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Casting Your Characters
by Lee Masterson

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 and Sidekick.

Let's take a look at each of these in more detail.


Main Character

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 view them.

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 goals.

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 this story.


Protagonist

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.

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 Protagonist.

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 stereotypes.

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 good characterization.

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 to date.

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!).


Antagonist

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 undermine success.

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 from succeeding.

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 finest story.

For more detail on creating believable villains,
click here.

Obstacle

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 again.

In other words, the Obstacle was removed.

Logic

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 quest.

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.

Emotion

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 notches.

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.

Sidekick

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 antagonist character.

This does not determine who or what the Sidekick supports, but just that it must loyally support someone or something.

For example:
~ the faithful follower of Frodo, the Protagonist from "Lord Of The Rings", would be Samwise Gamgee.
~ the faithful follower of Dr. Evil, the Antagonist from the "Austin Powers" films, would be Mini-Me.
~ 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 article.


Copyright Lee Masterson. All Rights Reserved.


 



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