My wife recently gave a talk on the female archetypes in fiction. I had a realization while listening to her presentation that one way to understand and use these archetypes might be to look at them from the perspective of how the character solves problems. One of advantage to this approach is that it becomes easier to extend the archetypes and understand characters that don’t quite fit them.
When constructing your stories, I think it may be a useful exercise to ask yourself how your characters solve problems. Once you know the answer to that question, it will be easy to see what sorts of problems the character will tend to notice, and what sorts of skills he or she is likely to have. This one question can provide a key to a character’s motivation and behavior.
- The Boss: The boss uses authority to accomplish her objectives. While her motives may be good or evil, she will usually seek greater authority. She’s likely to identify problems in chains of command and efficiency of organizations.
- The Seductress: The seductress manipulates people’s emotions to get what she wants. The seductress will be especially vigilant to notice anyone else using emotional manipulation, and will therefore tend to be cynical regardless of whether she uses her abilities for good or evil.
- The Spunky Kid: The spunky kid believes in solving problems by being part of a team, and will be sensitive to notice unique talents in her friends and look for ways her abilities can complement theirs. She will naturally notice problems in teams, and will help people reconcile and work together. Because of her reliance on friends, a spunky kid tends to be an optimist and is, in some sense, the opposite of the seductress. An effective Boss will want to have at least one Spunky Kid on her team.
- The Free Spirit: The free spirit solves problems using intuition and creativity. Part of the free spirit method of solving problems is to inspire other people, and is likely to notice when creativity and freedom are stifled. The free spirit will tend to have difficulty getting along with a Boss.
- The Waif: The waif solves problems by enduring them, by waiting for them to go away. Despite the Waif’s passivity, she may help others by inspiring them to endure.
- The Librarian: The librarian believes in solving problems with logic. She will frequently run to the library or the lab for answers. She is, in this sense, the opposite of the Free Spirit. The Librarian will notice problems relating to the preservation and expanding of knowledge.
- The Crusader: The crusader believes in doing things herself, fighting and confronting problems directly. The Crusader may tend be cynical about the abilities of others. The crusader is thus the opposite of the Spunky Kid or the Boss. The Crusader may tend to egotism.
- The Nurturer: The nurturer solves problems by identifying and building the strength of others. She will identify people with great ability and train them. She is not so much a team player, but an enabler.