Wondering exactly what is the Outlaw Archetype in storytelling?
There are so many different character archetypes that you can use in a story – but, the Outlaw is one of my favorites! The outlaw character is someone who is independent, charasmatic and resourceful, and who wants to bring about change in their world – their own way.
In fact, when I was writing my novel, Iron Dogs, I created a narrative around this very type of character. The outlaw archetype suits each one of the protagonists (and many of the antagonists) in my story. They are a band of hardened criminals who would likely be villains in many other stories. Yet, for my purposes, the outlaw archetype fits perfectly into the type of anti-heroes I wanted to portray. And my readers love them all the more for it.
When done right, you can elevate this type of character from a simple archetype to an outlaw brand. Think of Robin Hood, William Wallace, or Sarah Connor. Whether real, imagined, criminal, rebel, maverick, or revolutionary, this character has the ability to transcend a simple story and become a legend.
To help you write your own outlaw, this article will go over the characteristics of outlaw archetypes, their strengths and weaknesses, and what their motivations are in a story. We’ll end with discussing lots of great examples of outlaw characters from famous movies and books.
Let’s get started!
What Is The Outlaw Archetype?
The Outlaw, or Rebel, knows life isn’t fair. They don’t settle, especially when they think they – or others around them – deserve more. They tend to be loners, and they actually hate to be put in positions of leadership.
Interestingly, though, the people around them often admire them, either for their actions or their fresh perspectives. Outlaw archetypes are not afraid to shake up the system, and this endears them to the common people.
The strengths of a classic outlaw are their willpower and the fact that they never give up. Born freedom fighters, they know how to get a lot out of a little.
On the flip side, they’re often low on the totem pole of life, with little power and no clear way forward. Nothing is given to them… they have to earn what they get the hard way. At times, they resort to criminal means to do it.
Outlaws are motivated to destroy what isn’t working in their world, whether out of revenge or revolution. They are agents of change – either for themselves or the world around them, or even both.
“Rules are meant to be broken!”
Outlaw Archetype Characteristics
The top characteristics of an Outlaw are:
Rebellious: Outlaws often challenge authority and societal norms. They prefer to live by their own rules.
Independent: They value liberty and autonomy. They rarely rely on others to define their path.
Resourceful: Outlaws are known for their ability to make the most out of limited resources and difficult situations.
Charismatic: Many outlaw characters have a magnetic personality that attracts others to their way of thinking.
Moral Code: Despite their rebellious nature, they often follow a strong personal code of ethics.
Brave: They have the courage to stand up against injustices, often at significant risk to themselves.
Skilled: Outlaws typically have a particular set of skills that help them out.
Disillusioned: Many are disillusioned with society or the systems of power.
Empathetic: They usually fight for a cause bigger than themselves. They tend to help those who are oppressed or marginalized.
Complex: Outlaw characters usually have complex personalities and backstories.
Strengths of the Outlaw Archetype
The Outlaw has some strengths that make them stand out:
Willpower: Outlaws have a lot of grit. They don’t give up, even when things get tough. They keep going after what they want, no matter how many times they might fall down or get pushed back. This kind of never-quit attitude helps them beat the odds.
Inspiring to Others: People can’t help but notice Outlaws. When they see how these rebels keep fighting for what they believe in, they start to think maybe they can do the same. Outlaws show that standing up for yourself and what’s right can make a big difference. This can encourage people to be braver in their own lives.
Freedom: Outlaws love being free. They don’t like being told what to do or how to live. This love of liberty helps them think outside the box and come up with creative solutions. They’re not afraid to be themselves or to take a different path from everyone else.
Outlaws show us the power of sticking to your guns, inspiring others to do the same, and living life on your own terms.
Weaknesses of the Outlaw Archetype
Outlaws have these weaknesses:
Powerless: Sometimes, Outlaws don’t have much power or say in what’s going on in their world. They’re often the characters at the bottom of society, looking up. Outlaws tend not to be taken seriously by the people in charge.
They Get Things The Hard Way: For Outlaws, nothing comes easy. They have to work hard for everything they get. While some people might get good things handed to them, Outlaws have to fight for it every step of the way. This can make their journey tougher and longer than it might be for others.
Can Be Criminal: Because Outlaws don’t always follow the rules, they often do things that are against the law. This doesn’t mean they’re bad people, but it can get them into trouble. Breaking the law might seem like the only way to get what they want or need.
Motivation of the Outlaw Archetype
Outlaws are driven by a strong desire to see change in their world.
The biggest thing that pushes Outlaws is their need to change something they see as wrong or unfair. They might notice that the rules don’t work the same for everyone, and they want to fix that. They’re not afraid to shake things up to bring about social change.
They often feel like the system is broken in some way. Maybe it’s not fair to certain people, or it’s just not morally right. Outlaws have a deep moral compass, and they want to tear down what’s not working and build something better in its place.
Outlaws believe in making a difference, whether it’s just in their own life or for a group of people. They’re all about action and making things happen, even if it means going against the status quo of their world.
Outlaws are motivated by the dream of a better world or a fairer situation. They’re the movers and shakers who are willing to push for the big changes they believe in.
Examples of the Outlaw Archetype
Now, let’s take a look at some examples of famous Outlaw archetypes.
1. Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games
Katniss is a great example of the outlaw archetype:
She fights against an unfair government.
She volunteers for the Hunger Games to save her sister, which breaks the usual process of finding a tribute.
She becomes a symbol of hope and rebellion to the common people of her district.
In the arena, she outsmarts the game makers and refuses to play by their rules.
Katniss shows courage and breaks the rules for the good of others, making her a hero to many in her world.
2. Robin Hood
Robin Hood is the perfect example of the outlaw archetype for several reasons:
Robin takes from the rich, who have too much, and gives to the poor, who have too little.
He constantly outsmarts the Sheriff of Nottingham, who represents an unfair and oppressive regime.
Robin stands up for justice, even when it means breaking the law.
He leads a group of loyal followers, all of whom are also considered outlaws.
Robin Hood uses his skills in archery and strategy to fight for what’s right.
He’s known for living in the forest, away from society’s rules.
As possibly the most iconic Outlaw on this list, Robin Hood’s story teaches us that, sometimes, to fix what’s wrong in the world, you have to step outside the rules. He fights for fairness and helps those in need.
Spartacus is a classic real-life example of the outlaw archetype:
Originally a Greek slave, he was owned by powerful people and trained as a gladiator to fight for their amusement.
Spartacus led a massive slave rebellion against the Roman Republic, challenging the most powerful empire of its time.
He didn’t just fight for his own freedom – he fought for the freedom of all slaves.
Spartacus outsmarted Roman armies many times, even though he and his followers were often outnumbered.
Even in defeat, he became a symbol of resistance and hope for oppressed people everywhere.
Spartacus shows that standing up against injustice can make a big difference, even when the odds are stacked against you. His courage inspired many and left a legacy that continues to this day.
4. Snake Plissken in Escape from New York
An anti-hero through and through:
Snake is a former soldier who became a criminal, living outside society’s norms.
He’s sent on a dangerous mission inside a maximum-security prison, which is the entire island of Manhattan.
Snake doesn’t follow orders because he agrees with them – he does it to save his own life.
He’s known for being tough, resourceful, and able to survive in the most dangerous places.
Snake challenges authority and doesn’t trust anyone, not even the people who hired him for the mission.
Snake Plissken shows that being an outlaw can mean using your skills to survive and not just following the rules because someone says so. He’s a rebel with a cause, fighting in his own unique way.
5. Ferris Bueller in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
A good example of a non-violent outlaw:
Ferris skips school – he doesn’t follow the usual rules.
He’s clever and comes up with elaborate plans to avoid getting caught.
Ferris takes his friends on an adventure, showing them how to break free from their routines.
He’s always one step ahead of the school principal trying to catch him.
A true rebel, Ferris isn’t afraid to take risks, whether it’s singing in a parade or “borrowing” a fancy car.
Ferris Bueller shows that being an outlaw isn’t always about breaking big laws. Sometimes, it’s about challenging everyday norms and making life more exciting. He teaches us to take a break and enjoy life, even if it means bending the rules a bit.
6. Han Solo in Star Wars
The epitome of a maverick personality:
Han is a smuggler – he moves goods secretly to avoid the law.
He owns the Millennium Falcon, a ship known for its speed and illegal runs.
Han only cares about money and himself, not about fighting the Empire. Unlike others on this list, he’s in it for personal gain – at least at first.
He’s known for being charming but also for not always playing by the rules.
Han changes over time, helping the rebels fight the Empire because it’s the right thing to do.
Han Solo shows that even outlaws can become heroes. He starts off only looking out for himself but ends up being a big part of the fight to free the galaxy from tyranny.
7. Phoebe Buffay in Friends
A comic and kind-hearted take on the outlaw brand:
Phoebe lives by her own rules, different from everyone else.
She had a tough life on the streets, which taught her to be independent.
Phoebe often does things that surprise her friends, like singing quirky songs in the coffee house or taking center stage when no one else has the guts.
She’s not afraid to speak her mind, even if it’s about something weird.
Phoebe does kind things in her own way, like when she gave birth to her brother’s triplets.
Phoebe shows that being an outlaw can also mean being unique and true to yourself. She doesn’t follow the crowd, and that’s what makes her special in her group of friends. She teaches us that it’s okay to be different and to see the world in your own way.
8. Maximus Decimus Meridius in Gladiator
A rare example of a leader who became an outlaw:
Maximus was a respected Roman general, but he became an outlaw after refusing to serve the corrupt Emperor Commodus.
He becomes a slave and is forced to become a gladiator who fights for survival in the arena.
Maximus seeks justice for the murder of his family and the betrayal he faced.
He hides his true identity while inspiring other gladiators and gaining their loyalty.
Maximus challenges the emperor’s rule, fighting for Rome’s freedom and honor.
Maximus shows that being an outlaw isn’t just about breaking laws. It’s about standing up for what’s right, even when it means standing alone.
9. Tyler Durden in Fight Club
A revolutionary with a twist:
Tyler creates Fight Club, a place where men fight each other to feel alive and break free from society’s rules.
He believes in living life on his own terms, without caring about material things or what society expects.
Tyler starts Project Mayhem, which carries out acts against corporate America and consumer culture.
He challenges the main character (and the audience) to question their lives and what they value.
Tyler’s actions and beliefs lead to a major twist in the story, showing how deep his influence goes.
Tyler Durden embodies the outlaw archetype by completely rejecting the status quo and creating his own set of rules.
Other notable examples of Outlaw Archetypes include Flynn Ryder in Tangled, Elle Woods in Legally Blonde, Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean (also a Jester character), and Sarah Connor in the Terminator series.
So, that’s the Outlaw persona. Someone who has radical ideas and fights to affect change in their world and doesn’t mind if it takes breaking rules (or even laws) to make that change.
Have fun writing your own Outlaw, and please let me know in the comments below if there are any other aspects of the outlaw archetype that I can help you with!
Remember, there are many other archetypes in storytelling as well – the hero archetype, the sage, the lover, the villain… the list goes on and on! Click here to learn more about these other archetypes:
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What is the outlaw archetype in storytelling?
The outlaw archetype is a character who defies societal norms and conventions. They’re rule-breakers, rebels, and sometimes even literal outlaws, but they often have new outlooks and a strong sense of justice.
Is the outlaw archetype always a protagonist?
Not necessarily! While many outlaws are protagonists, they can also be antagonists, secondary, or minor characters. It all depends on their role in the story.
How does the outlaw archetype contribute to a story?
The outlaw brings conflict, tension, and unpredictability to a story. They often challenge other characters’ beliefs and actions, leading to interesting dynamics and plot developments.
Can a character be both an outlaw and another archetype?
Absolutely! Archetypes aren’t mutually exclusive, and the best characters are those who are multi-layered. A character can be an outlaw and a hero, a lover, or even a fool. It’s all about how these traits interact and influence the character’s actions.
Are there any tips for writing a compelling outlaw character?
Give your outlaw a cause or belief they’re fighting for. This can humanize them and make their rebellious actions more understandable. Also, consider giving them a unique skill or trait that helps them in their rebellion.