The Innocent Archetype – Everything You Need to Know
This is the eighth article in our fifteen-part masterclass on archetypes. Learn more about archetypes in our first article.
If you want to learn about the Innocent archetype, look no further than your golden retriever. Anything is possible, everyone is ultimately good, and we all deserve to lead joyful, love-filled lives. That is the philosophy of puppers and Innocents alike.
It’s what makes this archetype so much fun to write, read, and watch. This is a character that taps into our longing for wholesomeness, a kinder world, and… well… innocence. However, that’s not to say that the Innocent is always lovable. Despite their simplistic worldview, this character has a tendency to inadvertently create chaos. And as readers (and writers), our hearts break over the hurt they feel when life comes at them hard and harsh.
There are endless ways to develop the Innocent archetype into an unforgettable character. All it takes is a deeper understanding of the traits, perspectives, and choices that define the archetype. You’re about to learn:
- What the Innocent archetype actually is
- How an Innocent character contributes to your story
- The traits that define this archetype
- Innocent archetype examples you’ve seen before
Let's get to it.
What is the Innocent Archetype?
An archetype is a character template designed with universally familiar personality traits, experiences, desires, and fears. You can read our overview of fourteen common character archetypes right here.
The Innocent archetype is also known as:
- The Child
- The Youth
- The Dreamer
- The Utopian
- The Saint
- The Traditionalist
You’re probably already developing a picture of who this character is. The Innocent’s strongest characteristics are things we associate with children. They’re earnest, naïve, optimistic joy-chasers.
We most often see the Innocent archetype as a side character. However, the occasional Innocent protagonist can be a delightful and refreshing change-up. Buddy the Elf is a classic example.
What are Typical Innocent Archetype Characteristics?
No matter what life or voice you give them, they will likely embody a few of these common Innocent archetype characteristics.
Joy and harmony: The Innocent’s number one goal is happiness. That’s what they want for themselves and for everybody else, villains often included.
Simplicity: The Child resists paradoxes. In their mind, there’s a clear line between right and wrong and every problem has an easy solution.
Morality: An Innocent character abides by a moral code. It may not be the same moral code you or I follow, but the Innocent Child archetype always wants to do the right thing and expects the same from others. And they do not handle it well when they witness moral failings in another character, especially those they love.
Optimism: This is where the Innocent is at peak lovability. They’re quick to see the good in others, the good in themselves, and the endless possibilities before them.
Loyalty: The Innocent archetype is true blue. They follow through on promises, commit deeply to relationships, and choose to see the absolute best in those they love.
Honesty and sincerity: An Innocent cannot even fathom deception. But unlike the Jester—the other compulsively honest archetype—the Child may not be an accurate source of truth. Blame the rose-colored glasses.
Inspiration: Sometimes our other characters need the positivity and optimism the Innocent delivers. (And really, don’t we all?)
They’re naïve: Other characters are often burdened with the responsibility of being the grown-up and protecting the Innocent.
They’re easily disappointed: The Innocent archetype believes so strongly in human goodness and happy endings that they’re crushed when confronted with harsh reality.
They take foolish risks: When an Innocent considers diving off a cliff into a river, they’re only thinking about the wind in their hair, not the rocks beneath the water.
They resist change: Everything in their world is wonderful. The people are perfect and the weather is beautiful. Anything that might challenge or change this picture is unwelcome.
They’re masters of denial: This character does not care to see the complexity of the obstacle or the flaws in their friend. As a result, they have an obnoxious tendency to downplay the struggles of others. They can also be endlessly loyal to someone who doesn’t have their best interests at heart.
Rocking the boat: We’re all about harmony, remember?
Punishment: The Innocent does not like getting into trouble.
Rejection: Relationships are everything to this archetype. The thought of being abandoned is absolutely terrifying.
Disappointing others: The Innocent wants to experience joy and spread joy. It breaks their heart to think they’ve failed.
What Do Innocent Archetypes Do?
Now that we know who the Innocent archetype is, let’s take a look at the role they might play in your story.
Rally the Hero
No one pep-talks like an Innocent, because an Innocent truly believes every positive word they say. This character sees the power and potential in your protagonist more clearly than anyone else. And because most Innocents consider delivering joy to be their sole purpose in life, they share their speeches with unparalleled passion.
The Innocent’s wholesome habits can be contagious. This character often inspires those around them to be kinder and more positive. They also have a gift for convincing apathetic characters to join the hero’s cause.
Unwittingly Create Obstacles
No thanks to their optimistic recklessness, the Innocent archetype is great at making difficult situations worse.
Provide Comic Relief
Unlike Jesters, Innocents usually have no intention of being funny. It’s just an accident borne of their childlike wonder or adorable ignorance.In fact, if you’ve been following our character archetype series, you may have noticed a lot of parallels between the Jester and the Innocent. This is the fun of studying archetypes. Many characters are different sides of the same coin. When you recognize it, you can play with it.What does it look like when a protagonist’s two best friends are a Jester and a Child? What does it look like when a Jester and an Innocent fall in love? (Actually, we know that one. It looks like April Ludgate and Andy Dwyer.)
Examples of the Innocent Archetype in Popular Culture
Are you starting to recognize the Innocent archetype in your favorite books and movies? If not, here are a few examples to get the wheels turning.
Buddy the Elf, Elf
Smiling’s his favorite. Liars send him into a rage. He follows his bliss and leaves behind a path of destruction and maple syrup. And in the end, he inspires the people who care the least about Christmas to save Christmas.
Jason Mendoza, The Good Place
His faith in himself is unshakable. He gives the best pep talks (“You got a dope soul and hella ethics.”). He expects success and is shocked when terrible ideas fail. Sure, he’s technically a criminal. But he doesn’t exactly have the think-it-through skills to see his crimes as harmful to others.
Diana Barry, Anne of Green Gables
No matter how weird everybody else thinks Anne is, Diana only sees a bright-hearted visionary. But as loyal as she is to her bosom buddy, Diana is easily overwhelmed by Anne’s boat-rocking, norm-challenging choices. This Innocent’s only goal is to live a quiet, happy, controversy-free life.
Grogu, The Mandalorian
You didn’t think we were going to talk about the Child archetype without talking about The Child, did you?
This literally wide-eyed Innocent is loyal to his father figure, Din Djarin. He’s also stubborn in his pursuit of joy, unwilling to confront the tough realities that threaten his happiness. (I am speaking, of course, about the ethics of consuming endangered frog eggs.)
Develop an Unforgettable Innocent with Dabble
Maybe your Innocent is a side character designed to inject a little joy into your story. Or maybe you choose to write a childlike protagonist whose character arc forces them to confront the darkness.As the Innocent would say, the possibilities are endless, fun, and thrilling.
The inciting incident is the make-or-break moment for your story. It’s the catalyst for change. It’s the thing that sets your entire tale in motion. It’s the kick in the pants your protagonist needs to force a change in their lives they probably never saw coming. Novel openings are one of the hardest things to nail and you can’t do that without a compelling, disruptive, and logical inciting incident. But how do you create an inciting incident that will carry your whole story?
Do you have a story in you? Of course you do! Come write with us for the Dabble Writing Challenge.
Essentially, a beta reader is an (hopefully) objective third party who will read your novel or story and provide (hopefully) constructive feedback. A beta reader is not an editor, and often they’re not writers either, though there’s a good chance a lot of your beta readers are going to be authors as well.