Episode 45: Cliche Characters vs. Archetypes

On June 1st, Kasie and Rex were joined by favorite local authorprenuer Raegan Teller to discuss cliche characters and archetypes. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Cliche Characters vs. Archetypes


  • Raegan Teller, Mystery Writer
  • Stock Characters Review
  • Archetypes and the difference
brown haired female anime character figure
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Segment 1

Raegan Teller is a mystery author, writer of the Enid Blackwell series (raeganteller.com) who wrote this great blog about being blessed to find her reader community. She appeared on Start Somethng Columbia back in May talking about authorpreneurship, or the business side of being an independently published author. Here’s a link o those show notes.

Today’s topic is stock characters and genre fiction is full of them. So tell us about mystery as your choice of genre and we can segue into the character conversation from there.

Specifically, where did Enid come from?

Let’s review what we covered last week related to stock characters.

What are stock characters?

A stock character is one who is familiar because he or she appears frequently in stories albeit in various forms. Some examples:

  • Merlin, Gandolf, Yoda, Dumbledore — wizened old wizard (see also Wise Mentor episode and this link to a full list)
  • Ron Weasley, Samwise Gamgee, Charlotte Lucas (P&P) — The Best Friend; may or may not be in on the hero’s secret, will provide some stakes if and when she’s kidnapped, protecting her is part of the hero’s obligation to her
  • Law enforcement person — be they FBI, Sheriff’s Deputy, or County or City police, the law enforcement character is there to remind us that even heroes live within the confines of the law or the story.

Here’s a link to a list of female “best friend” candidates.

Not all stock characters are one-dimensional, flat, or boring. But if you recognize them, they’re probably a “stock” character.

This varies a little from the cliche character. The cliche character is 1) familiar like a stock character but also 2) predictable sometimes in a very trite or overdone way. Examples include:

  • Good Cop / Bad Cop — the former is empathetic to the accused, wants the truth for the sake of the truth, will follow the rules; the latter is a bully, doesn’t believe the accused is innocent, wants to prove to the world he’s right.
  • Idiot or the Clown — stumbles into the story, accidentally changes the trajectory; Shakespeare used this character to reveal plot points and to provide comic relief
  • Creepy recluse — Boo Radley and other homebound, mysterious characters who are feared primarily because they’re reclusive but maybe because tall tales have been told about them.

Also this list and this one.

Stock and cliche characters often have this in common: A Singular Focus. One obsessive need that is diametrically (diabolically?) opposed to our hero’s primary purpose.

Okay, so when is okay to use a stock character?

When is okay to use a cliche character?

Segment 2

Stock and cliche characters are not to be confused with Archetypes. So let’s talk about those. Here’s the definition. Basically, these are characters, situations, or plots that represent universal patterns of human behavior. Since we’ve been talking about characters, let’s start there:

  • Hero
  • Mother
  • Innocent Youth
  • Mentor
  • Doppleganger
  • Scapegoat
  • Villain

These archetypes are representative of patterns in human behavior — how? Well, the hero is someone we want to be like, so he’s ambition, right? And he rescues others, puts them first, can be counted on to save us and the village. The hero represents the struggle between good and evil and when he wins, we are reassured that good will prevail.

Mothers are our first representatives of deities. They love us, care for us, teach us. The mother archetype is one that represents spiritual wholeness, security in her best iterations and the painful, tragic loss of those things in the worst versions (i.e. stepmothers).

The innocent youth represents all of us really. Growing, learning, being tricked and deceived, being selfish and ignorant.

The mentor we’ve discussed at length.

The doppleganger is the mistaken identity trope. The idea is of a shadow person, a replica of ourselves but darker, opposite in all ways that matter. The doppleganger is a great device to create confusion (think Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors) but also to examine the relationships the supporting cast has with the main character whose doppleganger has fooled them.

Scapegoats are the characters who take the blame for all the bad things that happen. We have them in society, why not in fiction, right? They can be entities like the government, the press, the communists; they can be individuals like the class clown, the teacher’s pet, or the dumb jock. Scapegoats are fun to divert the reader’s attentions from what’s really happening.

Segment 3

Okay, but archetypes can also be Setting and Plot. Here’s where it gets complicated.


How can a setting be an archetype?

What is Tara? It’s the model ancestral home even though they are the first generation to live there. It’s the homestead, the roots of the family, where we get our strength and power.

What is school? It’s a prison, a place of learning, a second-home. There’s a hierarchy of power in schools, there are rules and rule breakers. There are expected pieces like lockers and florescent lights and there are confines to people and plots.

The purpose of the archetype is to orient your reader, to make the environment relatable and familiar, and to create landscape or setting confines on the story. Just try removing some of your favorite stories from their setting and see what happens.

If space is an archetype — the unknown, the future, science and logic — then what happens if Star Wars isn’t set in space? If you think you might be working with an archetype setting, ask yourself if the scene has to take place there.

  • Courtroom
  • Police interrogation room
  • Woods or forest
  • At sea or on a boat
  • Quiet suburban neighborhood
  • Noisy New York City street

The setting you’re choosing has its own boundaries but if it’s an archetype:

  • Urban center
  • Rural small town
  • University campus

It may have additional cliches and expectations.


We’ve talked before about the book The Seven Basic Plots by Christopher Booker. Here they are:

  • Rags to Riches
  • The Journey & Return
  • The Quest
  • Comedy — mistaken identity, cross purposes, assumptions and confusion; also sometimes a hidden plot
  • Tragedy — five stages, the fractured self, and the hero as monster
  • Overcoming the Monster
  • The monster and the thrilling escape from death

So Booker contends these patterns show up in almost every story ever written. If you can match your own story to one of these basic plots, you have an archetype story. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

Other ways we describe them:

  • Boy Meets Girl
  • Underdog Beats Champion
  • Unlikely Hero Saves Village
  • Poor Girl Makes Princess

The reason these archetypes exist is that we recognize them, they fulfill a specific function in our storytelling history, and they guide writers into making good plot choices.

Segment 4

Patronage —

We want to thank Bonnie Stanard for her long time support of the program. Her work in historical fiction can be purchased here. She’s been steadfast and positive in her support of the program from the beginning. Thanks, Bonnie!

Words & Wine: A Readers’ and Writers’ Monthly Social will be Tuesday, June 18 from 6:00 – 8:00 p.m. and feature best-selling author and blues historian, Clair DeLune, author of South Carolina Blues. She’ll present on Music of the Carolinas. Learn the unique history of music in our state as she shares rare icons of the lore. This will be her first presentation since she shuttered her 29-year radio show at the end of April — Blues Moon Radio.

Words & Wine for June is sponsored by Mark Rapp, CEO/Founder/Owner at ColaJazz. Mark manages Soda City Brass Band, High Fidelity Recordings and USC ColaJazz Camp. Mark will perform. Words & Wine is held at the Lourie Center, 1650 Park Circle (behind Maxcy Gregg Park), Columbia, SC 29201.

The Petigru Review, SCWA’s online literary journal, is currently accepting submissions of fiction, nonfiction and poetry through July, including flash fiction, flash essays, novel chapters and cover-art. We’re also looking for book reviews and craft essays to post on TPR’s website. Check us out at www.thepetigrureview.com. Submit soon as the new issue is beginning to take shape! The editors can’t wait to read your work.

Ready to support Write On SC? Go to Patreon.com/WriteOnSC to become a patron.

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