Updated: Mar 13, 2020
Despite the blog title above, we’re actually going to cover seven kinds of characters your novel could contain. It’s just that only six of them are necessities.
The other kind can work well depending on the story, but it can also work horribly.
You’ll see a hint of why in our last segment below.
As we begin this topic, it’s important to reestablish what we acknowledged a few weeks ago: how plot isn’t the most important part of a story.
Plots are significant, of course. But…
They don’t exist without at least one character, if not a whole cast of them.
They’re pretty pointless without at least one engaging character, if not a whole cast of them.
With that established, let’s talk about what they are and how they can play out.
This next line probably doesn’t need to be said, but better safe than sorry… Characters are the personalities that pursue a plot.
I have to say “personalities” because they’re not necessarily human figures. Characters can be animals, aliens, mythological critters or even otherwise inanimate objects. For instance:
A stormy ocean with waves that leer over a drowning sailor can be a character.
A vampire can be a character.
A pet bunny can be a character.
It all depends on whether they show a personality or not.
Here’s some other character characteristics to consider…
The wide and wonderful world of characters spreads far, far beyond mere heroes or heroines. It isn’t limited to the “bad guys” either. These VIP fiction elements are complex, coming in many shapes and sizes, as well as levels of importance.
To start out with, there are main characters, secondary characters and tertiary characters, as well as protagonists and antagonists. And what about sympathetic or not? Round or flat? There’s a whole list of roles to explore in this regard, so that’s precisely what we’re going to do…
That way, you’ll know how to make each of them work best for you and what you’re writing.
Of the kinds of characters listed below, the first six will almost unquestionably make appearances in your novel. It’s only the last one that’s iffy.
We’ll be exploring most of them in further detail over the next month, but here are the bite-sized definitions for now.
Main Character (aka Protagonist) – The personality that’s trying to reach the plot's main goal, whether it's good or bad. This makes for an important distinction, since a main character isn’t always a hero.
Secondary Character – A person or persona that comes into play repeatedly in important ways in your story. This could be a villain, a best friend, a mentor, a parent or some other integral, non-main-character kind of figure.
Tertiary Character – A character that makes an appearance or two, but not any major ones, rather like an extra in a movie: Pirate 1, Musician 5, Runner 8.
Antagonist – The individual or entity in a story trying to stop the protagonist, whether for good or bad reasons. Just like a protagonist isn't always a hero, an antagonist isn't always a villain.
Sympathetic Character – A character that readers want to root for because he/she/it is compelling. This should almost always be the protagonist, but secondary character can easily be sympathetic as well.
Round Character – One that evolves over the course of the narrative, with his/her/its personality, behavior or view of the world changing in some way, shape or form.
Flat Character – One that stays exactly the same from start to finish, either in a positive or negative fashion.
It can admittedly be a bit challenging to keep all those characters straight. But, fortunately, that’s what Thursday’s Writing Challenge is all about.
Editor’s Note: Read the next post on character creation here.