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Free Short Story Writing Course – Story Archetypes

Creative Writing, Free Writing Course

There’s no new plot you can think of – they’ve all been done before. It’s the way you tell your story, its twists and turns, that makes your writing different.

You will find numerous lists of story archetypes by literary theorists and authors. At its simplest we can probably split these into two types.

The Hero’s or Heroine’s Journey

In The Hero With A Thousand Faces Joseph Campbell proposed that all mythological stories share the same structure.

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man (Joseph Campbell 1949)

Stories in the hero’s journey archetype often features themes such as a quest, rebirth and overcoming monsters or a central evil force. Many other authors spit these into separate archetypes but I’m keeping it simple here.

Examples: Homer’s Odyssey and J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I’d add any James Bond story to this category and George Lucas is quoted as saying he used Campbell’s writings as a basis for the Star Wars films.

The Voyage if Discovery

The main character sets out on a voyage of discovery to a strange land. Their experiences change their character and they return armed with new wisdom.

This archetype probably fits in the hero’s journey category but I am including it here as it is usually less violent. Think, Alice in Wonderland, where strange creatures are talked to rather than slain.

Rags to Riches

This can feature a rise from a low point or even a rise then fall then rise.

Cinderella, gets her chance to go to the ball, meets the Prince, loses him and then he finds her.

Rags to riches can be reversed to become a rise then a fall. Icarus is a good example, he rises (quite literally) gets too cocky, and then falls (again literally).

Your stories can feature as many rises and falls as you think you reader can cope with. Usually the falls are not quite as far down as the starting position.

Archetypes Within Archetypes


Comedy can follow any of the above archetypes but usually ends with a happy ever after (HEA) or happy for the time being (HFTB).


Tragedies often feature themes of revenge, rivalry, or succumbing to temptation, usually with dire consequences.

To Sum Up

Your story will fall into one of the archetypes, this does not mean it’s a cliché. You will weave your own story around the archetype creating unpredictable events and even a twist at the end.

Agatha Christie’s books all follow the same archetype. There is a murder, the reader follows the hero (who is not a typical hero or heroine) as they go on a quest to discover and bring to justice the evil force (the murderer). Despite having the same formular each book is different, filled with engaging secondary characters and twists and turns.

References and further reading

Joseph Campbell 1949 The Hero With a Thousand Faces New World Library, 2008

What is the Hero’s Journey? Master Class

Story Archetypes: How to Recognise the 7 Basic Plots

Story Archetypes: 50+ Ploy Archetypes to Craft Your Narrative

All Lessons

Available July 2023

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