When crafting a captivating novel, writers often employ an array of diverse characters. From the compelling protagonist to the formidable antagonist, and even the lesser-known deuteragonist, writers have a list of possible character types. Knowing what role each character serves will help you improve your novel.
Why start with the minor? Shouldn’t we delve into the most important character archetypes? Well, you might have many many people taking up page time in your manuscript. Not all of these are going to be major stars. You might have characters there for conflict (like henchmen in a Bond movie) or there might be a bit character there for humor. Your character might have someone stand in as a mother or father figure. This list goes on and on.
The protagonist takes center stage and serves as the main character. They undergo significant growth through a character arc. Examples of famous protagonists include Harry Potter from J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series, or Katniss Everdeen from Suzanne Collins’ “The Hunger Games.” Stephen King’s “The Shining” gives us a chilling glimpse into the tortured psyche of Jack Torrance, a man battling his inner demons while grappling with the malevolent forces that infest the Overlook Hotel.
The antagonist is the primary source of conflict in a novel. They shouldn’t be considered “evil” as this makes them two-dimensional. Instead, think of the antagonist as someone who opposes the protagonist’s goals and creates obstacles for the main character to overcome. Antagonists can range from individuals to entities or even abstract concepts. Examples of memorable antagonists include Lord Voldemort from the “Harry Potter” series, Darth Vader from the “Star Wars” franchise, or Nurse Ratched from Ken Kesey’s “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”
If your story focuses on more than one character, chances are you have a deuteragonist. This is the secondary protagonist, who also plays a significant role in the story. They often share the spotlight with the main character. They may have their own character arc and contribute to the overall development of the plot, but they aren’t as prominent as the protagonist. A classic example of a deuteragonist is Ron Weasley from the “Harry Potter” series, who supports and aids Harry throughout his journey.
The foil is a character who contrasts with another character, usually the protagonist, to highlight certain traits or qualities. Foils emphasize differences in values, beliefs, or personality traits, providing a perspective for the readers. An example of a foil is Sherlock Holmes’ companion, Dr. John Watson, who serves as a contrast to Holmes’ deductive and analytical abilities with his practicality and empathy. Laetes is the foil to the brooding Hamlet. Where the prince overthinks everything, Laertes is a passionate and impulsive character.
Originally, Mentor was a trusted friend of Odysseus and gave the hero advice. Mentor characters guide and provide wisdom to the protagonist. They offer advice, support, and knowledge, helping the main character navigate challenges and make important decisions. Examples of mentors include Gandalf from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Lord of the Rings,” Professor Albus Dumbledore from the “Harry Potter” series, and Obi-Wan Kenobi from the “Star Wars” franchise.
Love interests add a romantic dimension to the story and influence the main character. They often serve as a source of emotional support and can become catalysts for character growth and conflict. Examples include Romeo and Juliet from William Shakespeare’s tragedy, or Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester from Charlotte Brontë’s “Jane Eyre.” Westley and Buttercup, from The Princess Bride by William Goldman, are another good example.
The confidant serves as a trusted and reliable friend to the protagonist, offering a listening ear and emotional support. They provide a safe space for the main character to share their thoughts, fears, and aspirations, allowing for moments of vulnerability and introspection. The confidant often helps the protagonist gain clarity and encourages them on their journey. An example of a confidant is Samwise Gamgee in “The Lord of the Rings,” who offers unwavering loyalty and emotional support to Frodo Baggins.
Reflective characters act as a narrative tool to emphasize the strengths, weaknesses, or complexities of the main character. The reflective character can be a friend, family member, rival, or even an alter ego. By presenting contrasting characteristics, they enhance the reader’s understanding of the main character and the central themes of the story. An example of a reflective character is Horatio in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Horatio serves as a close friend and confidant to Hamlet. His rationality, loyalty, and moral grounding contrast with Hamlet’s brooding and impulsive nature, providing a voice of reason throughout the play.
The Final Word
Characters are the lifeblood of any story, captivating readers and immersing them in the narrative. Know which type of characters you have. If some appear too similar, consider combining them into one character. This will cut clutter and improve your novel.