Classic characters and situations are called story archetypes. Story archetypes are the building blocks of fiction. They come up again and again.
The Eight Key Story Archetypes
Protagonists are responsible for most of the action in a story. They take the risks and reap the rewards. As well as physical challenges, Protagonists must also change and grow. The reader must like or at least sympathise with the Protagonist.
Heroes, heroines and warriors are all types of protagonist.
James Bond is a perfect example of the Protagonist story archetype.
A Quest is the journey the Protagonist must undertake to gain a Prize. The action of the story is the Protagonist moving toward the Prize and overcoming the challenges that keep them from it.
Good stories have external and internal challenges for the Protagonist. The external challenge is exciting for the reader and the internal challenge makes the reader care about the Protagonist.
Frodo from the Lord of the Rings is on a journey towards his Prize.
The Antagonist is the primary obstacle to the Protagonist’s successful completion of the Quest and should be strong enough to provide a worthy opponent.
The Antagonist doesn’t have to be external; they can be the darker side of the Protagonist that they are trying to suppress.
Something to remember when creating your Antagonist is that to the Antagonist they are the Protagonist.
The Prize is what the Quest is all about. It can be a person or an object, something internal or external, anything that the Protagonist wants to win, achieve, find or defeat.
Whatever the Prize is, the Protagonist must really want it and be prepared to go on a Quest to gain the Prize. The Antagonist must also be prepared to great lengths to stop the Protagonist gaining the Prize
Guardians provide obstacles the Protagonist must overcome as they strengthen themselves for the ultimate battle with the Antagonist. Guardians are stepping-stones and can be Allies or Enemies. As Protagonists defeat Enemies and recruit Allies, they become stronger, and move forward in their Quest.
The Mentor is a figure who aids or trains the Protagonist. The Mentor gives advice and gifts that will help the Protagonist on their journey. Again, the Mentor does not have to be external; it could be the better side of the Protagonist or their conscience.
The Herald is the harbinger of change who delivers the Quest to the Protagonist. The Herald can be a character or an event. Often, the Protagonist refuses the Quest to start with. Then something persuades or forces them to accept it, setting the scene for their internal struggles later.
The Trickster embodies the energy of mischief and the desire for change. Tricksters cut big egos down to size and, provide comic relief. They also make fun of hypocrisy. The Trickster’s loyalty and motives can be in doubt: is the Trickster an ally, an agent of the Antagonist or do they have their own agenda? The Trickster’s true motives remain in doubt.
The Shapeshifter is two-faced or bewilderingly changeable and bring suspense to a story. If you find yourself wondering if a character is an Ally or an Enemy, that character is a Shapeshifter.