Jungian Archetypes

Before returning to school to pursue my master’s degree in Education, I wanted to keep honing my creative writing skills and hopefully break through my months of writer’s block so I decided to take some online classes to keep my mind churning with ideas. In one of my classes, we studied literary archetypes, and although we are all familiar with the universally recognized hero, devil, trickster, and damsel in distress, my professor suggested advanced psychological archetypes that can help improve the character development in your novels, short stories, or even your poetry.

Jung outlined these five main archetypes:

The Self, which is the core of the psyche and facilitates individualism. This is your character’s basic personality. This is the unification of the subconscious and conscious self in addition to the ego. Through these three characteristics you can create three different conflicts within a person. While the subconscious of a person wishes to behave irrationally and angrily, the ego will keep the person in check and will portray a composed person. An interesting character in your stories will have severe conflict between these three sections of their personality and will allow for development both externally and internally as the plot progresses.

The Shadow, which can be portrayed as an alter ego of a character. This can be the aspects of the personality that are not exposed to others, but exist beneath the surface subconsciously and can effect the way your character feels, acts and struggles through decisions and temptations when their inhibitions fall. For example, a character around other may appear normal, but under the influence of alcohol, their actions in dreams, or being pushed to the limit psychologically, this shadow can present itself and create conflict for the character himself, or others in the story.

The Anima, or the feminine image in a man’s psyche can make for very interesting character development as a man may empathize with a female character over a male character and show that a man, who traditionally should be callous and refuse to cry, can expose emotion to others around him, or just in his mind.

The Animus, by comparison is the masculine image in a woman’s psyche. This, along with the Anima can also be considered a part of the Shadow as well, something that is kept beneath the surface or only actualized in dreams, or in their mind.

The Persona is the image presented to the world by our character. This person may appear normal or boring, but in truth it is protecting the ego from the negativity of the outside world. While you want to make sure that your main characters and supporting characters receive ample attention when you are writing towards their shadow, and the other Jungian archetypes, you can’t underestimate the importance of developing the characters for the face they show to the world.  Be sure that these characters aren’t plagued by an archetype such as anima or the shadow, without it having any affect on their actions and judgments. 

If you are diving deeper, Jung suggested that these archetypes could also lead to further development such as complexes, which are the memories and interpretations of the character. For example a mother complex is associated with the mother archetype, and a character’s preoccupation with associated current events and temptation with memories of their mother. These complexes and archetypes can affect the social and physical aspects of the character’s development as well as the psychological aspects and can make for intriguing characters for your story.

Guest post by Lucy Markham. Lucy Markham has a Bachelor’s Degree in English: creative writing from the University of Florida and worked as an academic and career counselor for three years before pursuing her Master’s degree in Education. She enjoys blogging, creative writing and discovering new books.


  1. Nice article, thanks for the information.

  2. Very nice article and I'm already thinking about how I can use this.

  3. Interesting and helpful article. Thank you, Lucy, and thank you, Jo, for posting.


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