He can speak French… even in Russian. His beard alone has experienced more than most men’s entire bodies. The police often question him, just because they find the man interesting. His blood smells like cologne and his personality is so magnetic he’s unable to carry credit cards. His enemies list him as their emergency contact number and he never, ever, says something tastes like chicken… not even chicken. He is, the most interesting man in the world and he is an archetypal character.

But this last sentence makes no sense itself to one who does not know what a archetypal character is. So, to begin, let us sanguinely define our terms. A archetype is simply something in fiction (though the term is, to my knowledge, most commonly used in literary circles) which embodies a universal characteristic of humanity.

A archetypal character then is simply a character who embodies some important and widespread human conception – such as valor, love or fear. The Dos Equis Man, then, is a representation of the overman, the renaissance Jack-of-All trades. He has no past and little of his disposition is known given the character’s enigmatic portrayal. As such he is more of a distillation of dreams and aspirations of traditional male virility than a character to whom the common man can relate to.

That is due to the fact that you are not supposed to know the Dos Equis Man, you are only supposed to know of him. The distinction is not trivial. The purpose of his character is solely to pique your interest with his ridiculous and humorous quotes and always leave you wanting more. The purpose of the character would make little sense for a novel or a feature length film, however, for the sake of a television commercial it makes all the sense in the world and this is the crucial bit – always find out the purpose of your characters. But more on that later. Now let us consider another type of character – the 3D or 3 dimensional character. Consider the character of Llewellyn Moss from Cormac McCarthy’s No Country For Old Men – what seperates him from the Dos Equis Man? Well first and foremost, Moss is not a archetypal character, he’s neither a hero, villain, overman, mentor figure or any of the other numerous archetypes which so commonly recurr throughout fiction. He can be brave as well as craven, selfless as well as greedy, kind as well as murderous – in other words he’s someone you might believe actually exists, with all the virtues, idiosyncracies, flaws and foibles which are a intergral part of human nature. Therefore he is a character who you can sympathize with far more readily than the Dos Equis Man (especially since he’s literally good at everything!).

This may seem so obvious that it should be taken as granted that any writer worth his salt always considers these question – yet this is not the case. Many writers (some whom I know personally) write up characters from a purely emotional perspective. Though this leads to many a great character it does not give them direction. and direction is highly crucial, for there is no art worthy of the name which does not have a purpose. This is, generally, the distinction between entertainment and art, entertainment provides brief and facile amusement whilst art provides one with a musing on those aspects most crucial to the nature of being.

Thus, it shall be fruitful for the errant writer to ever consider his character in relation to not just the story as it currently is but also where it will likely go. Everything needs not be planned out, of course (for that can kill naturalism deader than a fish in a cyanide pond) but you should generally have some idea of where your story is headed, even if only in the most arcane of vagaries.

2 Replies to “Archetypes Vs. “Real” Characters”

  1. What exactly is the Dos Equis Man archetype though? A father figure? A hero? A combination of multiple archetypes?

    I find many famous actors (and a few singers) particularly interesting, not only for their work, but also for their offscreen/offstage life. Symbolically, they have come to represent certain archetypes aswell.

    For example, looking at the life of Richard Burton, we can see that he represents a faustian archetype, of one who “sells out” their true spiritual worth for material and ephemeral gains.

    Great article.


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