How Archetypes Changed My Life and My Writing

Story and life are inextricably linked. To write better stories, we study life. And to live better lives, we study stories.

There are many obvious reasons why this is so. Stories, after all, are meant to be relatively accurate reflections of life. However, the more I study story theory, the deeper the rabbit hole seems to go. One of the most exciting discoveries down that hole has been archetype.

All of story reflects an archetype, and all archetypes contain stories. When we talk about story structure or genre or character arc or even trope, we are contributing to a larger conversation about archetype.

By definition, an archetype may be categorized in one of three ways:

1. A typical specimen.
2. An original model.
3. A universal or recurring symbol.

All three are useful for understanding story. So, no surprise, all are also useful for understanding life.

In a few days, on March 30th, I will be officially launching what has been the most personally important book I have ever written, Writing Archetypal Character Arcs. The book discusses the cycle of six initiatory character arcs that can be recognized in the human life—from the coming-of-age of the Maiden to the adventurous individuation of the Hero to the leadership of the Queen to the sacrifice of the King to the acceptance of the Crone to the final wisdom of the Mage.

It goes much deeper than just that, diving into twelve “shadow” archetypes that create inner obstacles within each transformative arc. It also talks about the importance of the “resting” archetypes that live between each transformative period. And it closes out with a look at the archetypal antagonists that grow with us throughout our life journeys.

It digs into why the Hero’s Journey is such an important archetypal arc, but also offers a more rounded view of mythic stories by exploring a fuller range of the human experience than just this one youthful masculine arc.

I have grown multitudes in the writing of this book, and it is a book I believe will continue to teach me as I progress through my own life arcs.

I know many of you have already grabbed the e-book during its (ongoing) early access here on my site, for which I thank you! You’ve made this far and away the most successful soft launch I’ve ever had. I’ve appreciated so much hearing from so many of you who have already dived into the book and found it powerful.

On Thursday, the book will officially launch, complete with wide release to major e-book sellers and the paperback on Amazon, as well as a super-fun giveaway here on my site! But, first, I wanted to take a moment to tell you not just about the book, but about how archetypes have changed my life. (Plus, if you scroll to the bottom, you’ll discover a surprise giveaway of a signed copy of the paperback! The winner will be announced before the launch.)

My Journey With Archetypes

I have, of course, always been aware of archetypes. I have always derived meaning from story, not just as stories but as Story—thanks to the resonant power a good story can impart simply by coming into contact with someone. I paraphrase from Jonathan Letham’s essay “Letting the Leopards In” in the anthology Light the Dark.

Good writing does not make you feel as if you are reading it for the first time, but rather as if you have known it all along.

When “good writing” strikes its steel upon the flint of archetype, there is a sudden unity of truth between author and reader. It is what Jean Shinoda Bolen described when she wrote:

I had a sense of experiencing something beyond ordinary reality, something numinous—which is a characteristic of an archetypal experience.

At a time, a few years ago, of existential crisis within my own life, when my faith in something greater had been shaken even to the point of doubting there was “anything” to believe in, the question I kept returning to was: “What about the stories?” I knew, deep within myself, that the magic and the meaning I had always experienced through stories, and the patterns found in story form itself, had to be pointing to some bigger.

The deeper essence and awareness of archetype came to me on the wings of Walking on Water, Madeleine L’Engle’s gently ferocious ode to the power of art, to its ability to create what Carl Jung calls “cosmos out of chaos.” I highlighted and scribbled all over this book, writing what would become the first scrap of my own book Writing Archetypal Character Arcs, which I’ll excerpt here:

Archetypal stories are stories that transcend themselves. Archetypes speak to something larger. They are archetypal exactly because they are too large. They are larger than life. They are impossible—but ring with probability. They utilize a seeming representation of the finite as a mirror through which to glimpse infinitude.

Despite their almost numinous quality, archetypes are a very real force in our practical world. Think of it this way: all the things we imagine actually exist. Aliens. Vampires. Dragons. Fairies. All the memories of our actual reality also exist—in real time—in the same way. Regardless whether these things can be proven as corporeal, they still exist within the human experience and impact it. The deeper the shared belief, the deeper and more meaningful the archetype becomes.

This “archetypal experience” changed everything for me. I knew immediately I wanted to write about archetypes, but something within me understood this was bigger than just one blog post. I would need time to walk my own path, to see where it led, and ultimately to experience some of these archetypes for myself.

Exploring the Feminine Arcs

Even though I knew quite early on that I wanted to explore the power of archetypal storytelling, I didn’t yet know what I even meant by that. I knew the personal inner transformation I was already exploring within myself was about much more than just the mythic journey writers are usually pointed toward. The Hero’s Journey, however important and wonderful in its own right, is only one tiny scrap of the bigger picture.

For me, it turned out that healing my relationship with my own wounded femininity and womanhood, digging up and rooting out some of the deeply internalized misogyny from my culture and subculture, was the first doorway to a world wider than I ever anticipated. When someone gifted me Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s Women Who Run With the Wolves, another archetypal experience exploded within me, and I began to explore the world through not just through the masculine lens I had always adopted but through the deeply vibrant, colorful, and healing perspective of the feminine.

Later, I would read Kim Hudson’s magnum opus The Virgin’s Promise, in which she explores the concept of a feminine partner arc to the well-known Hero’s Journey. Although she posits this arc as an alternative to the Hero—as a coming-of-age arc to be taken instead of the Hero’s Journey—I saw the two arcs as sequential. I knew the Hero Arc needed to be taken within my own life, but now I could also see how the Hero Arc could not, in fact, be undertaken properly unless this “younger” archetype (what I would come to call the Maiden) preceded it.

I went on to study Joseph Campbell’s seminal The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette’s KingWarrior, Magician, Lover, and Carol S. Pearson’s Awakening the Heroes Within, among many others. My mind was blown. I dug deeper still and realized the classic Three Acts of story structure itself reveal a full lifetime’s worth of transformative journeys. It turned out the Maiden and the Hero were just the First Act.

Exploring the Older Arcs

If the feminine archetypes have been lost in the shadow of the youthful Hero’s spotlight, so too have the older archetypes—the mature relational archetypes of the Queen and the King and the elder archetypes of the Crone and the Mage.

The Crone and the Mage, in particular, fascinated me. After all, story theory tells us the ending is in the beginning. Stories come full circle; it is their nature and their pattern. The early arcs of Maiden and Hero, however thrilling and prevalent, only gain context in view of their ultimate ending.

It became clear to me that these six particular archetypes marked crucial initiatory experiences within the human life. If humanity—or at least certain cultures—were struggling to provide their young with authentic initiatory experiences, then might it not be because relatively few initiated elders existed to catalyze those experiences?

Although the Queen and the King are both important for teaching and guiding the younger archetypes, it is the deep wisdom of the Crone and the Mage who complete the circle by coming to terms with the larger meanings of life itself. They pass the torch on to the young, through their spoken wisdom but perhaps even more crucially by taking their own final archetypal journeys side by side with the Maiden and the Hero.

Once again, I could see how each of these archetypes lined up so perfectly with the important beats of story structure itself. Planted deep within every story is the seed of the entire cycle of life arcs. For example, I could see how, even though I was chronologically at a stage in my own life of  “cleaning up” my Maiden Arc and embarking on my Hero Arc, I was also going through a Crone “period,” a Third Plot Point exploration of death/rebirth, approaching the ending of one identity and the beginning of another.

Using Archetypes in One’s Writing

I started exploring these archetypal arcs within my own writing. I started playing around with the arcs in my own stories, exploring what they might look like, leaning into what felt right, learning about them from the inside out.

At the time I was outlining a sequel. For the most part, the first book had taken the classic Hero Arc approach. I knew I couldn’t just repeat that same arc in the sequel, so I asked myself, “What happens after the happily ever after?” I looked to the next sequential archetype, the Queen, and started exploring what comes after the Hero Arc. From there, the mythic journeys for all these archetypes came pouring through me. I stopped writing my novel for a time and went right on exploring the full expression for all six archetypes.

From there, I started investigating even more nuanced archetypes: the shadow archetypes, the “flat” or unchanging archetypes, and the deeply symbolic archetypal antagonists for each of the six main life arcs. Suddenly, I could see these archetypes everywhere—in books, in movies, even in commercials, and of course in my own life and the lives of people around me.

Using Archetypes in One’s Life

I don’t think anyone needs to be told how to use archetypes in life. By their very nature, archetypes come loaded with all the personal revelations one needs. For me, one of the most powerful tools this system of “life arcs” gave me was the ability to examine my own life chronologically and to recognize which transformative arcs I may have already finished, which archetype I was currently working with, and which transformative arcs I may yet be fortunate (and hopefully courageous!) enough to take.

Seeing one’s life through the lens of archetypes provides context and direction. The archetypes provide us the initiatory experiences we need in each new chapter of our lives. The archetypes themselves can offer guidance even when these same archetypes may not be embodied by other people in our own lives. Indeed, the archetypes can help us grow, eventually, into the embodied elders our world desperately needs.

The more clearly we see and embody archetypes within our own lives, the more intuitive our ability to write stories (of all genres) that resonate powerfully with readers. Likewise, the more truly archetypal stories we are able to read or watch, the more gracefully we will be able to navigate through our own triumphs and travails.

The Book: Writing Archetypal Character Arcs

And so I invite you to join me on this epic journey of writing not just better books and films, but also in writing our own life stories with intentionality and appreciation. Below is a description of Writing Archetypal Character Arcs, the book that has been both my companion and my guide during one of the most unforgettable decades of my life.

You can purchase the e-book (epub) right now on my site. Stay tuned for the official launch, happening in just a few days on March 30th. This will be when the paperback releases and when the e-book goes live on major platforms such as Amazon, Apple Books, and more. I will also be celebrating with a big prize giveaway, so even if you’ve already purchased the book, stop back in on Thursday for a chance to win!

In the meantime, scroll to the bottom to enter the drawing for a signed copy of the paperback. The winner will be chosen on the 29th.

Thank you all for co-writing with me this story that is our lives. Happy writing!

The Six Transformational Character Arcs of the Human Life

Ready to take your story’s character arcs and themes to the next level? This latest book from veteran writing teacher and story theorist K.M. Weiland ventures far beyond the popular and pervasive Hero’s Journey to explore six important archetypal character arcs, representing key moments of initiation in the human experience:

    • The Maiden
    • The Hero
    • The Queen
    • The King
    • The Crone
    • The Mage

Found in every genre from fantasy to drama to romance to adventure, these transformational stories are the secret of powerhouse fiction—as shown through a wide variety of real-story examples throughout the book.

Writing Archetypal Character Arcs will teach you:

    • The archetypal beats for each of the six journeys
    • Which archetypes are right for your particular story
    • The best way to use archetypes in a series
    • How to choose the right archetypes for supporting characters
    • How to use archetypes to identify your story’s theme

You will also learn how to deepen your stories by implementing shadow archetypes (the negative sides of each positive archetype), resting or “flat” archetypes (the fixed stage between each of the main arcs), and archetypal antagonists (the epic antagonistic forces that oppose each of the positive archetypes in their journeys). The Hero’s Journey is just the beginning. Learning about archetypal character arcs will change the way you view stories—and life—forever.

Find the Tools to Write Stories Readers Will Never Forget

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Have you ever explored using archetypes in your stories—or in your life? Tell me in the comments!

[giveaway id=31942]

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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. I am so excited for this book! I am constantly going back to the series of blog posts and ever since you announced you were turning them into a book I have been keeping a close eye out for it. Thank you so much for sharing the wealth of information you have discovered on the topic!

  2. This series was a game changer. I kept coming back to it again and again, because of how much it resonated. I recognized certain archetypes playing out in stories (my own and other people’s) and aspects of my own life. Not only that, but it’s opened up possibilities for types of stories I’ve considered writing but wasn’t sure how to approach, e.g., sagas.

    I wish you every success with this book launch. I’m eager to get the paperback (which will make it easy to evangelize the series with other writers).

    Congratulations! You’ve earned it!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s so great to hear! There’s just so much depth in archetype–mainly because once we recognize them, we can find everything we need to know about them within our own experiences.

  3. To second your personal experience with archetypes, I too have been changed and focused by your series. I am now in the sixth arc but forging ahead. I am now going back through my characters in my novels and rounding them out while paying attention to the arc they are in. Over my two trilogies, one done, and the second under way, my protagonists and some antagonists will progress through arcs in turn. I want the reader to feel the characters are personal people going through the incidents of life as the readers do. Thank you for all this.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      That’s wonderful! To me, these archetypal arcs speak so powerful to *both* our own lives and to the stories we write. It’s double whammy! (In the best way. 😉

  4. Louis Schlesinger says

    Congratulations on this book launch! I’ve been a fan of your blog — and generosity to the writing community — for years, but your series on Archetypes expanded my understanding of story and life. And I’m happy for you as a human that your inquiries have enabled you to meet life’s challenges.

  5. I’m looking for to this book! Congratulations! ❤️

  6. This post reminds me of how much I love archetypal characters. I have a cheat sheet of all the key elements of each archetype on the wall by my desk, and for every new story idea I look it over and try to figure out which archetypes I’m dealing with.

    I had this plan to write an epic saga following one character through all six archetypes (or twelve, if I was feeling ambitious and wanted to include flat arcs). All it would take is two months per archetype to plan and write a short story/novella, or maybe a very detailed synopsis that could later be expanded into a full novel. Then in one year of dedicated writing, you would get to explore all the archetypes in depth. Alas, the real world and my countless other story ideas got in the way and I never did it. But maybe once I wrap up my current project I’ll revisit the idea.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I have an idea to do something similar myself, but we’ll see. It’s a big undertaking! 😉

  7. John Dorsey says

    This sounds like an epic exploration of the inner and outer. Some deep territory that, when traversed, can inform and illumine art and life/life and art. My curiosity for probing into connections between things has me wondering: how has your deep dive into archtype intersected with your study of the Enneagram (that you previously mentioned), or how have they mutually influenced one another? Maybe a post for another time . . . in the meantime, congratulations on your fearlessness and the completion of another plateau of self-discovery! And for generously sharing those fruits with others.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I haven’t discovered any direct crossover from the Enneagram to these “life archetypes.” But certainly any Enneagram journey can be mingled with the archetypes. A Three’s Hero, for example, would have a different flavor from a Six’s or an Eight’s.

      • John Dorsey says

        Absolutely true. The Enneagram types and their modes of expression and ways of seeing are very different, yet the essential points of the Hero’s Journey can be uniquly completed by each Type. Which makes for such nuanced and well-rounded characters.Thanks for mentioning those variations on Arc by Type. Great food for thought & creativity.

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Yes, the Enneagram is primarily a tool for recognizing ego wounds and arcing out of them–which is really a lifelong journey that could realistically overarch all six of the life arcs.

  8. I loved your archetype series. It sparked my fascination with them and how they affect not only our writing but our own growth. I’ve read a few of the books you’ve referenced here (my copy of Women Who Run with the Wolves is heavily underlined), and I have plans of using archetypes in future works. Meanwhile, I like applying archetypal traits to current WIPs. Congratulations on your launch! I look forward to this new book!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I LOVE that book so much. Mine is heavily highlighted as well. It took me months to read it, just because I stopped to ponder so much of it.

  9. I already bought the eBook, I haven’t had a chance to read it (well, I suppose I’ve read some of it via your blog posts over a year ago), but I look forward to spending quality time with this book.

  10. Yes, to your question about using archetypes. And I’ve read up on them, and I’ve used the hero’s journey as a guide for my novels, and I found A Virgin’s Promise offered me new light, but my approach has also been intuitive. So I bought your e-book as soon as it was available. I’m only a few chapters in. What I’m reading truly resonates. I can’t wait to use all this new understanding when I plan my future characters and plots. Wish you well earned success with this book. How many won’t be blessed by your journey and the work you’ve put into this. Thank you.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Ah, that makes me happy! 🙂 And, yes, the best archetypal work is always intuitive. It’s helpful to have guides like this and the others I mentioned, since they can kind of “wake up” our own intuitive response. But once our own intuition gets involved, that’s when the magic really happens.

  11. I absolutely loved your blog series that went through these different archetypes, especially the non-hero archetypes that I wasn’t familiar with. I’m so excited for your book!! Thank you for sharing your wisdom with us. <3

  12. AnneLouise Feeny says

    One of my most enlightening experiences came from a course on archetypes using “Women Who Run with the Wolves.” If young people learned this as part of their education, what a different, more understanding of others the world would be. I can hardly wait to read your book!

  13. DK Halter says

    I’ve learned so much from you, and I am SO looking forward to reading this book. Mazel tov!

  14. Victoria C Leo says

    Need the paperback, so can’t buy the ebook on launch day! But the blog posts have been so valuable. I have re-read all your other books and prayed that you’d turn them into a book. Some prayers are answered! In my latest book I can see how my understanding of archetypes has deepened the resonance that my characters generate. The secondary characters have always had their own fun arcs, but now – so much deeper. Looking forward to having them in book form! Real book, LOL….

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