Without a doubt, Victoria Schmidt's revised edition of "45 Master Characters" is the best character reference guide I own. Not only does the book go into depth about the different archetypes like it promises, the book also gives you access to an additional 46th character you can download off of the Writer's Digest website, and it also has a chapter on creating plots. The book is divided as follows:
Part I: Getting Started
Part II: Creating Female Heroes and Villains
Part III: Creating Male Heroes and Villains
Part IV: Creating Supporting Characters
Part V: Creating Feminine and Masculine Journeys
There is also an index and appendix at the back of the book, the latter being quite useful if the reader/writer decides to follow Schmidt's advice on plot arcs.
The first part, Getting Started, is a short part, but also quite useful. Besides the author providing a clear distinction between archetypes and stereotypes, Schmidt also has a handy little character questionnaire. Normally, I'm not too keen when I have to answer questions like, "what is your character's favourite colour and why?" but the questions in the questionnaire are designed to help the aspiring writer see archetypal patterns in the character, which will help him/her define what their characters' dominant archetype is. She also has a list of motivating factors.
The next two parts of the book are real gems. They are PACKED with information on potential backstories for each archetype, character flaws, fears, motivations, how other characters might perceive this character (both positive and negative views), and more. I also love how the author made a "good side" of the archetype and an antagonistical side. For example, with the goddess Demeter, her good side is The Nurturer but her villainous side is the Over-Controlling Mother. On the topic of Demeter and other gods and goddesses, I especially love how the author decided to base the archetypes on mythic models. This makes it extremely easy to visualise what the characters may be like, and also makes remembering the various archetypes easier than they would be without a mythic base. At the end of each chapter, Schmidt provides a list of literary, historical, TV and movie examples for the archetype just described. I find it especially interesting how even though there are so many characters based on the same archetype, there are still many different characters that can spring from that foundation. For example, I never would've guessed that both Captain Kirk (Star Trek) and Jerry Springer (Seinfeld) were both based on Zeus' archetype. These two sections of the book are super helpful when it comes to laying down the basic foundations of one's character(s).
Part IV, Creating Supporting Characters, is just as helpful as Part II and III. The author not only goes on to explain the main archetypes for friends and rivals, but also talks about symbolism. Personally, I'm not the type of writer who actively seeks out placing symbolic characters throughout my manuscript, but I will find this section useful when asked to do a novel study for a class or when asked to write a short piece of literary prose.
The last part of the book is badly mislabelled, being called The Feminine and Masculine Journeys. When I first got to this part, I was very confused, wondering if there was a difference in the journeys male and female protagonists must go on. There might be a slight difference, but when the author started going deeper into her explanation, I realised she was talking about something else. This part could also be renamed to Plot Driven vs Character Driven Stories, Literary vs Commercial Fiction, and several other names. The fact that she labelled these fiction styles as Feminine and Masculine Journeys might not bother some people, but even if it does, don't let that stop you from thinking this is a good book. However, in terms of content for this particular part, I found nothing that especially stood out to me. Every piece of information I was reading I could easily find in another book on plot, such as James Scott Bell's "Plot and Structure" and Larry Brook's "Story Engineering." The advice on structure was very formulaic, but at the same time, I agree with pretty much everything she noted. Nonetheless, I would still find the last section of the book a lot more helpful if I were writing a movie script.
So if the book is this amazing, you might be wondering why I only gave it four stars. The answer is the feminism. To be honest, I found that the character archetypes being separated into male and female categories unnecessary and annoying. While flipping through the pages in the book store, I felt it was okay that Aphrodite and Artemis acted the way they did, but when I got to Athena, I was also annoyed. Being the only female archetype who is a business women, part of her motivating factors involved "wanting to fit in with the boy's club." Um...what? Knowing a couple female professionals in private industry, I can definitely say that they did not become business women because they wanted to "prove they [were] equal to men," but because they love what they do. The feminism and sexism doesn't stop at these three goddesses. (There is a useful review here explaining the feminism and sexism towards both genders in the book: http://www.amazon.com/review/R3GE5QBE2HR7JX/ref=cm_cr_pr_viewpnt#R3GE5QBE2HR7JX) As a result, whenever I refer to this book, I'll most likely be looking at the male section for the bulk of my characters, regardless of gender. Obviously, these archetypes will also just be a basic foundation.
Overall, I definitely got my $17.06 money's worth from this book. I read it from cover to cover in about a day and discovered a WEALTH of information. It's sitting on my desk along with my other character references (Writer's Guide to Character Traits and Nancy Kress' Dynamic Characters), but this will be the one I'll refer back to most often.
The verdict? Buy this book. It will sharpen your characters into three-dimensional ones and do wonders for your plot. Just be warned about the stuff I mentioned.