Character & POV
3 min read

The everyman character archetype

An illustrated image of an everyman character archetype

This article is part of a series on understanding character archetypes.

In this article we'll cover:

  • The characteristics of the everyman archetype
  • The role of the everyman in storytelling
  • How to develop everyman characters in your writing
  • How to avoid clichés and stereotypes
  • FAQs about the everyman archetype in practice

Characteristics of the everyman archetype

The everyman is defined by their relatability and ordinariness. Unlike the hero or the magician, the everyman lacks exceptional qualities or skills. They lead an ordinary lifestyle and face everyday struggles, serving as a mirror for the audience.

Prominent examples include Arthur Dent from Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, who is abruptly yanked from his regular life into extraordinary circumstances, and Bilbo Baggins from The Lord of the Rings, a hobbit living a comfortable life before embarking on an unexpected journey.

The role of the everyman in storytelling

The everyman often serves as the protagonist but can also be an audience surrogate or a catalyst for change. Through their eyes, the audience experiences the story, their relatable struggles and emotions, bridging the gap between fiction and reality.

The everyman archetype has been a cornerstone of literature and folklore, embodying societal norms and expectations. Their universal appeal lies in the shared human experience they encapsulate.

Developing everyman characters in your writing

To create a believable everyman character, explore their desires, fears, and values. How do they react when thrust into extraordinary circumstances? Consider the personal growth they might experience in these situations.

Take, for example, John Watson in Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. As an everyman, Watson provides a contrasting perspective to the exceptional Holmes, grounding the story in reality.

Avoiding clichés and stereotypes

One pitfall to avoid while crafting an everyman character is making them too passive or uninteresting. They might not possess extraordinary skills but they can still have compelling personalities and unique perspectives.

Evaluate your use of the everyman archetype critically. Ensure that the character serves a purpose in your narrative and aligns with its broader themes.

FAQs about the everyman character archetype

1. How can the everyman archetype be effectively used in non-traditional genres like sci-fi or fantasy?

In sci-fi or fantasy, the everyman can be an ordinary person thrust into extraordinary situations, like a regular individual navigating a futuristic society or a mundane character discovering a magical realm. This approach highlights their relatability while allowing the audience to explore fantastical worlds through their eyes.

2. What are some modern examples of everyman archetypes in contemporary literature and film?

Modern examples include Jim Halpert from "The Office," who represents the relatable, average worker, and Katniss Everdeen from "The Hunger Games," who starts as an ordinary girl and becomes a symbol of rebellion. In literature, Nick Carraway from "The Great Gatsby" serves as an everyman, providing a grounded perspective on the events around him.

3. How do cultural differences influence the portrayal of the everyman archetype?

Cultural differences shape the everyman's values, challenges, and societal norms. In some cultures, the everyman might emphasize communal values and social harmony, while in others, individualism and personal struggle might be highlighted. These differences influence how the everyman interacts with their environment and other characters.

4. What are some ways to avoid making the everyman archetype too predictable or clichéd?

Avoid predictability by giving the everyman unique traits, backgrounds, and personal growth arcs. Show their strengths and weaknesses, and explore their internal conflicts. Diversify their relationships and how they react to extraordinary circumstances to keep them engaging and multi-dimensional.

5. How can the everyman archetype be balanced with other character traits, such as bravery or ingenuity?

Balance their ordinariness with moments of bravery and clever problem-solving. Highlight how their relatable qualities, like determination and resilience, drive their actions. Show their growth as they navigate challenges, making them more dynamic and well-rounded.

6. What are effective techniques for showing the everyman's backstory and motivations?

Reveal their backstory through flashbacks, dialogue, and interactions with other characters. Highlight key experiences that shaped their worldview and motivations. Use their actions and decisions to reflect their desires, fears, and values, adding depth to their character.

7. How can the everyman's relatability be portrayed in a way that adds depth to the narrative?

Show their everyday struggles and emotions, making their reactions and decisions authentic and grounded. Use their perspective to explore universal themes and conflicts. Illustrate how their ordinary qualities influence the story and other characters, creating a richer narrative.

8. What are some common pitfalls to avoid when writing an everyman character?

Avoid making them too passive or uninteresting. Ensure they have personal stakes and growth. Don’t rely solely on their ordinariness; develop their relationships, ethical dilemmas, and internal conflicts to create a well-rounded character.

9. How can an everyman character's interactions with other characters enhance the overall story?

Their interactions can reveal different facets of their personality and drive character development. Conflicts and alliances with others can highlight their relatability and influence the plot. Use relationships to add depth and create dynamic, evolving storylines.

10. What are some innovative ways to portray the everyman archetype in a fresh and unique manner?

Place everymen in unconventional settings, such as a mundane character in a post-apocalyptic world or an ordinary person navigating a digital realm. Combine their relatable traits with unexpected backgrounds or professions. Explore their ordinariness in non-traditional contexts, like virtual reality or alternate histories.

11. How can the everyman archetype be used to explore themes beyond ordinariness, such as personal growth or societal critique?

Use their journey to highlight personal growth as they navigate challenges and extraordinary circumstances. Their perspective can serve as a lens to critique societal issues, such as inequality, corruption, and the impact of technology. Their experiences can prompt reflections on identity, community, and social justice.

12. How do historical interpretations of the everyman archetype influence modern storytelling?

Historical everymen often symbolize resilience and common sense. Modern storytelling can draw from these figures while addressing contemporary issues, making the everyman relevant by exploring modern-day challenges, cultural shifts, and ethical considerations.

13. What are some strategies for depicting the everyman's impact on the story's status quo?

Show how their actions and decisions disrupt existing norms or beliefs, prompting change or conflict. Their perspective can reveal hidden truths, challenge societal structures, or drive plot twists. Use their influence to create dynamic, evolving storylines.

14. How can a writer effectively balance the everyman's role as a relatable figure with their other narrative functions?

Ensure the everyman has personal stakes and growth arcs. Balance their relatable role by involving them in the main plot’s conflicts and resolutions. Show how their ordinariness impacts their personal life and relationships, making their perspective integral to the narrative.

15. What are some examples of everyman characters who defy traditional gender roles?

Examples include Ellen Ripley from "Alien," who combines ordinary qualities with bravery and resilience, and Walter White from "Breaking Bad," who starts as an everyman but transforms into an anti-hero. These characters highlight how relatability transcends traditional gender roles.

16. How can the everyman archetype be portrayed in a way that is relatable to contemporary audiences?

Ground their struggles and emotions in modern issues and relatable experiences. Show their challenges with balancing work, family, and personal life, dealing with contemporary societal pressures, and navigating ethical dilemmas. Use contemporary settings and challenges to make their journey relevant and engaging.

17. What are the ethical dilemmas an everyman character might face, and how can they be depicted?

Everymen might grapple with decisions affecting their integrity, the wellbeing of loved ones, and societal norms. They may face dilemmas involving honesty, loyalty, and personal sacrifice. Depict these dilemmas through their decisions, conflicts, and the impact on those around them.

18. How can secondary characters support or challenge the everyman archetype in a story?

Secondary characters can provide contrast, support, or opposition to the everyman. They might act as mentors, rivals, or confidants, highlighting different perspectives. Use these interactions to drive the plot and deepen the characterization of both the everyman and supporting characters.

19. What are some unique challenges in writing an everyman character in a modern or realistic setting?

Balancing the everyman’s relatable traits with realistic limitations and failures. Ensuring their struggles and decisions are plausible and their impact on the story is believable. Making their role engaging without relying on exaggerated ordinariness.

20. How can a writer ensure that the everyman archetype adds meaningful depth to the narrative rather than just serving as a plot device?

Develop the everyman as a fully realized character with personal stakes, growth, and relationships. Integrate their ordinariness into the main plot and themes, showing how their perspective influences the story’s direction and the development of other characters. Ensure their presence and actions drive the narrative and add layers of complexity.