According to Wikipedia, an archetype is defined as:
- A statement, or pattern of behavior, a prototype upon which others are copied, patterned, or emulated.
- The Platonic philosophical idea, referring to pure forms which embody the fundamental characteristics of a thing.
- In Jungian psychology, archetypes refer to a collectively inherited unconscious idea, pattern of thought, image, etc., universally present in individual psyches.
- Archetypes can refer to a constantly recurring symbol or motif in literature, painting or mythology. This usage of the term draws from both comparative anthropology and Jungian archetypal theory.
In literature, The Mentor is an archetype (Gandalf, Obi Wan Kenobi, Dumlbedore, Giles from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and so forth). So is the Everyman (Arthur Dent, Bilbo Baggins, John Watson… basically every character Martin Freeman has ever played). You can find twelve examples of them here— or spend the next two weeks of your life lost in the digital labyrinth that is TV Tropes. But while some archetypes are universal, every writer has a couple of tropes that are their personal favorites.
So here are two (three?) of mine:
The Pet Tiger
I began noticing these sorts of characters as a teenager. Izark/Izaac in From Far Away/Kanata Kara. Vegeeta in Dragon Ball Z (to some degree). Sesshomaru in Inuyasha. Yes, I watched a lot of anime during that time of my life. Recently, I would refer to Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Castiel from Supernatural as Pet Tigers, as is Booker DeWitt in Bioshock Infinite... though he’s got the less common designation of being an anti-hero to start out with, rather than an outright villain.
The pet tiger is a person who is powerful– often insanely so, to the degree that they first appear as a small-scale villain. They’re big, they’re scary, they could snap you like a toothpick. But then they have one too many run-ins with the wrong person (TV Tropes refers to this person as a Morality Pet). They’re forced into prolonged exposure to that person, for some reason can’t kill them, and they start to appreciate them– as a friend, as a potential lover, as somebody to protect, it doesn’t matter. Somehow, usually completely by accident, they wind up tamed. They still growl, but they don’t bite nearly as often– unless somebody hurts the Tiger’s Morality Pet. At that point, there is no force on Hell or earth that can save you from their wrath.
In my writing, Pet Tigers tend to be associated with cats or dogs– predators that in their larger forms famously eat people, but which we keep as loving pets.
If the name Kya is familiar, this is why. Once upon a time, my best friend and I started working on a story together. The two main characters were originally based on ourselves– and then stylized and exaggerated so many times so as to become something else entirely. My character’s name was Jara, hers was Kya.
The Kya is bright and bubbly, trusting and naiive– not because she’s stupid, but because she can afford to be. She’s nice to everyone and give them the benefit of the doubt, because if they betray that trust, she knows the Jara will royally mess them up. In comparison, the Jara is quiet, and usually only opens her mouth to be snide, snarky, or strategic. She naturally assumes the worst of others, and is ready with contingency plans for anything that could possibly go wrong. Usually violent ones. Often the Jara tries to experience joy vicariously through the Kya, usually by spoiling her rotten and letting her have her way, and tends to express anger on both of their behalf, so the Kya doesn’t have to deal with the consequences of such an outburst. They tend to be at least slightly codependent on one another, and stories tend to grind to a halt when they’re separated: the Jara is too practical to do anything adventure-worthy of her own volition (better to bunker down and fortify), and the Kya too whimsical and optimistic to stay alive very long without somebody to watch her back.
Will and Jem of The Infernal Devices are essentially poster children for the archetype. Supernatural‘s Sam and Dean sometimes reflect the Jara/Kya dynamic, but not nearly as much as do Flynn and Rapunzel from Tangled. Kyouya and Tamaki of Ouran High School Host Club also fit the mold to a degree.
I put a Jara/Kya pair in every work, even if they’re very minor characters. They’re easy enough to find: When I write them, the Jara of the pair always has ‘ara’ somewhere in her name. I like to think of it as a personal signature, not unlike the way Terry Pratchett always has Death make a cameo in the Discworld novels, even if he’s not part of the main plot line.
Admittedly, Pet Tigers and Jara/Kya pairs aren’t that far apart. A Jara could well be a Pet Tiger who’s had several years of practice. Generally Jara/Kya pairs have a longstanding history and tend to act as a unit rather than individually, while the Pet Tiger is more often seen grumbling alone in a corner until he’s needed.
Sensing a pattern here…?
I’m not shy about admitting that I’ve always had a thing for devotion that borders on the obsessive. Miss Pross is my favorite character from A Tale of Two Cities, as are Samwise Gamgee from The Lord of the Rings and Conseil from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea… and Lindy is eternally tied with Maladonis Bin for my favorite character in Kindar’s Cure. These are the kind of characters I like to read about, and therefore they keep winding up my writing.
Do you have any personal tropes or archetypes you go out of your way to include– or ones that keep cropping up in your writing by accident? Tell us about them in the comments!