Which ones are essential to building a story?
B. C. Marine, CAO Authors 4 Authors Publishing
In every story, each character fulfills a basic role. In fact, these roles are so basic that they can all be listed in this article!
Knowing the role of a character is essential to both writing and analyzing fiction. For authors, misidentifying key roles can cause an otherwise interesting premise to fall apart over the course of the narrative. For readers, knowing these character types will give you a point of reference to compare them across multiple stories.
What are they?
Over the next few weeks, we’ll go over each of these in depth, but these are types from most essential to least:
You CANNOT have a story without a protagonist. This character drives the story. His or her choices and actions form the major turning points. Unless two or more characters are somehow acting as one, a story general only has one protagonist.
Like the protagonist, the antagonist is necessary to the story and is the main force opposing the protagonist. Even a story with only one character still has an antagonist. A protagonist fighting against their own nature can be their own antagonist, or the environment can be an antagonist in a man-vs.-nature story.
A main character provides the point of view. In stories with an omniscient narrator, the main character would be whoever the narrator follows most frequently. Usually, a main character is undergoing an emotional journey. A story can have multiple main characters. The protagonist may or may not be one of them. If a story has any deuteragonists, they may be main characters as well.
Most of the time, when people think a story has multiple protagonists, what they’re really referring to is the existence of a deuteragonist. This character is similar but secondary to the protagonist. At major turning points of the story, their actions will usually follow the protagonist’s.
Hero or Heroine
While one definition of hero is the same as a main character, the more useful definition is it’s primary one: someone admirable, noble, and courageous who achieves great feats or is endowed with great abilities.
Villains commit evil or have evil motives. Similar to the relationship between protagonists and main characters, villains and antagonists often overlap but are separate roles.
These characters are important support for the protagonist, antagonist, deuteragonist, and/or main characters. They have names and history and follow the more essential characters throughout much of the story.
Their roles are even smaller than secondary characters’. They perform important roles for a scene or two and may even have names but quickly disappear.
More like a props than actual characters, background characters exist to populate the world of the story. The extras in a movie would be background characters in a novel.
As noted, a single character can fill more than one role. Let’s use a romance for an example. We have a woman who’s actively looking for love, and half the book is written in her point of view. She’s both the protagonist (driving the plot) and a main character (POV). The other half of the book is written from a man’s point of view. He’s reluctant to get into a relationship and is on an important mission to right some wrong from his past. He’s the deuteragonist (his B plot), a main character (POV), and the antagonist (opposes her quest).
Breaking It Down
Over the next several weeks, we’ll go over these character types in smaller pieces, focusing on the differences between similar types. Next week, to celebrate Halloween, we’ll start with a comparison of antagonists and villains.
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