7 Types of Characters in Fiction
Fiction writers of all genres have types of characters to populate their stories. The number of characters varies, and even the names of some characters may differ. However, there are some characters every story must have to interest a reader.
A friend asked me where I get my ideas when creating a character. Because my stories, even the short stories, are usually based on actual events, personal and historical, some characters are drawn from life.
For example, the Arthur Elliott character who is David’s uncle in 3 of the David Elliott books, reflects many personality traits and characteristics of one of my uncles.
Some of my characters are the result of observation of strangers. The villain in The Girl in the Orange is based on a man I watched as he interacted with a woman companion and a child. His facial expression and body language barely disguised his animosity and hostility toward both individuals.
Anna Lopez, the lovely, intelligent and gutsy character in Pack of Scoundrels is a compilation of a friend whose husband was killed when his tractor overturned, leaving her to raise their daughters, which she did with marvelous results, Frances McDormand’s portrayal of Marge Gunderson ,the very pregnant, smartest and most fearless person in the film Fargo, and Emma Watson’s role as Hermione Granger in Harry Potter and the Prince of Azkaban.
Here is my list of 7 character types. Just for fun, think about people you know or have known who would fit each of the character types. Maybe you could play one or more of the roles.
Protagonist: a.k.a. Main Character. This is the person the story revolves around. Protagonist is not synonymous with “Hero.” Protagonists have flaws; they don’t always win; sometimes they act like jerks. But they have a goal to achieve, and if they don’t reach that goal, something bad will occur.
David Elliott is the protagonist in my murder mysteries. He has some good qualities, but he can be self-centered and insensitive at times.
Deuteragonist: “deuter” means “second.” A deuteragonist is more than a sidekick. She or he is a second protagonist, usually a best friend who offers insight, advice, support, and is sometimes a love interest. Dr. Watson acts as deuteagonist to Sherlock Holmes; Sam Gamgee serves as second protagonist to Frodo Baggins in The Hobbit, Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley are Harry Potter’s deuteragonists. Judy Elliott is Deuteragonist to David Elliott, and where would he be without her? Who is your real-life Deuteragonist?
Antagonist: the antagonist is the opposite of the protagonist. She or he may hinder the main character from achieving her/his goal without being evil or having evil intentions. In some works of fiction the antagonist is also the villain. Think Amy Elliot-Dunne in Gone Girl, or Jack Stapleton in The Hound of the Baskervilles. In my forthcoming book, The Girl in the Orange Maillot, the antagonist and the villain are separate characters. You can probably think of someone in your life who was at times your antagonist. Remember, an antagonist isn’t always a bad person. He or she may have good reasons for standing in the way.
Mentor: the mentor is the character who guides the main character through the story. Dumbledore serves as mentor in many of the Harry Potter books. Not all stories have mentors, but when they do, the mentor usually dies just when the protagonists most needs guidance. Bummer. In The Girl in the Orange Maillot, Lloyd MacDonald is David Elliott’s mentor, and gives guidance to a number of young people. In Pack of Scoundrels the mentor characters are Anna and Tony Lopez and ranchers Sam and Nora Hanson. In life, as in fiction, we have had more than one mentor to offer guidance when we needed it. Recall and give thanks to your mentors. Where would we be without them?
Narrator: obviously the narrator is the person who tells the story. If the author writes in the first person, the narrator is most often the protagonist. Arthur Conan Doyle used Dr.Watson, deuteragonist to Sherlock Holmes, as the narrator. When writing in the third person, the author is the narrator. The challenge to the author when writing in third person is to keep the narrator out of the spotlight and focus the reader’s attention and interest on the characters.
Secondary Character: a secondary character isn’t a minor character; he or she joins the main character in the adventure and plays an important role in achieving the goal of the story. The story doesn’t center on the secondary character; but he or she helps the main character. In Harper Lee’s tour de force To Kill a Mockingbird, Heck Tate the sheriff and Arthur Boo Radley are outstanding examples of a secondary character, especially Radley. Anna Lopez is a fine secondary character in Pack of Scoundrels, and Nicole Palmer ably fills that role in The Girl in the Orange Maillot.
Minor Character: sometimes referred to as a tertiary character, a minor character plays a part in works of fiction. A minor character isn’t central to the story, but they sometimes have an ancillary function that fills in the background of the tale. In To Kill a Mockingbird, Miss Gates, Scout Finch’s hypocritical teacher, and Link Deas, who acts compassionately and courageously toward Helen, Tom Robinson’s widow, are minor characters. Without them, however, the story would lose some of its power.
One of the intriguing aspects to reading fiction relates to how some characters refuse to be pigeonholed. A prime example is Arthur Boo Radley in To Kill a Mockingbird. At first appearance he seems to be nothing more than an oddball neighborhood recluse. As Harper Lee unfolds the plot, Boo Radley emerges as a pivotal character.
Looking for a Christmas gift for a friend or relative who reads mysteries set in the 1950s? Pack of Scoundrels is available in eBook and paperback through Amazon. Just sayin’.