Rival Archetypes for Your Novel

What would a novel be without a good antagonist or two? There are some wonderful “Rival” archetypes that you might consider developing to give your novel depth and provide strong conflict.

Last week we looked at some of the archetypes that can be found in allies and friends of the protagonist.

Your novel needs a cast of characters, all playing specific roles. And sometimes a character will play different roles at different points in the story. Think of these as masks a character might wear.

We all slip into a variety of roles in our lives, as I mentioned in the earlier posts on this topic. This will depend on who we’re with and what the situation is. A best friend might take on a Magi role when giving needed, hard advice. But that same friend might turn into a Joker archetype when he’s had a few drinks, and might even act patronizingly, assuming a type of King archetype if his “domain” is threatened.

Archetypes resonate deep within us, and so when we writers apply archetypal attributes to our characters, our readers find it easier to relate to and connect with those characters.

Let’s take a look at some of the Rival archetypes. Maybe you’ll discover one or two that might have a place in your current story.

A rival might be an outright antagonist—someone standing in your hero’s way—or he might not mean any harm but just creates conflict.

A rival’s negative feelings toward the hero might be clear or subconscious. A rival might purposely cause obstacles for the hero or he might do so unknowingly.

We all understand what a Nemesis character is like. He’s the out-and-out bad guy that wants to stop our hero. He’s always looking for an opportunity to make things go awry. He’s looking out for number one—himself.

But let’s take a look at some other Rival archetypes.

The Joker is clever and witty, and his pranks and quick mouth get him—and the hero—into trouble. Think of a guy’s embarrassing good friend that he just can’t say no to. He’s the one prodding the hero into doing stupid stuff the hero will regret later. The Joker means no harm, but sometimes he just can’t help himself when it comes to getting into trouble.

The Joker may be a girlfriend who is always making light of a bad situation. She might always grab the attention at a party and feels hurt when she isn’t at the center. Her gossip might cause problems for the heroine, but that may not be her intention.

The Jester is similar to the Joker but the difference is she really means well and wants to help the heroine. Though a Joker wants to help, his efforts often are laughable at best and cause grave damage at worst. A Jester might get into trouble often and need the heroine to come rescue her. She’s a handful, but the heroine loves her. Some great Jesters are Joxer in Xena and the Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz.

The Investigator needs little explanation. This character is always snooping into things, nosy and obtrusive, and he’s insecure. He needs to know every detail before he can act or make a decision, which drives people crazy. An Investigator might insist on doing everything correctly and honorably because she’s afraid of getting into trouble.

This character type may question everything the hero does and might try to control him. She may be a worrywart who saps the hero’s energy to the point of exasperation.

The Pessimist is also fairly self-explanatory. This Rival creates problems because of her negative attitude, which brings everyone down. Think of Eeyore. The Pessimist also expresses constant disapproval of everything the hero does. It takes a lot of commitment and energy for the hero to keep trying to uplift the Pessimist.

The Psychic thinks she knows it all. Maybe sometimes she does. She tends to be arrogant and says “I told you so” often. She tries to predict all the possible outcomes, giving her strong opinion of what the heroine should do in a given situation.

If she’s wrong—well, there’s always someone else or something to blame for that. She might be smart and savvy, and she wants to be held in high regard. A good type of this character might be one who gives advice and wants what’s best for the hero. She might even want to remain anonymous and stay hidden.

Rival archetypes add abrasiveness and conflict. Rivals may be competitive with the hero, or jealous, or feel they’re smarter and so deserve better. A Rival might feel he’s justified in stopping the hero because he believes in his cause. Or he just might enjoy being a bully.

I hope this look at various archetypes has gotten your creative juices stirring. Don’t settle for stereotyped characters—or weak or boring ones. Remember, characters make a story great, so spend time thinking through the types of characters your story needs to showcase your concept and premise. Then look into these archetypes to see is any of them might have a place in your novel.

What archetype do you particularly like in stories? Which one has a great role in your novel? Is there a great archetype character you love in a favorite novel? Share some thoughts in the comments.

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  1. I love my investigator! She’s my antagonist, and I can always count on her to point out things I’ve missed as I’ve written a scene or more. It is her ability to dig, to ferret, to pick my protagonist to pieces, and she does it so well that she ends up saving his life because she never stops working him over to figure him out. He absolutely hates the way she tries to control him, hates how interfering she is in his affairs, hates it when she tells him he has to be different or change his ways. But she’s wonderful to work with because she has that effect on my protagonist, and I know automatically if I’ve missed something in a scene, because she’ll bring it up in conversation!

    1. Thanks, Rebecca. It helps so much when we have a clear picture of who our characters are and how they’d act in any given moment. Have fun with this!

  2. This helped me a lot in figuring out what kind of Rival/Antagonist my might due well with. Personally I like the thought of mixing the jester and the psychic together for a witty or even a more level headed but somewhat bratty (or so they appear to be) character and since I’m wanting to do multiple rivals this gave me a lot of possible options to mull over for them.

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