Are you writing these four character types the right way?
Take a moment and think about your favorite character in mainstream media. There’s characters that inspire you, characters that are simply plot devices, characters that upset you or make you feel uncomfortable. Secondhand embarrassment is THE WORST! I bet you can pin-point exact traits or instances that makes you feel that way about them.
I was listening to an episode of Writing Excuses about four central character types, and I wanted to know more. As I mentioned in my pervious post about Point of View, my characters for the Isle were ambiguous. Most of what the issues are due to POV, but I know character plays into it. Characters need to have strong desires and personality to make the book enjoyable and mine were missing it.
IMHO Leslie Knope in Parks and Recreation is fantastic because she’s a proud feminist that lifts women up instead of putting them down. So first, let’s define character types (did you know you can have a main character AND a protagonist? That they’re not the same?). Below, I’ll share my definition and the dictionary definition. My definition could be slightly off, but we’re all learning here.
- My definition = the person/thing that propels the story and creates action.
- Dictionary definition = the principal character in a literary work (such as a drama or story)
- My definition = the person/thing that tells the story, or the story is about. From their POV.
- Dictionary definition = the chief part: essential point
- Character = one of the persons of a drama or novel
- My definition = the person/thing that hinders the protagonist’s progress.
- Dictionary definition = one that contends with or opposes another
- My definition = The person/thing that solves the puzzle, rescues the whatever or saves the day.
- Dictionary definition = the principal character in a literary or dramatic work—used specifically of a principal male character especially when contrasted with heroine
- Principal = most important, consequential, or influential
Things that have helped me figure out my characters is studying characters I have feelings toward (^^^^ Leslie Knope) or (Ramsey Bolton GOT). Using quirks or traits from those types of characters and creating an amalgam.
The Isle has one protagonist; Zane, and one main character; Iris. I say that because Zane and his actions propel the story forward but the story is generally about Iris and told from Iris’s POV.
Zane was given up at birth, sent to foster care and joined the military at an early age. Given his history and life, what traits would a person have from living that life? All these things create a more well-rounded in-depth character. Iris comes from a pretty standard background, raised by strong females, which, in turn has made her independent and decisive.
It would seem that the hero and main character are usually the same person/thing. I can’t think of any TV/movies/literature where they are not the same (LMK in the comments if you know of one). In the Isle, Iris is the hero/main character, but since it’s a series she’s not the hero every book, which is why having a protagonist is important to keep the story moving and motivate the main character.
It’s also appropriate to have the characters switch in chapters or scenes—this has worked well for me. Kind of a tit for tat scenario. In one chapter the main character acts as the protagonist. In one chapter the antagonist is the hero. In one chapter the hero is the protagonist., etc.
An interesting scenario that just kind of blew my mind is a book/show/movie with a character that’s the hero, main character and protagonist all in one… makes sense but sounds like it could be annoying and one-dimensional? Like Superman? Basically, perfect and always wins.
Who are your favorite characters and why? What interesting character match-ups do you use?