Character Archetypes: The Trickster

Hi gang, Craig with you today. This is post number five in the character archetypes series. In the Hero’s Journey, there are some common characters that are likely to show up in all stories. This doesn’t mean each archetype shows up in every story, and aside from the hero, the rest are kind of optional. Almost every story will have an assortment of them.

This series is to introduce you to them. Once you’re aware of them, you can decide if they can benefit the story you’re writing.

I have to say, this is the most maddening one to write about so far. Almost seems poetic when you consider it’s about The Trickster. There are as many different opinions about this archetype as there are websites, so I’m going to reject their reality and substitute my own. This is all in an attempt to offer some help, which is what Story Empire is all about.

One site would boil this character down to comedy relief. Another gets into some things about neutral personality types. A third dwells on high intelligence. Honestly, the Trickster can be all of these things, but doesn’t have to be.

One of the important things to understand about this archetype is it does not require a defined role, like the Hero does. These traits can apply to any character in a story from Hero to Antagonist. It’s all in how you deploy them.

Most folktales and legends have a trickster who plays a prominent role, and that’s where the archetype evolved from. The earliest ones were animal characters. We have everything from Anansi the spider, through pan the Satyr, Loki, even coyote in Native American legends, and Br’er Rabbit from the south.

These evolved into some you might recognize in Bugs Bunny, The Joker, Dobby the house elf, even Kevin from Home Alone.

You can see right way that these characters aren’t always comedy relief. They can be, but it’s not required. What they are is a collection of personality traits that we can study.

• Brains.

• A sense of humor, even if only they understand it.

• Creativity.

• Occasionally a personal agenda.

• A lack of concern about consequences.

As a main character, you could still have a hero, but instead of the brawny tough guy, he’s the charming con man. As your villain, maybe there’s a little bit of Dexter to him.

There does seem to be a bit of neutrality to the personality type. They might not buy into a big task because it’s the right thing to do, but might go along because it’s amusing.

I try not to display my own work here, but researching this archetype clarifies that I have used it before. Readers might recognize some of it in my antihero named Clovis, or in the root monsters I’ve created. They march to a different drummer, and usually find solutions that aren’t exactly mainstream.

The trickster archetype is great to consider when writing an anti-hero. Many of the traits will fit right in. This is reader manipulation to a degree, but that isn’t a bad thing. The Trickster will do things that we can’t do in normal society. Tired of seeing rich criminals get a brief stay at a country club/prison? We’d all kind of like to beat the crap out of them. The trickster does. Readers do a fist pump and say, “Yes!”

Tricksters are great for suddenly expanding the environment of the story in ways we never considered. We had this engaging and fun world of Harry Potter, when Dobby dropped the bomb about slavery into the story. It was like a Big Bang of expansion, and it was added by a trickster.

Tricksters are good for poking things and bringing them to the forefront. They’re the ones who pull some dumb stunt that brings the main goal into laser focus about half-way through the story. They push the buttons on the entitled person, causing them to say things they should have kept quiet about.

While your group is hand-wringing about how to stop the nuclear missile launch, the trickster is the one who brings an avalanche down over the missile silo. Weird, but effective. The cavalry is about to wipe out the native village, but they’re disrupted by… a buffalo stampede.

I should note this isn’t deus ex machina. Buffalo can actually be stampeded by humans. On the other hand, he can’t bring a meteor down from the heavens to stop the cavalry charge.

My experience is that these characters take a bit more effort to write. Sometimes you dream up the odd outcome before you figure out how to weave it into the story. This means you have to go back and plant the clues and set the stage prior to the big event. (If you’re going to use shamanism, and actually drop a meteor on the cavalry, then you have to set this up waaaaayyy before the heavens rain down.)

Give the trickster a chance. They can add humor, bring a sense of current events into your story, add a bit of panache, and even reduce word count by taking outrageous shortcuts.

I thrive on comments and interaction. Let me hear from you in the comments. Have you ever written a trickster? Would you consider it in a future project?

Obligatory traffic signal: The last one was The Herald, the next one is The Shapeshifter.

45 thoughts on “Character Archetypes: The Trickster

  1. Pingback: Character Archetypes: The Shapeshifter | Story Empire

  2. Pingback: Character Archetypes: The Trickster — Story Empire | By the Mighty Mumford

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  4. What a great post, Craig. This type of character can bring SO much into a story and give it more layers. Your root monsters are great examples. My sister, who writes Western Historical Romance, has added a monkey to her latest work and it brings a whole new feel to the story. Thanks for sharing!

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  5. I immediately thought of The Joker before I read this post. I haven’t written a trickster character but I’m not opposed to it if the role fits the story. Clovis is a good example as well as the root monsters. Hadn’t thought about Kevin being a trickster but he both fits the role of that as well as the hero.

    Really enjoying this series.

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  6. I don’t write a trickster often. I used one in the three books of my Fallen Angels urban fantasies–Caleb–a fallen angel who meant to join Lucifer when he rebelled but got stuck on Earth instead. He was a lot of fun to write. I haven’t used one in my mysteries, but you’ve made me want to try one again. The thing is, the trickster is…tricky to write:) You’ll nail yours. You’re good at playing with offbeat ideas and characters.

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  7. I positively LOVE trickster characters! Loki is my absolute favorite.
    I had a trickster in Myth and Magic. Although he was a secondary character and originally slated in the role of villain he turned things around. I fell in love with him and still hope to give him his own book someday.
    Although I don’t use tricksters often, I do love writing them. In a fantasy trilogy I wrote decades ago (actually 2.5 books), I had a trickster named Tarn. I still love that character.
    Fabulous post, Craig!

    Liked by 2 people

  8. Reblogged this on The Write Stuff and commented:

    If you’ve been following my reblogs of C. S. Boyack’s series on archetypes, you’ll really enjoy his Story Empire post today on Tricksters. What are they and how can writers use them to add surprising elements to their stories? Just head on over and check it out. You’ll be glad you did! Oh, and please don’t forget to share so others can learn more about archetypes, too. Thanks, and thanks to Craig for such an interesting and helpful post. 🙂 ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I’m really enjoying this series, Craig. I’ve never studied archetypes before, and it’s all been fascinating, especially this one. I like the element of unpredictability a trickster could inject into almost any tale, and will be thinking of the various ways and means to make it happen. Thanks for a well thought out post. (I like your images, too, especially the weasel. 😀 ) Sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Pingback: Character Archetypes: The Herald | Story Empire

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