When beginning a novel, the tendency of most
writers is to create a Protagonist to suit the plot or
story they have imagined and then dive into the fun stuff
of writing the book. But many authors forget the need for
a strong supporting 'cast' - the players around the
Protagonist that bring a book to life.
Taking a little time in the planning stages of your novel
to create a strong, realistic cast of supporting players
can assist the writing process.
Similarly, knowing in advance which characters will be
needed on the "stage" of your fictional world
during each stage of the plot's progress can eliminate
writer's block before you begin.
Remember, though, that by including a generic type of
character, you also run the risk of creating a
"stereotype", and weakening your story. Your
audience will be expecting to meet brand new characters,
and will resent being introduced to the same tired old
mad scientist, or the same predictable shining hero
they've seen a hundred times before.
While stereotypes do have their place in fiction, using
them should be handled carefully.
There are eight main types of Characters: Main,
Protagonist, Hero, Antagonist, Obstacle, Logic, Emotion
Let's take a look at each of these in more detail.
Not to be confused with the Protagonist, the Main
character is the person the audience views the story
through. Sometimes, this will be the narrator of the
story, The Main Character's point of view will be the
focus for the story, giving more valuable insight into
the "hero" from an outside perspective.
Writing about events from the point of view of another
character - one who can only view the action from the
outside - can give an amazing extra level of depth to the
Protagonist character, as the 'hero' can not always see
himself or his actions in the same way as others will
For example, in Anne Rice's "Interview with the
Vampire", Louis - the vampire giving the
interview, and thus telling the story - is clearly the
Main character in the book. But he is not necessarily the
Protagonist. Things simply happen to Louis and he
recounts those happenings.
Lestat - the vampire about whom the story is centralized
around - is actually the Protagonist. Lestat is the
driving force for the plotline. He is the prime mover of
events toward a goal in which the other characters are
persuaded to also seek. In other words, they become
secondary characters in Lestat's search for his own
This unusual reversal in characteristics makes for
extremely well-realized character personalities and gives
an interesting point of view reversal at the same time.
It is not the only example of this type to be found in
The Protagonist is essentially the principal driver of
the effort to achieve the story's goal.
For the purpose of most stories, the protagonist is the
'hero' - the guy or girl the audience cheers for and
follows to see if they will win in the end. Generally,
most stories are told from the perspective (or point of
view) of the Protagonist. After all, this is the person
most readers will be caring about.
However, the Protagonist is not necessarily going to be
the same character as the Main Character - only the
person who is responsible for driving the plot forward,
as seen in the previous example.
Of course, many authors blend the two types together -
Main and Protagonist character as the same person. This
can still be very effective. In doing this, however, you
will have created a third stereotype - The Hero.
~ A Main Character is the player through whom the
audience experiences the story first hand.
~ A Protagonist is the prime mover of the plot.
~ A Hero is a combination of both Main Character and
The word "Hero" usually brings to mind the
dashing young blonde paramour with a perfect smile and
more muscles than brains. Such is the nature of
Combining the Main character with the protagonist is
perhaps the most frequent occurrence among writers these
days. The story will be told through the eyes of the hero
as he works his way towards the story's main goal.
The audience will experience first-hand the point of view
and the actions of the hero.
The biggest downfall to creating a "hero"- type
character is the very sameness of most heroes. For
example, most romance novels these days have the
quintessential "good-looking, muscle-bound, suave,
sexy hero" thrown in for good measure and not for
You see, the very thought of such a perfect physical
specimen means that the author has obviously considered
what the hero should look like in order to be attractive,
and yet the personality of that same hero is often
shallow, under-developed and two-dimensional.
This over-use of a stereotypical character can make your
characters seem less realistic to a reader.
In an effort to break free of the stereotypical
"hero" character, Lois McMaster Bujold has
created perhaps the finest Anti-Hero I have encountered
Miles Vorkosigan is the complete opposite of the
standard impression of a "hero". He is very
short, stunted, malformed through spinal problems,
war-scarred, and genetically mutated on top of all this.
Yet his personality is shown as being outrageously
strong, persistent, courageous, polite, well-educated and
considerate - almost the exact opposite in emotional
traits to the way his physical self is drawn. Bujold also
takes great care to highlight the fact that many of her
characters are drawn to her Anti-Hero simply because of
his larger-than-life personality - and not because of
macho good looks (because he just doesn't have them!).
The stereotypical Antagonist is the 'bad guy', the
villain, the guy who is opposed to the Protagonist's end
goal. The Antagonist should represent the drive to
Often this results in a story where the Protagonist, who
has a purpose, is halted or hindered by an Antagonist,
who comes along and tries to stop that original purpose
Sometimes, however, it can be the other way around. The
Antagonist may have a goal of his own that causes
negative repercussions. The Protagonist will then have
the goal of stopping the Antagonist.
Just as the Protagonist is frequently "doubled
up" with the function of the Main Character, the
Antagonist is sometimes (though less frequently) combined
with the Obstacle Character.
The tendency of many writers is to create a villain who
is simply 'evil' or 'bad', just for the sake of giving
the Hero someone to beat. This stereotypical image of a
bad guy is rampant, and can significantly weaken even the
For more detail on creating believable villains, click here.
The Obstacle Character is the player who blocks the way,
but is not necessarily an Antagonist.
Just as the Antagonist opposes the Protagonist, the
Obstacle Character stands in the way of the Main
Character. Note that I did not say the Obstacle Character
opposes the Main Character.
The Obstacle Character's function is to represent an
alternative belief system or world view to the Main
Character, forcing him to avoid the easy way out and to
face his personal problem.
So, to give your Protagonist a good friend whose beliefs
differ from his own could be an effective way of
providing your story with an Obstacle character who is
not a villain at all.
An Obstacle character can be allied with either the
Antagonist or the Protagonist. Often, Obstacle characters
are cast as the Antagonist's henchman or
second-in-command. However, when attached to the
Protagonist, they can function as a thorn in the side or
a bad influence.
Again, Anne Rice's "Interview with the Vampire"
provides an effective Obstacle character in a very
unexpected package. Little Claudia, the child vampire,
becomes the Obstacle Character for both Lestat and Louis,
blocking both of them from reaching their goals. She also
provides many reasons for the two men to question their
original way of thinking and stands in the way of the
attainment of the story's goal. Only after Claudia is
killed does the plot seem to clear up and move forward
In other words, the Obstacle was removed.
The Logic character is calm, collected, and cool, perhaps
even cold. He makes decisions and takes action wholly on
the basis of logic.
The use of the Logic and the Emotion base characters can
be an excellent tool for creating tension and conflict
within the story. The potential to bring out the worst in
each other is always present and the opportunity to
confound the Protagonist can also arise.
J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings"
makes rampant use of each of the eight stereotypes, and
then further develops these basic models into
well-realized individual characters.
"Gandalf the Grey" is the logical base here,
usually popping into play when the emotional characters
stray too far from their intended goal. A quick interlude
by Gandalf brings the logic of the situation back into
the minds of the fellowship and they continue in their
The misuse of this type of character usually arises when
an author inserts a scientist or authority of some
description purely to give out facts to other characters.
This makes that character seem like a walking dictionary.
The Emotion character is energetic, seemingly
uncontrolled, disorganized, and driven by feelings -
whether right or wrong.
Functionally, the Emotion Character has his heart on his
sleeve; he is quick to anger, but is also quick to
empathize. Because he is frenetic and disorganized,
however, most of his energy is uncontrolled and gets
wasted by lashing out in so many directions that he ends
up running in circles and getting nowhere.
Imagine a story involving the death of several dolphins
for the purpose of research into a cure for cancer. In
this instance, the marine biologist (the Logical scientist)
would believe his actions are justified, as a cure for
cancer can benefit man-kind.
However, the protester (the Emotion character)
would simply see that hundreds of innocent mammalian
creatures are being slaughtered and do his best to stop
the experiments from continuing.
In this example, neither of these characters would
necessarily be the Main or Protagonist character, nor
would either have to be the Antagonist, but the inclusion
of both will have heightened the tension considerably.
What if we were to also insert a Protagonist whose wife
was dying of the same type of cancer the research is
striving to cure, and an Antagonist who stands to make
millions from the completion of the cure? The Logic and
Emotion characters stand apart from the main plot line,
yet still crank up the conflict and tension several
The most common abuse of this type of character can be
found in many fantasy novels, in which a member of the
"quest" just happens to be a berserker, only
popping up to roar in anger, brandishing his sword to
show how unhappy he is with the way things are going.
The Sidekick is the faithful supporter. Note that the
Sidekick can be a supporter of any of the characters -
and not just the Protagonist.
Everyone can think of a Sidekick. Some are included for
comedy relief. Others are included to reinforce the goal
or the beliefs of the character they support. Still
others are introduced to provide contrast for the
This does not determine who or what the Sidekick
supports, but just that it must loyally support someone
~ the faithful follower of Frodo, the Protagonist from
"Lord Of The Rings", would be Samwise
~ the faithful follower of Dr. Evil, the Antagonist from
the "Austin Powers" films, would be
~ the faithful follower of Sherlock Holmes, the Main and
Protagonist character from the Sherlock Holmes books,
would be Dr. Watson.
Now that you have cast your team of characters, it's time
to set the stage for the action - but that's another
Copyright Lee Masterson. All Rights Reserved.