Writing Lesson #4: Using Archetypes to Enrich Your Romantic Story

Archetype is a prototype, an original model of a character or a plot. Using archetypes when creating characters and/or a plot is a way to enrich your story and give it more depth and meaning. It is a way to connect with your readers on a deeper level.

Common character archetypes used in literature

Orphan – being an orphan protagonist does not necessarily mean to be without parents such as Oliver Twist or Jane Eyre. For a protagonist to have the archetype of an orphan it simply means that your protagonists find themselves alone in the world. As an example, Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, despite having two living parents - they were not very helpful in her relationship with Mr. Darcy. She had to deal with him alone, and without the support of her family.

Mentor – is the teacher that helps the protagonist in his/her journey to become a hero.  Sometimes mentors just show up briefly in the story to give their message and then disappear like the Fairy God Mother in Cinderella. Some stories use several characters as mentors that come and go as needed. In other stories the mentor is an essential part of the story like Merlin in King Arthur, or Mr. Thompson the hotel manager in Pretty Woman who acts as a Fairy God Mother in the movie.

Villain – this archetype is highly used in literature and movies. Some stories cannot exist without a villain: Superman, despite his phenomenal powers, would not be considered to be a hero had he not saved the world from the evil Lex Luthor. James Bond despite his multi testosterone charm would have not been the successful agent he was if there was not the cold war and different enemies that posed a threat to the kingdom he served. In Pride and Prejudice the villain is Mr. Wickham who ran away with Lydia. This doing causes Mr. Darcy to come to aide Elizabeth’s family, an act that made Elizabeth see him in different eyes. In Pretty Woman the villain is Stuckey, Edward’s attorney. In some romantic stories one of the protagonists appear to be a villain, like in the movie You’ve Got Mail. Joe Fox is about to put Kathleen Kelly out of business with his big discount bookstore. Joe is the villain but also the romantic hero in the movie. At the beginning of the movie, there is a scene where people are protesting against the opening of Joe’s big store in their neighborhood. In response to that Joe says this foreshadowing sentence: “They’re going to hate us at the beginning but we will get them in the end.”

Examples of female archetypes: 

The holy mother, mother Teresa – the mother who scarifies her own happiness in favor of her children.
Guinevere – a woman who is torn between her husband and her love to another man.
Cinderella – a poor woman saved from her miserable destiny by a man.

Examples of male archetypes:

Don Juan, Casanova  – womanizer
Don Quixote – a man who spends his life fighting useless causes
Popeye – a hero who saves the day in comic ways.
The God Father – A man who will do anything to protect his own people but demands complete loyalty and obedience in return.

Astrological personal traits of the different sun signs are also considered archetypes.

Common a plot archetypes used in romantic stories

Cinderella is an archetypical story of how love can save people from a bad situation. Pretty Woman uses Cinderella as the story archetype, with a twist. By the end of the movie, after Edward climbs up the emergency stairs to Vivian’s apartment and kisses her he asks: “So what happened after he climbed up the tower and rescued her?” and Vivian answers: “She rescues him right back.” In this story it is not only the prince who saves a lady in distress.

Romeo and Juliet is an archetypical story of forbidden love, where two lovers have to overcome the resistance of their families or societies who are in conflict. This is such a favorite topic of writers. West Side Story uses this archetype, and in some ways The Notebook too.

The different mythologies and legends  are a great source of character and plot archetypes. In her romance “His Ring is Not Enough” Author Maisey Yates used the biblical story of Jacob’s marriage to Leah instead to Rachel as her story archetype.

Next Lesson: Beginning Your Romantic Story

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