In partnership with Creative Screenwriting and ScreenCraft, “First Draft” is a series on everything to do with screenwriting.
What is the difference between archetypes and stock characters?
Many writers don’t know, and the truth is, even writers that do walk a very fine line between the two as they develop characters for their stories.
Here are three definitions of terms that all writers need to know when developing characters, whether they are main, supporting, or minor.
Archetype (n): a very typical example of a certain person or thing; types that fit fundamental human motifs.
Cliché (n): A trite or overused expression or idea; often a vivid depiction of an abstraction that relies upon analogy or exaggeration for effect, often drawn from everyday experience. A person or character whose behavior is predictable or superficial.
Trope (n): devices and conventions that a writer can reasonably rely on as being present in the audience members’ minds and expectations.
The definitions for cliché and tropes obviously fall in line with what Hollywood has long referred to as stock characters. Stock characters are often unavoidable in screenplays because they usually serve a direct atmospheric—and sometimes structural—purpose.
Archetypes are more broad character types that can be found in all walks of life, literature, and overall fiction. But they are less susceptible to falling under the cliché or trope umbrella because they are usually used as a beginning mold for a character, as the writer adds more depth by giving them flaws and conflicts to overcome. Thus creating characters that, on the surface, may seem more routine until the story challenges them in many ways.
With that in mind, stock characters can benefit from that treatment as well. They are necessary in most stories, but they don’t have to be the carbon copies that we often see in lesser screenplays and films. Writers can give them an added edge by offering flaws, conflicts, strengths, and even necessary information that otherwise cliché and trope-driven characters wouldn’t have.
With that in mind, we’ve scoured the internet looking for multiple examples of stock characters, tropes, and variations of the character archetypes from Carl Junger’s teachings, as well as Joseph Campbell’s mythos. From Wikipedia’s The List of Stock Characters, The Big Bold List of 52 Character Archetypes, to TV Tropes’s Archetypal Characters and well beyond, here are 99 of our favorite tropes, archetypes, and stock characters that screenwriters can use to mold their cast of characters into something a bit more than what we’ve seen before.
Use this list either as a tool to develop the inhabitants of the worlds you create or use them as red flags to seek out any cliches that you may have written and overlooked.
99 Archetypes and Stock Characters
An absent-minded scientific genius (Doc Brown from Back to the Future).
All Loving Hero
A character that loves everyone and will suffer for the sins of their loved ones.
A hero that is driven by pursuit for power, sex, money, control, or particular vices and because of this, they are often selfish, anti-social, power-hungry, and materialistic. But they sometimes showcase some heart in the end (Max from The Road Warrior).
The living embodiment of a fundamental abstraction. They may be god-like in power, but have a much narrower focus and struggle with limits based on what they represent (Joy, Sadness, Fear, Anger, and Disgust from Inside Out).
Characters who the audience sympathize with by actively seeing themselves as them. Usually victims of social challenges (Clay and Hannah from 13 Reasons Why).
A macho loner that doesn’t care that he’s bad. He’s actually proud of it and that often attracts others (Dallas from The Outsiders).
The big, fun, lovable guy or girl (Hurley from Lost).
An evil fighter or antagonist (Darth Vader from Star Wars).
Characters with a sacrifice of sight that has greater cosmic knowledge (Chirrut from Rogue One).
The boss of everyone. They are usually controlling, competitive, stubborn, aggressive, and always call the shots.
Boy Next Door
The average nice guy that does everything in the right.