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Monday, September 14, 2020

8 Archetypes of The Hero's Journey

Today we are covering the eight character archetypes of The Hero's Journey.

Archetypes are recurring patterns and figures in storytelling (well, to put in simplified terms). Often a story won't feel "complete" without the proper archetypes.

But keep in mind that archetypes don't have to manifest exactly like this in your manuscript--it's not necessarily a character-for-character thing. In fact, these work more as functions, especially today. You can mix and match and combine them in your cast of characters. Or sometimes the functions may be like masks that different characters wear at different times.


Obviously this is the protagonist, but we'll go a little deeper into the Hero archetype, than that, of course.

Vogler, who has a whole book on The Hero's Journey specifically for writers, says, "The word hero is Greek, from a root that means 'to protect and to serve.' A Hero is someone who is willing to sacrifice his own needs on behalf of others. . . . At the root the idea of Hero is connected with self-sacrifice."

The Hero is the main person the audience will identify with. He or she provides a context for them to view the rest of the story. In order for this archetype to be effective the Hero needs to be both universal and original--universal enough that the audience can relate to him, but original enough to feel distinct, like a real person.

Another important function is that the Hero shows growth, and usually, he or she grows the most out of all the characters. She is typically the person who takes the most action, or at least, the most significant actions in the story. Through The Hero's Journey, she will face death, real or figurative.


This archetype is almost as familiar as the Hero. The Mentor is often seen as a wise old man or woman, but it doesn't have to be. Traditionally, the Mentor is a positive figure who trains the Hero. Both Dramatica and The Hero's Journey touch on the idea that this archetype is similar to God or the conscience or a higher self, in the sense that it encourages the Hero to do what is right. This figure often functions like a parent.

In addition to teaching, the Mentor often gives gifts, maybe a magic pendant that lights up the darkest places, for example. Sometimes these gifts need to be earned by the Hero--he may need to prove he is worthy of them--and almost always they are required to finish the story. The Mentor may drop information that will be important later. She may also provide motivation when the Hero has difficulty moving forward.

Threshold Guardian

Just as the Hero will likely need to prove herself to the Mentor, she will likely also need to prove herself to a Threshold Guardian. As she faces obstacles on her adventure, she may need to get past a guard, rival, or unfriendly creature--not necessarily the antagonist, but someone in the way of the goal. Vogler writes, "At each gateway to a new world there are powerful guardians at the threshold, placed to keep the unworthy from entering."

The Threshold Guardian's purpose is to test the Hero before she can continue. Not all Guardians are defeated--some may be bypassed or turned into an ally. In life, the Threshold Guardian represents the resistance we face when we make up our minds to go a certain direction. This resistance may not be ill-intended--it can come from a best friend who doesn't want us to move away, for example. The friend's resistance tests our resolve--are we willing to still move even when begged not to?


The Hero starts out in his Ordinary World, until the Call to Adventure arrives. Often that Call to Adventure comes from a Herald.

The Herald announces "the need for a change." Like the Mentor, the Herald will work as a motivator for the Hero. Maybe the Hero knows a change is coming, but it's not validated until the Herald appears.

Other than Act I, a Herald can surface at almost any point in the story, announcing and encouraging the need for change.


By nature, this archetype is shifting and unstable. The Hero will meet the Shapeshifter, get one impression, only to discover they are truly something else later. Or their very nature may change several times throughout the Journey. "Shapeshifters change appearance or mood, and are difficult for the Hero and the audience to pin down."

Typically, traditionally, the Shapeshifter is the opposite gender of the Hero, perhaps a love interest. The Hero's Journey borrows heavily from the studies of Carl Jung, and this pattern connects to his concept of the "animus" or "anima"--an archetype representing the male elements in the female unconscious or vice versa. Of course, the Shapeshifter can also work well as the same gender, such as in a buddy comedy or adventure story.

In the narrative, the Shapeshifter functions by bringing in doubt into the Adventure. Because we can't pin down the Shapeshifter, we will feel unsure and ask questions.


The Shadow is the antagonistic force. It "represents the energy of the dark side, the unexpressed, unrealized, or rejected aspects of something." It can be the main antagonist but also other villains, enemies, or inner demons of the self.

The Shadow challenges the Hero as a worthy opponent. If the story includes a main villain, that Shadow may illustrate characteristics the Hero rejects within himself, so in a sense it mirrors the Hero while also being the direct opposite of the Hero. Often the best Shadows are humanized in some way.

Shadows are not always negatively rooted. They can also be things unobtained, such as unexplored potential, forgotten dreams, or unexpressed love.

It's the stuff we try to push away into the unconscious. And sometimes that stuff is personified into a character.


Many heroes need a buddy or a sidekick to help them on their journey. This can be a best friend, a pet, a training partner, a servant, a classmate, or a variety of other things. Having an Ally gives the Hero a comrade to interact with--to bring out human feelings, thematic discussions, and possible problem-solving methods. An Ally will help illuminate aspects of the Hero that the other archetypes cannot.

Allies may ask questions the audience needs to hear but that the Hero would not ask, such as Watson when paired with Sherlock Holmes.

In mythology, it's not uncommon for the Hero to have a spiritual protector, like a guardian angel or the ghost of an ancestor.

The Ally "might represent the unexpressed or un-used parts of the personality that must be brought into action to do their jobs."


This archetype exemplifies mischief and the desire to change. The Trickster is typically the comic relief. In the human experience, the Trickster humbles those with big egos and brings others down to earth. They may highlight follies and hypocrisies. "Above all, they bring about healthy change and transformation, often by drawing attention to the imbalance or absurdity of a stagnant psychological situation." They are rebels of social or political conventions--or at least, their actions bring such things into question.

A great Trickster can help balance out long, tense moments in a story. In order to feel suspense most powerfully, you need to contrast it with relief and laughter.

Remember, often today we don't use characters that fit archetypes exactly, but rather these are different character functions to bring into the story. Feel free to mix them up or bring something new to your character. 

Why does this matter? Well, there is a reason these figures appear and reappear throughout human history. They represent different parts of the human experience: encouragement to do right, feelings of doubt, resistance, motivation, imbalance, repressed or unrealized desires. . . . 

Including the different parts, makes a story feel more complete or whole, because it mimics life.

To learn more about this or other archetypes, check out and compare The Hero's Journey's list to Dramatica's list

3 Quick Announcements:

This Wednesday at 6 p.m. MDT, I will be participating in a virtual Hamilton panel through FanX. We will be talking about the film recording and everything Hamilton. Visit the FanX website on Wednesday to watch. 

I've recently added another editing service to my offerings: manuscript evaluation. This is similar to my content editing, but lighter. Basically, I read right through the manuscript and write up an editorial letter where I talk about how the manuscript can be taken to the next level or how the writer can improve, in general. I've done this as a "slimmer" version of my content editing in the past, but haven't advertised this approach lately because I personally think most manuscripts deserve a deeper edit. However, I understand that many people (especially now thanks to covid) are on a tighter budget. This approach is faster and therefore cheaper (but again, not as detailed). For now, I intend to have it listed only temporarily. For everything about my editing services, visit FawksEditing.com.

QueryLetter.com is holding a writing competition. This contest is all about book blurbs. The winner will receive $500. Learn about the contest here. It looks like submissions must be sent by the 15th--so act quick if you want to enter!


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