Using Archetypes to Learn More About You and Your Characters

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One of my favorite blog series is Ariel Hudnall’s Archetypes in Literature, a collection of essays on the archetypes conceived by Swiss psychologist Carl Jung and examples of each in literature, film, and television. I can’t remember if what followed next happened in a comment one of her Archetype posts, or in a side conversation on my blog… But she introduced me to Archetypes.com, which features a quiz that helps visitors discover their unique blend of archetypes.

So, I took the quiz. And as soon as I got my answers, the “writerly” wheels started turning in my head. 😉

You see, archetypes can help us understand our own behavior patterns as well as those of our characters. It’s sort of like taking an MBTI test as your protagonist to see where she might fall on that spectrum. So, how can you use archetypes to learn more (or confirm what you already know) about yourself and your characters? Plus, how accurate are the quiz’s results? You might be pleasantly surprised.

First of All, What Are Archetypes?

If you’ve heard of archetypes like the Orphan or the Magician, then you’re already familiar with Jungian psychology to a degree. The 12 Jungian archetypes are unconscious aspects of the human psyche, and are usually distinguished through behavioral patterns, motivations, and personal values. For example, the Orphan / Everyperson longs for human connection and belonging, while the Magician focuses on the future and understanding the universe. Thus, how each archetype thinks and interacts with the world will differ because of their psychological makeup.

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Carl Jung’s 12 archetypes. Image courtesy of Culture Talk.

While Jungian archetypes is a fascinating subject, it’s also hefty – so much that it would make this post quite long. So if you’d like to learn more about the Orphan / Everyperson, the Magician, and the others, check out The Character Therapist, this article at Soulcraft, or the rest of Ariel’s series at Memories of a Time Here-After.

How does Archetypes.com fit into this conversation? Each of the site’s 12 archetypes is a current-day interpretation of Jung’s originals. Some are obvious, such as the Caregiver (same name) and the Royal (i.e., King / Ruler). Others like the Advocate (i.e., Orphan / Everyperson) require more thought before the connection makes sense. Regardless, these modern archetypes have strengths, desires, and personal challenges that are distinct from one another.

Also, as you read about Jung’s archetypes and their equivalents at Archetypes.com, you might wonder, “Hmmmm… I don’t fit neatly into any one archetype.” That’s fine. In fact, it’s normal (for both real people and fictional characters) to fall under multiple archetypes. Each of us is complex because of our unique blend of abilities, desires, beliefs, and so on. Wouldn’t it make sense that we would fall under multiple archetypes, and that one archetype might be more dominant than the others depending on the situation? So, yes, it’s possible to be a Visionary-Intellectual-Rebel (or Magician-Sage-Revolutionary, in Jungian terms), since you might exhibit traits of all three.

What Core Components of the Self Determines an Archetype?

As mentioned earlier, each archetype is defined by several core components. Let’s go over those components, as well as questions you can ask to help you get to the heart of your unique self:

  1. Skills & Activities: What are your strengths, skills, and/or talents? What do you enjoy doing on a daily basis?
  2. Role in Life: What do you do for a living? What is your life purpose?
  3. Goals & Desires: What do you want to accomplish in your career and/or personal life? What tangibles (i.e., material items) and intangibles (i.e., personal qualities) do you strive for?
  4. Values & Beliefs: What makes you happy? What can’t you imagine living without? What ideals do you strongly believe in or advocate?
  5. Motivations: What drives you when you make decisions? Why do you choose your preferred or final option in the end?
  6. Challenges & Lessons: What are some of the obstacles you’ve encountered in life? Why were these situations challenging to you? What did you learn as a result?
  7. Engagement & Impressions: What do your family, friends, and colleagues know you best for? What comes naturally to you in your daily interactions?

Do these questions remind you of anything? Have you used these and others to develop characters in your stories? Knowing their strengths, shortcomings, and so on is essential for understanding how a character should act and where the plot might take her. But when you do this, you’re not just getting to know your character better. You’re also building her individual makeup of archetypes.

As you read over these questions, you might already sense which archetypes apply to you and your characters. Do you thrive on travel, independence, and adventure? Perhaps you’re an Explorer. What about your protagonist who loves making people laugh and entertaining the crowd? She might be a Jester / Performer. Lesser archetypes might not as obvious until you’ve considered the core components more closely. And once you have a firm grasp on a character’s archetype makeup, you’ll have a clearer idea of how she might behave in certain situations and which ideals will drive her on her path through the story.

Activity #1: Take a few minutes to review the seven core components for determining your personal archetypes and answer the questions above. Feel free to write or type your notes if it helps. Then, do the same for the protagonist of your current work-in-progress (WIP). If you’ve already developed a profile for your protagonist, review it briefly to ensure you feel comfortable enough to move on to Activity #2.

Using the Archetypes.com Quiz to Discover Your (and Your Character’s) Archetype Profile

archetypes-logo_croppedAs of the day this post went live, the Archetypes.com quiz consists of these four multiple-choice questions:

  1. I cannot live without… (Choose up to 3 answers, in order of importance.)
  2. I’m first on my friends’ list for… (Choose up to 3 answers, in order of importance.)
  3. I think most people admire my… (Choose up to 3 answers, in order of importance.)
  4. I can’t stop… (Choose up to 3 answers, in order of importance.)

Each question has twelve answers (one for each archetype) to choose from. Having that many options can be overwhelming, so make sure you review them carefully and choose which ones apply to you and are most important to you. Since there’s no time limit, don’t feel pressured to choose the first three that “might fit.” Just sit back, relax, and reflect on yourself so you can pick the three most accurate answers to reflect your unique self.

What happens when you finish the Archetypes.com quiz? You get a personalized graph! The site uses your answers to generate a colorful donut chart with your three most dominant archetypes. The landing page also offers links to the archetypes pictured in the graph so you can learn more about each one.

Of course, taking such a quiz as one of your characters – instead of as yourself – throws a whole other wrench in this process. If you’ve assumed the protagonist’s identity for other personality tests like the MBTI, then you’ve already practiced “being” her. So, before you take the Archetypes quiz or other tests as that character, allow yourself a moment to “step into her shoes.” Remember what’s important to her, what she does on a daily basis, and why she makes the choices that she does. This mindset will help you craft an archetype profile that’s as accurate for her as yours was for you.

Activity #2: Click here to take the quiz at Archetypes.com. What are your results? Do they accurately reflect who you are? Then, take the quiz again as your WIP’s protagonist, and see if his/her projected archetypes match him/her well. Feel free to use the brainstorming notes from Activity #1 to help you choose the most appropriate answers.

[NOTE: Archetypes.come doesn’t require an account for using its quiz. It also doesn’t save your answers, so you can take the quiz as many as you want.]

How My Archetype Profile Shaped Up – and How Accurately It Reflects Me

Some of you might be thinking, “Does this quiz actually work?” or “I don’t get accurate answers for myself when I take an MBTI test.” So, let me share my archetype profile – because the results I got were incredibly on-point.

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My personal archetype profile / donut chart, courtesy of Archetypes.com

Based on my answers, my profile on Archetypes.com is Creative-Caregiver-Spiritual. Seeing Creative as my most dominant archetype didn’t surprise me. I’ve loved writing ever since I was a little girl. Today, people who know me online and offline recognize me as a writer and poet; and though not everyone has supported my passion, I’ve learned to stand by my craft through success and failure. I’m also a fan of music, dance, film, and theater. In short, I enjoy creativity in all its forms!

Caregiver and Spiritual also fit as two of my strongest archetypes. To me, it’s important to help people and let them know I care about them. So my Caregiver tendencies show in my willingness to listen and be there for people, volunteering to bring food to family or friend gatherings, and (on the negative side) my struggles over the years with balancing others’ needs with self-care. As for the Spiritual, mindfulness and gratitude are integral parts of my daily routine. I meditate before going to bed, love new age health activities such as Reiki and yoga, and believe in the power of prayer with every fiber of my being.

Interestingly enough, Intellectual crept into my answers but doesn’t pop up in my chart. I’m an avid reader, so “World news or the latest book to read” was one of my answers for Question #2. Plus, I enjoy learning in general and often find myself drawn to complex or thoughtful topics. It may not be one of my strongest archetypes, but the Intellectual is an important part of who I am.

My Protagonist’s Archetype Profile and How It Fits Her

What happens if you take the Archetype.com quiz as one of your characters? And, how accurate are those results? Let me show you the final archetype profile chart for Eva, the protagonist of my WIP The Keeper’s Curse, and go over her answers.

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My protagonist’s archetype profile / donut chart, courtesy of Archetypes.com

As you can see, Eva’s archetype profile is Explorer-Caregiver-Athlete. The first two make perfect sense. Her Explorer emerges through her love of travel and keen recall of landmarks, terrain, and their dangers, all of which have led her to become the Council of Selanaan’s chief navigator. Her independence, practicality, and knack of learning languages also fit this archetype. The Caregiver in her is another reason why she’s on the Council: She wants to protect the people she loves through her work. She also likes to help others by mentoring them in skills such as archery, self-defense, and magic.

Initially I was on the fence about Athlete as Eva’s third-strongest archetype. Yes, she’s an archer, horseback rider, and skilled fighter, so she’s active and physically fit. But she’s not exactly competitive, as the archetype suggests. Rather, she’s part-tomboy, part-ourdoorsy girl. Health and the wilderness are important to her, especially because she and the other Fei in TKC practice a nature-centric religion. Plus, as you might have noticed, some of Eva’s Athlete aspects influence some of her Explorer and Caregiver traits. So, maybe Athlete fits her archetype profile better than I thought.

Two other archetypes snuck into Eva’s answers. She’s Spiritual, since she believes in the power of prayer (Question #4) and wouldn’t fathom living without her belief in Mother Nature (Question #1). She’s also intelligent and well-informed about her world and current events (Question #2) because of her Council work. So that gives her a trace of the Intellectual, too. And combined with Eva’s three more dominant archetypes, they make her a layered and (hopefully) interesting protagonist who’s been a joy and a challenge to write about.

So, give the Archetypes.com quiz a try if you haven’t yet. Which archetypes did you get for your profile? Do you agree with your results? If you’re a writer, what happens when you take the quiz as one of your WIP’s characters?

Original photo credits: Tim Arterbury (banner)

26 thoughts on “Using Archetypes to Learn More About You and Your Characters

  1. I just took the quiz, as you suggested. I got Spiritual, Creative, and Visionary at almost equal percentages. It’s a fun quiz, and a useful tool to explore ourselves. I think I will use it to explore my characters in Strayborn more, as well.

    (Btw, I replied to your email. I just wanted to make sure it came through this time. 🙂 )

    Liked by 1 person

      • I do think the results fit me well. Although I was expecting Intellectual to appear somewhere on there, haha. 🙂
        I still need to take the quiz for Cyrus. But I did take it for Clover, and she is Intellectual, then evenly Explorer/Advocate.
        No, I didn’t have trouble on my end. But you mentioned that you had somehow missed my first email, so I just wanted to make sure it made it there. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great post! I must try this. I’ve been thinking about archetypes for a while, but I didn’t know there was a test site. Super cool. Thanks for letting me know!

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is a really useful test. I took it and it aptly summed up my ongoing struggle – my instinct is to nurture and care, but as my time is increasingly squeezed, I want to further my writing career. Oh well… I can also see how it can be useful to discover what my various protagonists issues are – I’ll certainly go through and check out Miranda as I’m rewriting Miranda’s Tempest at present… Thank you once again for a solidly good article, Sara:)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, I’ll definitely have to try this when I have more time! Thanks for sharing, Sara!
    I love discovering new ways to flesh out characters and understand their personalities better!
    When I was studying education in university, we covered the archetypes to understand how different students learn. I haven’t thought of it since, but it’s great to be reminded 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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