Headline:Breaking down Character Archetypes into Personality Components
Date:Wednesday, January 29, 2020
Posted By:Plaid Hatter Games

I do some of my best programming in the shower, and in between shampoo and conditioner something hit me. My attempts to build personality from constituant parts was garbage. But... perhaps there would be something to be learned by taking known story archetypes and breaking them down into personality quirks.

I will start with the 8 archetypes as described by Vogler in his book The Writer's Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Which draw a lot on the work of Joseph Campbell's The Hero with a Thousand Faces. And the Campbell's work was, in turn, heavily influenced by Jungian Archetypes Each of these archetypes are a template for a variety of characters that people expect to see in a mythic story:

Hero someone who is willing to sacrifice his own needs on behalf of others
Mentor all the characters who teach and protect heroes and give them gifts
Threshold Guardian a menacing face to the hero, but if understood, they can be overcome
Herald a force that brings a new challenge to the hero
Shapeshifter characters who change constantly from the hero's point of view
Shadow character who represents the energy of the dark side
Ally someone who travels with the hero through the journey, serving variety of functions
Trickster embodies the energies of mischief and desire for change

The issue is that these archetypes fulfill roles in the story. They serve a function, but knowing what role they play doesn't help us undertand their personality.

Modern writing guides give us a little more glimpse into personality and motivation if we were to break down The Five Man Band, and The Seven Samurai. In these, we have an ensemble of main characters. Each with a very different personality. And each with a specific role in a story that can be templated across different tales.

A Five Man Band usually looks like this:

Leader Lead Singer Paladin The leader of the group. Can be a mastermind, charismatic, levelheaded, headstrong, or some combination of the four. Often also The Hero.
Lancer Lead Guitar Lancer/Ranger Usually a contrast to The Leader. If the Leader is clean-cut and/or uptight, the Lancer is a grizzled Anti-Hero or Deadpan Snarker; if the Leader is driven and somewhat amoral, the Lancer is more relaxed and level-headed.
Smart Guy Keyboards Magic User The physically weak, but intelligent or clever member. Often nerdy and awkwardly played for comic relief. Sometimes unconventionally young (early- to mid-teens). Sometimes The Trickster and a buddy of the Big Guy.
Big Guy Drummer Barbarian The strongman of the team. May be dumb. Or mute.
Chick Vocal Effects, Tamborine Cleric/Bard A peacekeeping role to balance out the other members' aggression, bringing them to a nice or at least manageable medium. The Chick is often considered the heart of the group. This role is played by a woman or girl. Someone female. Otherwise, it is not a Five-Man Band.

The Magificent Seven takes out the Chick and adds:

Old Guy An more experience party member, sometimes [link {https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ShellShockedVeteran} {A Shell-Shocked Veteren}]
Young Guy A naive party member
Funny Guy The plucky comic relief

We are getting glimpses of personality. But we are starting to see something else. Age and experience. As we make our ensemble larger, we start to have to account for gender and age. Personality is not just how you responded to things in high school. It's about how you later reacted to things either because or despite of the thing that happened earlier.

Another interesting thing that comes to mind is that roles can sometimes affect personality. I'm a dad. And I behave a bit differently when my kids are in the room. My wife is a teacher, and she has a face she presents to schoolkids that is different than the face she presents to our kids, that is different than the face she shares with me, that is different still from the face she presents to be public when she runs a booth at gaming festivals.

While I was trying to draw out innate traits of personality from looking at Archetypes of characters from film and literature, I'm realizing how an important an impact the role that the character is playing in a scene will make.

The "Smart Guy" may be all brains when he is on the clock, but then immediately want to tune out and turn off in his own time. The Funny Guy usually has some sort of dark events in his life that humor is compensating for. The Big Guy may actually be a quiet scholar. The Chick could be all heart and togetherness on the job, but at home with her husband and kids be an inflexible martinet.

My character system is going to need to track intrinsic interests, preferences, and quirks. But it will also have to have a way for characters to adopt a mask they take on when they performing as a role.

So for my next exercise, let us break down an ensemble of characters I believe that most of us will be familiar with: Breaking down the Personalities of Star Trek