TricksterA guest post by Elizabeth Kobayashi

We come to end of our exploration of the basic archetypes! The final two archetypes, Shapeshifter and Trickster, are catalysts for change that may occur at any point in the story. They serve similar functions, luring, deceiving, confusing, dazzling, or challenging the hero, but they have a few key differences.


A shapeshifter is a dangerous character the hero does not understand. Shapeshifters may shift between the other archetypes, being at times an ally and other times a shadow or a mentor. They may be helpful or dangerous, but the hero must determine which. They are sometimes love interests, challenging the hero to a new perspective or a deeper understanding of the opposite sex, or they may be femmes or hommes fatales. At every turn, their loyalty is called into question as their behavior is incongruous with expectations, such as with Snape and his continual antagonism of Harry despite Dumbledore’s implicit trust. Loki is a shapeshifter in Thor: The Dark World as he aligns with Thor but no one is sure how far the allegiance goes. Another example is Captain Jack Sparrow, summed up in Will Turner’s answer to Elizabeth’s question “Who’s side is Jack on?” He shrugs and replies, “At the moment?”


The trickster is different from the shapeshifter in that they often fill a comic role and they are more agents of chaos than shapeshifters. Loki is a prime example, being, after all, the trickster god. He is a trickster shadow in Thor and Avengers, behaving in a deceptive, chaotic, comic way as he pursues his own goals. Fred and George Weasley are literal tricksters, constantly playing pranks and later doing so professionally. Tricksters may also be fools, in the Shakespearean sense, keeping the hero’s ego in check and providing a disguised wisdom and commentary on the hero’s circumstances and decisions. Shakespeare has a whole slew of them, including the Fool in King Lear and Feste in Twelfth Night. A modern example of a Shakespearean fool is Wit from Way of Kings.

The shapeshifter and trickster archetypes add comedy and complexity to a story, especially when combined with other archetypes. Understanding the archetypes lends writers a deeper understanding of a story. They provide a broad framework for developing characters and fitting them into plots. As with all rules, they cannot be broken until they are fully understood. And even then, archetypes are never really broken, just combined and layered and played out in nuanced ways.

Now that you’ve explored the various archetypes, which ones do you see in your story?

Elizabeth Kobayashi divides her free time between martial arts and her time travel novel about a 24th century clockmaker and a Victorian London barmaid. With a degree in film production and a growing appreciation for music and video games, she hopes to integrate the novel with a larger transmedia production. She has a weak spot for pizza, really good books, and binge-watching TV. (Her latest reading adventure: Ender’s Game and sequels. Latest TV endeavor: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.) You might find her tweeting from time to time (