Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, chances are you’ve used the sage archetype, maybe without realizing it. The sage is a beloved literary trope, and for good reason. Sage archetypes take literature to deeper levels of meaning, add layers of profound wisdom, and help guide protagonists on their journey.
But what exactly is a sage archetype, how you should you craft these characters, and what are their top characteristics? In this article, I answer the above questions, and more, so you can create a spell-binding sage archetype.
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The Sage Archetype, Defined
The sage archetype is a literary trope who seeks wisdom and acts as a guide for others. Not to be confused with the mentor figure, a sage is typically more introspective and at times even ethereal in their self-reflection.
Sages look to understand their worlds and their place in them. Due to their natural proclivities to self-reflect, it’s extremely common for sage archetypes to lead others as they lead themselves.
While the sage archetype can come in any age, consider the following example:
You sit down for tea with a grandmother figure. She recounts stories from her life, ways she could have reacted more favorably, and reflects on how her various experiences have shaped her. She wonders aloud if she missed the true meaning in a few of her memories.
You sip your tea, suddenly finding yourself reflecting on your own life and learning from her stories. In this way, sages lead, or mentor, other characters, but it is not their primary purpose.
Sages relentlessly pursue knowledge and are hyper-focused on discovering the answers, whatever they may be.
Do’s and Don’ts When Crafting Them
When you sit down to write your sage, take a few minutes to jot down these do’s and don’ts so you can easily reference them as you write.
Do Create Endearing Characteristics
While the sage archetype may feel mythical, they often possess many characteristics common among heroes and protagonists. Sages are smart, care about the bigger picture, are insightful, and possess a tenacity unparalleled among other characters. While sages are driven, they are driven for good reason and this endears them to readers.
Do Make Them Familiar But Original
Because the sage archetype is a knowledge seeker, it’s crucial to layer in characteristics and actions that make them familiar to readers. Sages can have likes and dislikes, just like any other character. They can possess idiosyncrasies right alongside their drive for knowledge.
As you craft your character, be sure that you give your sage original characteristics as well as familiar ones.
Don’t Forget To Include Flaws
Just like any other character, the sage archetype should have flaws. Their drive for knowledge can cross the line into obsession, and their hyper-focus on understanding their world can come from a place of deep insecurity. Sages can easily appear larger than life, so make sure you add layers of humanity to them by adding the right flaws.
Don’t Be Afraid To Make Sages Villains
The sage archetype does not always stand out as the hero. In fact, some iconic sages are actually villains. While sages make compelling protagonists and heroes, if your story calls for it, don’t be afraid to make your sage a villain. I share more on what can turn sages into villains later on.
A few primary characteristics make up the sage archetype, but remember, every character should uniquely stand on its own. However, there are three key aspects you may want to consider using as you create your sage.
#1 – Thirst For Knowledge
What makes the sage such a foundational archetype is their thirst for knowledge. Stories fall flat when writers don’t spend enough time focusing on world-building, and the same goes for sages.
The sage archetype’s thirst for knowledge allows books to come alive. They add layers of dimension, a bit of philosophy, and greater meaning to the storyline. The sage’s desire for knowledge is the main characteristic of this trope.
#2 – Seeks Truth At All Costs
In addition, their thirst for knowledge pushes them to seek the truth, no matter the cost. This second characteristic can differentiate the heroes from the villains. Some sages go too far and turn into a villain. Other sages tread the line between sacrificing just enough and too much, and emerge as the hero.
#3 – Desires To Make The World A Better Place
Whether your sage archetype is a hero or a villain, sages desire to make the world a better place. The sage’s definition of “better” is how you determine whether your sage will evolve into a hero or villain by the last page.
Regardless of what type of sage you write, the driving force behind their thirst for knowledge and their desire to seek truth is commendable—they truly desire to make the world a better place and believe acquiring knowledge is their best strategy for doing so.
Examples Of The Sage Archetype
Now that you have a solid grasp on what the sage archetype is, some tips on crafting them, and their key characteristics, it’s time to look at a few examples.
The Lord of the Rings
J.R.R. Tolkien’s character, Gandalf, is one of the most obvious among sage archetypes. His quest for the truth repeatedly puts him in danger, but to him, personal danger is nothing compared to the world he wants to help create.
One of Gandalf’s iconic lines as a sage comes in The Fellowship of the Ring when he speaks to Frodo. He empathizes with Frodo’s feelings, but then shares his own knowledge in a lesson that sticks with Frodo throughout the trilogy: “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
While Professor McGonagall is a beloved sage in J.K. Rowling’s series, there’s another up-and-coming sage we should mention—Hermione Granger. Always in the library, daring to enter the Restricted section to find what she’s looking for, and the know-it-all who rubs most characters the wrong way early on, Hermione is arguably a sage who just hasn’t come of age.
However, she also seems to have her priorities straight when she tells Harry there are more important things than cleverness, such as friendship and bravery. But what are your thoughts? Is Hermoine a sage or isn’t she?
We can’t forget Yoda. Famous for his manner of speech and his hard-earned wisdom, Yoda provides the knowledge-base other characters need and when they most need it. His depth of wisdom is profound, easy to digest, and often quoted by Star Wars fans. If you can create a sage archetype that simply stands in Yoda’s shadow, you’ve done well!
Start Creating Your Sage Today
It could be easy to let these iconic examples of the sage archetype keep you from crafting your own. Rather than let imposter syndrome seize the day, use our free resource below as an aid to help you begin creating your sage.
Feel free to reference this post as you go, and consider reading up on sages by working through the various series mentioned above. Enjoy creating this standout archetype. Who knows, you yourself may become a sage as you do so!