Earlier today a writer mentioned a problem coming up with good characters. His main concern was to not create characters that are stereotypes. I can understand his concern. As a writer, I’ve been warned over and over again of the terrible things that will befall my manuscript if I should breathe life into a character that… horror of horrors!… is a stereotype. Archetypes, on the other hand, are wonderful and to be admired because they illuminate characteristics common to Everyman. Archetypes, not stereotypes. That’s the rule.
I have a problem with that rule. Maybe it’s me. I generally don’t like rules and maybe I’m not like other writers. But I suspect I’m pretty much like almost everyone else.
I am, however, honest enough to question whether there is a difference between a stereotype and an archetype. I’m fairly certain they are one and the same thing.
Think about it. Both stereotypes and archetypes personify stock characters… people we know in real life and recognize in a story after just a brief description. The only difference is in the words used and that’s a personal choice for every writer. Some readers like some words better than others and when they don’t like the words used, they may decide the character being described is a stereotype and, therefore, a negative.
Want to know what I think? I think you shouldn’t worry about it. Just tell the story. If your characters turn out to be familiar, recognizable people, good for you. And if someone tells you that a particular character is a stereotype, reply that, no indeed, that character is an archetype. You will be telling the truth. Because, in the end, they are the same.