Have you ever created an unheroic hero?

The protagonist you started with has transformed from the original vision?  Or the protagonist will never achieve the goal your story needs him to achieve?  When this happens, your protagonist has turned into an unheroic hero.

Writing’s hard work, and if anything’s true about the process, it’s that fact that a good story is hard to find and even trickier to get on paper. ~~ Adam Johnson

Heroes of All Archetypes in the TV series The Walking Dead

The unheroic hero may twist and writhe within the parameters we set for our protagonist until his personality transforms.  Or the story may twist and writhe until it takes unintended directions.  Both of these situations can be creatively wonderful but frustratingly challenging.

Meet the first two of four Unheroic Heroes, courtesy of Carl Jung (who first developed the idea of character archetypes).

These archetypes might entice the writer in us to construct a story around them.  Nevertheless, that story will not become what we imagined when first we embarked on our manuscript.

These unheroic hero archetypes can become extremely rich for us writers when they turn to evil.

The Warrior as an Unheroic Hero

If ever an archetype was looking for the name ‘hero’, this one is it.

The Warrior is courageous in the face of insurmountable obstacles and stolidly tough against dragonish opponents.  He rides straight at the problem, attacks it, and usually wins.  Why isn’t he a hero archetype? 

What’s wrong?

Let me at ’em, the Warrior cries . . . Gimli in The Lord of the Rings


The Warrior doesn’t think;  he just drives in.

Protagonists must think about these three:

  • the dangers to themselves and others.
  • the consequences of their actions.
  • the vacuum that will be left when the leader dies.

The Warrior is too simple :: Problem?  I’ll knock it down.

Honor and Discipline.  Compassion and Mercy.  Morality and Ethics.  These are the nobler ideals of the protagonist, and the Warrior lacks them.  Thus, he is an unheroic hero, for internal conflict is necessary.  Without internal conflict, our readers will not cheer when the hero overcomes obstacles.

The Warrior makes an excellent Ally for Leader Heroes, as we discussed in the previous two blogs:  “Oh Men!” parts 1 and 2.

The positive Warrior becomes the Tool when he acts as little more than an automaton.  As writers, we can point the Tool at anything, wind him up, and let him go, a wind-up soldier who never questions.

His actions are a series of achievements, notches on his swordbelt.  He doesn’t care how he wins, just that he wins.  When he reports in to his leader, he doesn’t expect praise;  he wants the next assignment.

Warrior William Wallace and Beta Ruler Robert the Bruce

The Warrior in Film

A story with a Warrior will have little angst.

William Wallace in Braveheart sacrifices himself in pursuit of his goal.  He has no middle ground, not for himself and not for anyone around him.  Those who seek the middle ground are beneath him.

The angst resides with the Beta character of Robert the Bruce.  It is his decision to attack the English army at the end of the film that makes us shout “Yes!”  Without the Warrior Wallace, the Bruce would never have decided to attack.  The Warrior Wallace’s sacrifice drives the Bruce to refuse continued capitulation.

Gimli in The Lord of the Rings is another example of a classic Warrior archetype.  Gimli is always focused on defeating the enemy.  He doesn’t consider any repercussions;  he just heads for the battle.

When the great battle at Minas Tirith ends, Gimli prods Aragorn not to release the Dead Men of Dunharrow from their curse.  He sees only that they can be kept in thrall to defeat more and more enemies.  Aragorn proves his mettle as a heroic leader by freeing them.  He knows that “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” (the first Baron Acton).

The Creator as an Unheroic Hero

If a Destroyer/Rebel is a hero leader, why is the Creator Archetype considered an unheroic hero?

After all, we need imagination and innovation.  We need vision and idealism.  This defines the Creator.  Why is he unheroic?

The Creator often lacks the self-discipline needed to stay with one task and not be distracted by shiny new ideas.

The Creator flies from any thought of being static—just as the Destroyer does.  Yet we need a protagonist who knows when to change and when to hold fast, a dichotomy that causes the necessary angst that a protagonist requires.

The negative form of the Creator is the Dreamer who never takes action.

Imagination is necessary, but too many flights of fancy can overwhelm plans.  The Creator can juggle multiple projects, but anything that loses its sparkly newness will be dropped by the Dreamer.  And both forms of this unheroic hero will not be concerned with ethics and other people in their pursuit of the new.

What ethical considerations drive the need to create new life? None. I dreamed it; I will do it. ~~ This is the problem when the unheroic hero Gene Wilder portrays Frankenstein.

The Creator-Dreamer loves the new and blingy, yet the daily grind will have this character archetype looking for a new road—and nothing is more challenging than a relationship.  (What a Beast!)

The Creator in Film

A story with a Creator-Dreamer may never have an end.

John Hammond in Jurassic Park is the classic Creator.  He had the wealth to pursue his dream.  He had the wealth to direct people to turn his dream into reality.  Yet notice that he does not know what to do when his dream falls apart.

Frankenstein in any film iteration, including the wonderful Gene Wilder’s comic take, is also a Creator, driven by new ideas to improve the world.  Yet he has to keep improving it—and improving it >> until they can dance a duet of Putting on the Ritz.

Only a dreamer Creator would not anticipate any problems with his monster creation.  Is that fire?!

Coming Up

The next two Unheroic Heroes are the Magician and the Sage.  See us on March 10 for a new perspective on these two Character Archetypes.

Also in March, we take a look at “Bright Lights and Hot Messes”, women as leaders.  Your female protagonists will use different methods to control your story.

Until then, enjoy the writing!

~~ M. A. Lee

Oh, those Men! . . . part 2

Hero Archetypes :: Leaders who don’t want Leadership

 “You must look into people as well as at them.” ~~ Lord Chesterfield

Hero Archetypes are natural leaders.  And leaders want to lead, right?

Not always.  Hero Archetypes come in many forms.

Alphas are natural leaders in the Hero Archetype sphere.  So are Betas, natural fulfillers of the Alpha’s goal who need no guidance.

Beta leaders will let a true Alpha lead the group while he (she) steps back and runs side missions.  However, faced with a bad leader, the Beta will mutiny.

Alpha Dog leaders get drunk on the power of leadership:  that doesn’t make them leaders.

Two other types of natural leaders will not seek the leadership position in a team.  These are the Gammas and the Deltas.

A true Raider of the Lost Ark
Often called an Explorer, Indiana Jones is actually a Gamma-Destroyer.

the Gamma Hero Archetype: the Leader who Refuses to Lead

The Gamma hero archetype has strong leadership potential but refuses to step into the position, even when a vacancy occurs.

His refusal of leadership does not prevent him from undermining any leader.  A natural rebel, he relishes causing a bad leader to fail. 

Unless something else drives his loyalty, the Gamma will walk away from a Ruler or Alpha Dog.  And he will not look back.

℘ Jung’s Destroyer Archetype is the best match to the Gamma.  Without a Destroyer hero archetype, society will fall into complacency and stagnation.

Gamma-Destroyers force any leader to remain forward-thinking since they represent a force for change.  After all, as Heraclitus tells us, the only constant is change.  

This hero archetype will help us accept that change and propel it into occurring.

 Types of Gammas/Destroyers

The classic leader who refuses to lead: Daryl in The Walking Dead

The Gamma-Destroyer~~

  • Works outside the group as a tangential lone-leader.
  • Analyzes and questions the direction of the team as well as the leader’s plans.
  • Forces leaders to remain forward thinking

The Gamma-Nihilist~~

  • Is the negative form of the Destroyer Hero Archetype.
  • Pursues the necessary change without considering consequences to the team.
  • May pursue change merely to cause change, not to bring out improvement.
  • Works in such isolation that he can be self-destructive.

In the Walking Dead tv series, Daryl is the Gamma.  He can lead, but he won’t.  When he was a little boy, he may have had any leadership tendencies beaten out of him by his violent older brother Murl.  

In the first season, he remains loyal to Murl, but the audience can see him inwardly questioning his brother’s plans.  Only blood loyalty restrains him.

For the Gamma-Destroyer, only belief in the Alpha and strong ties like blood or love will keep him within any social structure.

Indiana Jones is often classified as the Seeker Archetype because he’s an explorer—but is he?  Or is he a Destroyer?

the Delta Hero Archetype~~the Leader who Unifies the Community

Ruled by compassion for all, the Delta hero archetype is a necessary member of any social structure.  Looking through other people’s eyes is necessary when planning the future of any society.

However, the Delta can be stymied by that very compassion.  Compassion may create an inability to take the necessary merciless steps to root out weeds.  Weeds take nourishment from the beneficial plants.  Eventually, society’s weeds will choke out the beneficial.

These Delta Heroes with great plans can get nothing done when their Seconds-in-Command are Gamma-Destroyers who have no loyalty to them. 

Society will often replace the Delta with a dogmatic Alpha Dog / Ruler.  They want someone who can accomplish goals.  Then society will protest the lack of compassion displayed by the elected Tyrant Alpha.

The Delta Hero Archetype must constantly ask if s/he is allowing evil to flourish because of kindness and compassion. 

Shyamalan's The Village
In The Village, Elder Walker desires Alice Hunt but will not reach for her because he is honor-bound to his wife.

This is the very question that needed to be asked by Elder Walker in The Village, a film by M. Night Shyamalan.  Elder Walker was played by William Hurt in an understated performance that showed his compassion and his difficulty with being in the leadership role.

As Delta Hero, Elder Walker’s angst is clear.  He struggles with personal desires that are in conflict with his honor and his position.

Types of Deltas

The positive form of the Delta~

  • Has great plans that will benefit many in society.
  • Will resist personal desires and needs to fulfill his leadership role.
  • Must find a way to temper idealistic compassion with ruthless practicality.

The negative form of the Delta~

  • Is often characterized as a Wuss.
  • May fall prey to a martyr complex.
  • Can become so caught up in plans that s/he ignores the steps necessary to fulfill those plans.

 The Jungian equivalent of this hero archetype is the Caregiver, which many have re-named Protector/Defender.

As humanity struggles, Dale in the Walking Dead constantly works to keep the survivors humane.

This is Oskar Schindler, motivated by generosity and unselfishness.  Community is the caregiving Delta’s primary thought.  This is often to his detriment.  He will sacrifice himself to the group.

Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird is another example of the caregiving Defender.

In The Walking Dead, RV-owning Dale represents the Delta leader.  He truly wanted to protect the group.  At one point he argued for someone’s life.  The proof was evident that that someone would be detrimental to the group’s survival, yet still Dale argued.

Team Roles

A quick look at these four heroic leaders can be seen through the system of Team Roles.

Team Role Quick Definition Positive Form Negative Form Jung’s Hero Archetype
Leader Goal-Setter Alpha Alpha Dog Ruler
Follower Fulfiller Beta Mutineer Seeker
Advocate Questioner Gamma Nihilist Destroyer
Unifier Conflict-Resolver Delta Wuss Protector


Jung has other archetypes that we would want to consider as heroic—yet they aren’t.

Warrior.  Creator.  Magician.  Sage.

And check out this blogger who has over 50 character archetypes to include in your story: http://jillwilliamson.com/teenage-authors/jills-list-of-character-archetypes/

However, as a purist, I’ll stick to Jung’s list.


His Unheroic Heroes will be our next look at Character Archetypes.

And Coming Up is a two-part focus on Strong Women and their archetypal journey.

~~M. A. Lee