has a King arc? Interesting. Makes me wonder what he did in his Hero time

  6. M.R. Spann says

    This is so interesting! I think my main character is probably on a King arc, except he tweaks some of the elements. For example, his “Sword” doesn’t “break,” he literally throws his sword away because he knows what he must do. He also knows he will rise after his death, and after death is when he *gains* the crown. Is this still a King arc?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Haha, that’s awesome. 😀 And, yes, I think what you’re describing is probably as King Arc. It can get tricky to identify archetypal arcs when a character literally *is* the archetype–i.e., a king. For example, I see T’Challa in The Black Panther as mostly undergoing a King Arc, even though he only officially becomes king late in the story. It’s not a perfectly structured story, so it’s not a spot-on example. But his “death” and time in the Ancestral Plane is too perfect not to reference in relation to this arc.

  7. Asian in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? And Ben Kenobi in Star Wars: A New Hope?

  8. Ok, Katie you need to stop making me palm strike my forehead!

    While reading this I found myself thinking LOTR showed part of this for Theoden (King of Rohan). Then it occurred to me that these arcs are an interesting way to create backstory/place strong support characters. No need to show the full arc. The character doesn’t have to finish the arc inside your story, but its an interesting approach to digging into characters other than the MC who you want to be interesting, but it may not make sense to fully arc them during the story.

    You of course knew this from the start. Fie on you, young lady, for making an old man use his tired, overworked brain!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yes, as someone else also mentioned above, Theoden is a great example! He’s also a good example, earlier in the story, of the “Sick King” who has sickened his Kingdom.

  9. This. Is. Stunning. So many of the arcs you mentioned I’d previously pegged as Heroes but I wasn’t really comfortable with it because there are definite key differences. Now I understand!

    One example I didn’t see here is Dalinar Kholin from The Stormlight Archives (Brandon Sanderson). His story isn’t finished yet, but so far he fulfils this archetype beat for beat.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      You’re right. I haven’t read the third book yet, but from what I remember he definitely seems a valid example.

  10. Cindy Ratliff says

    Brandon Sanderson does an amazing job writing these arcs in The Stormlight Archive. I’m not a huge fan of epic fantasy but I became obsessed with this series after reading ‘The Way of Kings’! Shallan is the Virgin/Maiden, Kaladin is the hero and Dalinar begins as a puppet leader with a tyrant backstory. These books are huge (over 1,000 pages each) but they keep you reading.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s been a long time since I’ve read Sanderson (I kind of have a love/hate relationship with him), but this reminds me I need to go pick up the third book.

  11. I think Hazel in Watership Down might have had a hero-queen-king arc.

  12. Perhaps some basis to the Kings arc comes from the Arthurian legend, especially Arthur’s fight against Mordred in the final battle.

  13. I thought of the Mayor of Hamelin or the King Emissary in “The Pied Piper” (1957), but I don’t think either one of them is a King Arc. I’m not sure. I think I can see Beowulf as a King Arc, but the other movies I’ve never seen before. Honestly, I always feel like the clueless outsider of the bunch when it comes to these different kind of complex character arcs. Just saying.

  14. Amber Ritter says

    Holy cow!
    I was mildly interested in Archetypes when you first talked about exploring them, but was convinced I wouldn’t get much out of it beyond the Hero’s arc, since my character is learning how to be a hero. I should have known better, but I was frustrated with the holes in my story, and was laser focused on the Hero’s arc for the solutions I needed. But as I listened to the Queen’s arc I realized that my MC would also have confront the same issues. Listening to the King’s arc just confirmed that Archetypes are the missing steps I needed to fill out my story’s gaps and stopping at the Hero stage would have been a mistake.
    Now I can see my MC’s whole story in terms of Archetypal development, which is good because my overall story’s holes were caused by trying to keep my character at the same maturity level. Now I have direction for my MC’s growth, and how he’s going to overcome the traumas and weaknesses from his childhood. Thank you so much!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s awesome! And that was very much my experience when I started playing with other archetypes in my own writing.

  15. Your original character arcs series was an essential part of my education and I am enjoying this series so much so far! I recommend your website to anyone who asks me about how to improve in their own writing.

    I was wondering if you were going to cover the trickster archetype in this series, and if it is a flat arc for one of these archetypes. I personally love trickster archetypes and would love to hear your breakdown of them.

    Thank you so much for all the work you put into this series, and all your posts and series.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      So glad you’re enjoying the series! The Trickster isn’t a part of this cycle, so I won’t be exploring it, although it is definitely an exciting and interesting archetype in its own right.

    • Oriana,

      Perhaps I can help. There is some ambiguity with the Trickster because sometimes he represents a Transformer archetype, signifying liminality, which is a space or gateway between the conscious and unconscious. You have to meet the Trickster before integrating the two worlds (metaphorically sometimes seen as the waking and dream worlds). The Transformer gives the protagonist some harsh truths that he/she must accept for growth.

      At other times the Trickster is a total rejection of the truth, and rejection of the integration the two worlds, so is representative of the Destroyer archetype. As this sort of chameleonic Trickster, the Destroyer archetype is pretending to be the Transformer, but avoiding the truth and trying to destroy the protagonist’s ego.

      I’d point to the tv series Mr. Robot for an example of both types of Tricksters. The Mr. Robot character is the liminal Trickster, representing the harsh truth Eliot needs to accept. The character of White Rose is the Destroyer archetype, representing the denial of the truth that would save Eliot. I suspect one could analyze the 4 seasons of that show and track the progression of Eliot through 4 of the 6 arcs Katie is talking about in this series. I think both Transformer and Destroyer archetypes are stages of the journey in which Maiden, Queen and Crone encounter. Integration of self is aided by confronting different personas of yourself in other characters. So positive mirrors and negative shadows have their roles, and they can come in Trickster form. I consider “Trickster” is really a catch-all term for some (but not all) of more specific archetypes that the Maiden, Queen and Crone encounter that Katie has already mentioned, at least the ones that seems more like Destroyers than Transformers. The protagonist herself is often the Transformer, so can take on positive qualities of the Trickster. It’s a necessary stage for the protagonist to become vulnerable and envision the future.

  16. In the 2000 sports drama Remember the Titans, Coach Yoast (Will Patton) completes a king arc as he gradually relinquishs leadership of his football team and sacrifices his induction to the Hall of Fame, choosing instead to help Coach Boone and the team win.

  17. How do you use a Queen into King character arc with an Immortal VIceroy for the King of Kings with a specified length of rule (1000 years during the Millennium) over a series of books? How much of the arc is used in each successive book that covers the 1000 year period, or is the arc used and reused book by book?

    The gradual relinquishment of total power to shared power within the series of books is not possible (leading to the final revolt against the King of Kings), nor is a self-sacrifice. Only the gradual letting loose of initial total control is possible, and that only to the degree permitted by the laws of Torah, in which the entire world operates under, as the kingdom is a Theocracy. It is what causes the final rebellion at the end of the age by those who are led into revolt by the Adversary, but although the Protagonist is continuously changing and growing within her role due to ever changing challenges and conditions, spreading this over a multi-book arc puzzles me a bit.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      If the King doesn’t go to a voluntary self-sacrifice, then it’s probably he’s manifesting a shadow archetype such as the Tyrant.

  18. This series is fantastic!

    ‘In short, the King will end by discovering that this great enemy he has been facing in the form of the Cataclysm has, all along, been his teacher.’

    This reminded me of the movie ‘Meet Joe Black’. I haven’t seen it for a while, but the beats seem to follow this movie.

    The King (Bill Parrish, played by Anthony Hopkins) discovers that this great enemy he has been facing (Death) in the form of the Cataclysm (Joe Black, death himself, acted by Brad Pitt), has all along been his teacher – Joe Black teaches Bill it’s okay to leave his ‘Kingdom’ to his successors – even they both admit “It’s hard to let go”.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Aw, yes, Meet Joe Black is great. I agree there are a lot of King elements. In light of the fact, that the character literally meets a personified Death, I almost think it might be more of a Crone Arc (to be discussed on Monday), but I’d have to rewatch it.

  19. I’m glad I’ve found your blog. I’m trying to shift from non fiction into fiction and need all the help I can get. I’m frightened by story arcs and character and plot. Although, to some extent i must have used them in the short fiction I’ve produced. A novel seems to steep a climb.

    Here is my blog:

  20. This has been a super interesting series that I’ve been pondering over all week. One could definitely revisit Games of Thrones (the tv series anyway) using these arcs as a framework. The King arc fits both the Stark father and Jeor Mormont. The maiden is most obviously Sansa, but probably all the Stark children start that way. I’m curious to see if Olenna fits with the crone arc!

  21. In the list of examples at the end, the link to “Princess Mononoke” appears to be broken.

  22. Very late to the party here, and I’m not expecting input, but I want to put something in that I hope will be helpful to others, even if it proves to be a poor example. I am working on a Short Story for a monthly story challenge and I decided to apply the King Archetype to it and came up with the outline below. This is very rough and I do not pretend its brilliant, but I think its a useful exercise for understanding the archetypes and plan to do this for the rest. Other wordplayers, please feel free to mock this, hurl derision, or even (shudder) suggest improvements or variations . One of the joys of storytelling is that there are unlimited options to approach each story.

    Here it is:
    Setting/MC: Monster rules over mountain forest with ruins of towns in it, signs of humans it drove away with it’s magical power. The domain is quite large, but he tend to stay on a central mountain except when he needs to dispense justice. Animals come to him with complaints and he judges them. Now humans return from a far with their own magic. Started by surprising wizards and witches and consuming their magic as well before driving men from the land.
    The freezing wind sliced across me, but I knew I had no choice but to carry on.
    Act I:
    Beginning (Replete but Vaguely unsatisfied): Area stretches to edge of vision and beyond, shares fruits of trees with deer and birds; deer his favorites but accepts there needs to be a balance in nature – unsettled by carnivorous nature of it. He was a wizard who drew his magic from the land to protect it.
    Inciting Incident (Plea for action against Unprecedented Cataclysm): Crow arrives with word of men back at the edge of the forest, yet again. Confident they won’t come back for more trouble. Passes through ruins of houses. Confident their fear of him will keep them at bay as it has done for a millennia.
    Act II:
    First Plot Point (Confronts Cataclysm with Administrative and Military Might): Learns men are cutting into forest. Howls at them and they seem to retreat. Somewhere in here work in backstory about how monster gained his magic.
    First Pinch Point (Sword Brakes: The old methods of success aren’t working): Men return with laughing and unafraid. Kill and cook a deer. Wizard calls out that he cannot stand them off forever and they need to take their place within the world.
    Midpoint (Witnesses true supernatural nature of cataclysm): He attacks them at night, starts to overrun a camp, but magic drives him away.
    Second Pinch Point (Rebellion: Subjects Lose Faith): Birds fly away from forest. Other beasts talk of migrating.
    Act III:
    False Victory (Tries to stop the Cataclysm with Kingly Might): Organizes the wolves and destroys several camps. Begins reclaiming woods.
    Third Plot Point (Kingdom on the Brink): Men strike back, hunt down woods under protection of their magic, begin road leading to his mountain. His magic ineffective, but plans for a great assault.
    Climax (Bequeaths the Crown: offers self as propitiation): Defeated by wizards in battle, driven back to his mountain.
    Climatic Point (Sacrifices to ensure kingdom’s survival): Realizes the only hope is to return the magic to the land, dissolves into the soil. From there his magic reaches up into the men and fills their hearts with love.
    Resolution (Departs Liberated Kingdom): From within the ground he watches balance take hold of the kingdom.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Nice! I especially like how it subverts the classic version by essentially giving the King Arc *to* the Cataclysm itself.

      • Thank you. I feel fulfilled when I write stories about forgiveness and reconciliation, and I’m glad you appreciated that approach here. I’ll try to do this for each of your arcs stories, going with different genres entirely based on my fancy, rather than trivial considerations like my knowledge and skill. I’ll try to turn them around quickly enough for readers to see them. I’m sure I will profit for this and hope others will too.

  23. Popping in a year late with a suggestion, but I was just thinking of “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country”, the last of the original-cast Star Trek movies, and Captain Kirk in this film seems to offer a nice example of this arc. In this film, the galaxy is changing (it’s a clear analogy to the end of the Cold War), and Kirk’s old ways are leaving him behind. Having built a career on fighting the Klingons, he’s now uncomfortably charged with making peace with them. Instead of the threat being an outsider (Klingons, Romulans, V’ger, a space probe that’s nostalgic for whales, etc.), the threat comes from within: a conspiracy between Klingon and Federation hard-liners to assassinate the Klingon chancellor and frame Kirk for it.

    In the last lines of the film, Kirk’s captain’s log voice over acknowledges that a new crew will soon take command of the Enterprise and leave him behind, and as he recites the opening of the original TV show, he acknowledges the changed times by updating its outdated phrasing “to boldly go where no man… where no one… has gone before”, becoming the version that the literal “Next Generation” uses in their opening titles.

  24. Haha, I am very late…
    But there was something that had me a bit stuck until I realised it, so I wanted to add it here:

    In the face of the Cataclysm, the king’s subjects feel or want to feel save in the king’s shadow.
    This is why shadow archetypes feel save to first rally then rebel, and why earlier archetypes try to “support” him in order keep him in his role. Only later archetypes actively support him on his way to pass on the crown.
    As the king effectively shielded them from past dangers, the shadow archetypes underestimate the true danger of the threat, and the earlier archetypes overestimate the king.
    This should also add to the queen’s unwillingness to take the crown: the king has been doing fine for all this time, how could she hope to do what he can’t – or he has not done fine, so how can she have any hope to do what he couldn’t?

  25. rainheart94 says

    This reminds me of Cars 3. I think Lightning’s arc in that movie lines up pretty well as a King arc, with him losing his power (racing) and choosing to pass on his crown to the younger generation (Cruz) in the end.


  1. […] their interactions—push the story forward. K.M. Weiland continues her archetypal character arc series with the King arc, Carla Hoch talks fight scenes and dialogue, and Kris Maze lists 5 dialogue quick tips for […]

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