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Archetypal Characters: Introduction to Archetypes
Archetypes exist as a form of storytelling shorthand. Because they are instantly
recognizable, an author may choose to use archetypal characters for a variety of reasons
-- because of limited storytelling time or space, to emphasize other aspects of story such
as Plot or Theme, to play on audience familiarity, etc. The main advantage of Archetypes
is their basic simplicity, although this can sometimes work as a disadvantage if the
characters are not developed fully enough to make them seem real.
There are eight Archetypal Characters: Protagonist, Antagonist, Reason,
Emotion, Sidekick, Skeptic, Guardian, and Contagonist.
Several of these are familiar to most authors. Some are a bit more obscure. One is unique
to Dramatica. We will introduce all eight, show how they interact, then explore each in
Players and Characters?
In our earlier discussion of what sets the Subjective Characters apart from the Objective
Characters, we described how authors frequently assign the roles of both Protagonist
AND Main Character to the same player in the story.
The concept of "player" is found throughout Dramatica and differs from what we
mean by "character." Dramatica defines a character as a set of dramatic
functions that must be portrayed in order to make the complete argument of a story.
Several functions may be grouped together and assigned to a person, place, or thing who
will represent them in the story. The group of functions defines the nature of the
character. The personage representing the functions is a player.
In other words, a player is like a vessel into which a character (and therefore a set of
character functions) is placed. If more than one Objective Character is placed into a
single player, the player will appear to have multiple personalities. This is clearly seen
in the dual characters contained in player, Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde, or the many
personalities of Sybil.
Describing the Protagonist
No doubt the most well-known of all the Archetypal Characters is the Protagonist. As
with all the Archetypal Characters, there is a specific "shopping list" or
"recipe" of dramatic functions that describes the Protagonist. In this regard,
the archetypal Protagonist is the chief proponent and principal driver of the effort to
achieve the story's goal.
At first, this description seems far too simple for even the most archetypal of
Protagonists. This is because the Main Character is so often combined with the Protagonist
when Archetypal Characters are used, that we seldom see a Protagonistic player
representing the archetypal functions alone.
Still, pursuing the goal is the essential function of the Protagonist, and beginning here
we can construct a network of relationships that describe the remaining archetypes.
(As a side note, the entire exploration of the Subjective Story is an independent job
of the Main Character. For purposes of describing the Archetypal Protagonist, therefore,
we will be considering only its role in the Objective Story Throughline as just another
player on the field [albeit a crucial one]).
So, for our current needs, the Archetypal Protagonist can be considered the chief
proponent and principal driver of the effort to achieve the story's goal.
What is an Antagonist?
The Archetypal Antagonist is diametrically opposed to the Protagonist's successful
attainment of the goal. Often this results in a Protagonist who has a purpose and an
Antagonist comes along and tries to stop it. Sometimes, however, it is the other way
around. The Antagonist may have a goal of its own that causes negative repercussions. The
Protagonist then has the goal of stopping the Antagonist. For purposes of establishing a
consistent way to analyze how all Archetypal Characters relate to the goal of any story,
Dramatica defines the Protagonist's goal as the .i.story's goal;, regardless of which kind
Antagonist and the Obstacle Character
Just as the Protagonist is often "doubled up" with the function of the Main
Character, the Antagonist is sometimes (though less frequently) combined with the Obstacle
Character. The Obstacle Character is fully explored in the Subjective Characters section
of this book. For now, a simple description of the Obstacle Character will serve our
Just as the Antagonist opposes the Protagonist in the Objective Story, the Obstacle
Character stands in the way of the Main Character in the Subjective Story. Note
we did not say the Obstacle Character opposes the Main Character, but rather stands
in the way. The Obstacle Character's function is to represent an alternative belief
system or world view to the Main Character, forcing him to avoid the easy way out and to
face his personal problem.
When combining the Obstacle Character and the Antagonist in the same player, it is
essential to keep in mind the difference between their respective functions, so that both
dramatic purposes are fully expressed.
Reason & Emotion
Why Reason and Emotion Characters?
Having briefly described the Protagonist and Antagonist, we can already see how they
represent basic functions of the Story Mind. The Protagonist represents the drive to try
and solve a problem; the Antagonist represents the drive to undermine success. These two
characters teeter back and forth over the course of the story as each in turn gains the
Even in the most Archetypal terms this conflict is an insufficient process to fully
describe an argument, for it fails to address many other basic concerns that will
naturally occur in the minds of audience members, and must therefore be incorporated in
the Story Mind as well. That is why there are six other Archetypal Characters. Just as
Protagonist and Antagonist form a pair, the other six Archetypal Characters form three
other pairs. The first of these is made up of Reason and Emotion.
Reason and Emotion Described
The Reason Archetypal Character is calm, collected, and cool, perhaps even cold.
It makes decisions and takes action wholly on the basis of logic. (Remember, we say wholly
because we are describing an Archetypal Character. As we shall see later, Complex
Characters are much more diverse and dimensional.)
The Reason character is the organized, logical type. The Emotion character who is
frenetic, disorganized, and driven by feelings.
It is important to note that as in real life, Reason is not inherently better than
Emotion, nor does Emotion have the edge on Reason. They just have different areas of
strength and weakness which may make one more appropriate than the other in a given
Functionally, the Emotion Character has its heart on its sleeve; it is quick to
anger, but also quick to empathize. Because it is frenetic and disorganized, however, most
of its energy is uncontrolled and gets wasted by lashing out in so many directions that it
ends up running in circles and getting nowhere. In contrast, the Reason Character
seems to lack "humanity" and has apparently no ability to think from the heart.
As a result, the Reason Character often fails to find support for its well-laid
plans and ends up wasting its effort because it has unknowingly violated the personal
concerns of others.
In terms of the Story Mind, Reason and Emotion describe the conflict
between our purely practical conclusions and considerations of our human side. Throughout
a story, the Reason and Emotion Archetypal Characters will conflict over the
proper course of action and decision, illustrating the Story Mind's deliberation between
intellect and heart.
Sidekick & Skeptic
The next pair of Archetypal Characters are the Sidekick and the Skeptic,
who represent the conflict between confidence and doubt in the Story Mind. The Sidekick is
the faithful supporter. Usually, a Sidekick is attached to the Protagonist. Sometimes,
however, they may be supporters of the Antagonist. This gives a good clue to the way
Dramatica sees Objective Characters: The purpose of the Sidekick is to show faithful
support. That does not determine who or what it supports, but just that it
must loyally support someone or something. Other dynamics of a story will determine who
the Sidekick needs to be attached to in order to make the story's argument, but from the
standpoint of just describing the Archetypal Characters by themselves, the Sidekick
The Sidekick is balanced by the Skeptic. Where the Sidekick has faith, the Skeptic disbelieves;
where the Sidekick supports, the Skeptic opposes. The nature of the Skeptic
is nicely described in the line of a song... "Whatever it is, I'm against it."
In the Story Mind, it is the function of the Skeptic to note the indicators that portend
failure. In contrast, the Sidekick notes the indicators that point to success. The
interactions between Sidekick and Skeptic describe the Story Mind's consideration of the
likelihood of success.
Guardian & Contagonist
What are the Guardian and Contagonist?
Finally we come to the remaining pair of Archetypal Characters. The first of these
archetypes is a common yet often loosely defined set of functions; the second archetype is
unique to Dramatica. The first of these characters is the Guardian. The Guardian
functions as a teacher/helper who represents the Conscience of the Story Mind. This is a
protective character who eliminates obstacles and illuminates the path ahead. In this way,
the Guardian helps the Protagonist stay on the proper path to achieve success. Balancing
the Guardian is a character representing Temptation in the Story Mind. This character
works to place obstacles in the path of the Protagonist, and to lure it away from success.
Because this character works to hinder the progress of the Protagonist, we coined the name
Contagonist: "Whose side are you on?"
Because the Contagonist and Antagonist both have a negative effect on the
Protagonist, they can easily be confused with one another. They are, however, two
completely different characters because they have two completely different functions in
the Story Mind. Whereas the Antagonist works to stop the Protagonist, the Contagonist acts
to deflect the Protagonist. The Antagonist wants to prevent the Protagonist from making
further progress, the Contagonist wants to delay or divert the Protagonist for a time.
As with the Sidekick, the Contagonist can be allied with either the Antagonist or the
Protagonist. Often, Contagonists are cast as the Antagonist's henchman or
second-in-command. However, Contagonists are sometimes attached to the Protagonist, where
they function as a thorn in the side and bad influence. As a pair, Guardian and
Contagonist function in the Story Mind as Conscience and Temptation, providing both a
light to illuminate the proper path and the enticement to step off it.
Archetypes -- a Balanced Part of the Complete Argument
As a group, the Archetypal Characters represent all the essential functions of a
complete Story Mind, though they are grouped in simple patterns. Because the Archetypes
can be allied in different ways, however, a degree of versatility can be added to their
What is a Complex Character?
Complex Characters are created from the same set of dramatic functions as Archetypes.
The principal difference is that the Archetypal Characters group together functions that
are most similar and compatible, and Complex Characters don't. This means that although
Archetypal Characters may conflict with one another, an Archetypal Character is never at
odds with its own drives and attitudes. This is why the Archetypal Characters so often
appear to be less developed than Complex Characters or perhaps less human.
To create characters who more closely represent our own inconsistencies, we must
redistribute their functions so they are less internally compatible. As this results in
many more levels of exploration and understanding, we refer to any arrangement of
character functions other than an Archetypal grouping to be Complex. A character
containing such a grouping is a Complex Character.
Archetypes and Complex Characters Together
A single story may have both Archetypal and Complex Characters. The decision of how to
group the functions is completely open to an author's storytelling desires. The problem
is, until one is aware of exactly what these functions are and how they relate, it is
impossible to make meaningful decisions about how to combine them. These essential
functions are at such a basic level that they form the elemental building blocks of
Objective Characters. Therefore, we refer to these functions as character Elements.
Listing them gives no feel for the end product, much as just listing the Periodic Chart of
Elements in chemistry gives no feel for the natures of the compounds that might be
engineered through combining them.
As a result, the best way to present the character Elements with meaning is to start with
the Archetypal Characters (who by definition contain all the Elements) and break them
down, step by step, level by level, until their elemental components are exposed. In this
manner, understanding is carried down to the Elements, which may then be combined in
non-archetypal ways to create Complex Characters.
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Copyright�1996, Screenplay Systems Inc.
The Dramatica theory was developed by Melanie Anne Phillips and Chris Huntley
Chief Architect of the Dramatica software is Stephen
Dramatica is a registered trademark of Screenplay Systems Incorporated
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