The Protagonist (hero) and Antagonist, whom we recognise from other writers on the subject, form the first pair. The function of the protagonist is to pursue his goal identified towards the end of the first act and, hence, drive the story forward. The function of the antagonist is to try and stop him at all costs.
The next pair is Reason and Emotion. Reason is calm and collected. His decisions and actions are based solely on logic. Star Trek’s Spock is a typical example of this archetype. Bones, the ship’s doctor, on the other hand, wears his heart on his sleeve. Although a medical man, his opinions and actions are deeply emotional. He presents the emotional dimension of the moral premise.
The Sidekick and Skeptic represent the conflict between confidence and doubt in the story. The sidekick is the faithful supporter of the protagonist, although he may attach himself to the antagonist since his function is to show faithful support of a leading character. The skeptic on the other hand is the disbelieving opposer, lacking the faith of the sidekick. His function in the story is to foreshadow the possibility of failure.
The Guardian and Contagonist form the last pair of archetypal characters. The job of the guardian is that of a teacher and protector. He represents conscience in the story. Gandalf is such a character in Lord of the Rings. He helps the protagonist stay on the path to achieve success. By contrast, the contagonist’s function is to hinder the protagonist and lure him away from success. He is not to be confused with the antagonist since his function is to deflect and not to kill or stop the opposing character. George Lucas’s (Star Wars) Jabba the Hut is such a character. As with the sidekick, the contagonist may attach himself to the protagonist.
As a group, the archetypal characters perform essential functions within a story. Because they can be grouped in different ways, versatility can be added to their relationships.
Their usefulness becomes apparent when editing your manuscript, especially such argument sagas as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings.
Does your story ‘feel’ wrong?
Do your characters drift?
Identity your characters in terms of function to see if they belong to one or other archetype. Re-examine their function in your story. Are they doing their job as per their definition?
Of course, the task becomes more complex when the archetypes are mixed to create more complex and realistic characters, but even then, you may be able to pin-point their essential combinations and, therefore, work to improve their shared functions—but that, perhaps, is the subject of another article.
Understanding archetypes and their function in your story will assist you in troubleshooting loose and imprecise aspects of your tale.
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Image: Jason Vance