Not all fiction characters are the same. In fact, there are many different types of characters, from protagonists and antagonists to foils and deuteragonists. Each type has its own purpose in a story—and if you want to write fiction like a pro, it’s important that you know what those purposes are.
You could be working with a protagonist, an antagonist, or a love interest. You might even have a narrator or deuteragonist in the mix. If you’re writing a story with more than one main character (a “dual narrative” if you will), then you’ll need secondary characters as well. And if those secondary characters are stock characters like the cowboy and his sidekick? Well then they’re tertiary characters!
It’s time we talked about all these types of fictional people—how they work together to create better stories and how to write them yourself.
The protagonist is the main character in your story. He or she is the one who drives the action of your story forward. The protagonist is often referred to as “the hero,” although this doesn’t necessarily have to be true. It could just as easily be a villain, or even someone else entirely—for example, an antihero (a character who does bad things but still has redeemable qualities).
The protagonist should be someone that you want readers to root for; think about how Harry Potter fans were devastated when Dumbledore died! You may not always agree with what your protagonists do, but they should still have qualities that make them likeable and relatable enough so that people feel invested in their success.
The antagonistic force that opposes a protagonist is called the antagonist. The antagonist is the key character in a story, who acts as the main obstacle to the protagonist’s goals. For example, if your book is about an aspiring writer trying to publish a novel, your protagonist would be the aspiring writer and your antagonist would be any forces that prevent him from publishing his novel (perhaps his publisher rejects it).
The antagonist can also be referred to as “the villain.” This can cause confusion when talking about villains and antagonists because not all villains are antagonists (e.g., Voldemort in Harry Potter). So whenever you’re talking about a villain or other type of bad guy, make sure you specify whether he’s an antagonist or not!
A confidant is a character who is privy to the protagonist’s inner thoughts. The confidant can be a friend, a parent, a lover or child—the important thing is that this person knows what’s going on in your protagonist’s head and has their back.
A good example of this type of character is Dr. Norman Bethune in Ken Burns’ documentary The Civil War. In it, he plays an important role as an adviser for Abraham Lincoln during the war. Confidants are typically not involved directly with plot development; rather they serve mainly as sounding boards for the protagonist’s emotional journey (although there have been exceptions). They provide advice and encouragement when necessary—or simply give them someone to talk to when they need support most (even if they don’t get much out of it).
The love interest is the character with whom your protagonist falls in love—whether or not this happens by the end of the story depends on what kind of resolution you’re going for.
Love interests are not always main characters; they can be secondary characters who have some sort of relationship with your protagonist that affects their actions or motivations (for example: Han Solo from Star Wars).
Your reader doesn’t always have to like your love interest! Maybe they’re an antagonist, maybe they do something terrible to our hero/heroine…that doesn’t mean that there won’t still be some sort of attraction between them (and sometimes even an eventual happy ending).
Foil characters are characters that contrast with the protagonist, showing him/her in a different light. They highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the main character, reflecting how he or she is perceived by others.
Foils can also be used to create tension and conflict in a story. The foil will often oppose your protagonist on some level, even if they’re connected through family ties or friendship. Their goals may be different from yours, which means you’ll have to face them off in some way during your journey through fictionland!
A narrator is the person telling the story. They can be a first person narrator, a third person narrator or a second person narrator. A character in your story might also act as your narrator, but this isn’t always the case because sometimes you may want to write a fictional story (that is not autobiographical) and so you will need an outside character to tell it for you.
Another important thing about narrators is what kind of reliability they have: are they reliable or unreliable? You could have one of these kinds of narrators:
- Unreliable Narrator: This type of character doesn’t tell the truth about everything that happens in their story – they may lie or exaggerate some events and leave out others altogether! They might even change the past events so that it suits their own needs better…or maybe just for fun!
- Neutral Narrator: This type of character tells both sides fairly without giving too much opinion themselves – whether this means having moral values attached like an idealistic hero does; showing bias towards certain groups such as race/gender/religion etc; having particular tastes in things like food or music etc..
The deuteragonist is a character who is the protagonist’s sidekick. That means the deuteragonist will be a major player in your story, but only second to the main character. The deuteragonist is a character who is often used as comic relief and may have a more minor role in comparison to other characters’ roles in a story.
A good example of this would be Professor Utonium and Blossom (the Powerpuff Girls). In this case, Blossom has strength and brains while Professor Utonium is more of an inventor who can build things pretty well. They work together as partners in crime fighting against Mojo Jojo—who wants to take over Townsville with his army of monkeys!
A tertiary character is a minor character with little or no impact on the plot. The protagonist and antagonist drive the story, while tertiary characters are often used to add depth to the story by giving them personality traits that either show their differences from the main characters or their similarities with them.
Tertiary characters can be friends of the protagonist who provide comic relief. They can also be members of an organization that supports or opposes your hero’s cause.
Stock characters are the typical characters that we see in a lot of fiction. They’re the ones you can identify with just by looking at them, even though they’re different from each other. They’re like stereotypes, but they don’t have to be negative or insulting stereotypes. These are usually the main characters in books and films (and sometimes TV too).
- The hero/heroine
- The villain/antagonist/nemesis (the person who opposes the protagonist)
- The sidekick/comic relief character
Stock characters are used because 1) it’s easier for writers to write about these kinds of people than something more complex, and 2) audiences want to read or watch these types of stories because they’re familiar with them from other things they’ve seen before. You might think that this makes stock characters boring – but actually there’s still plenty of room for creativity! For example: if you were writing about an evil overlord bent on world domination… how would he talk? What kinds does he eat for breakfast? How does he sleep at night? These details make him interesting despite having done nothing particularly unusual yet beyond being evil (or perhaps being one step ahead).
A flat character has one or two defining traits. These traits are repeated throughout the story, but they aren’t developed in any significant way. Flat characters are often stereotypes and serve to create a contrast with the main character and/or show other characters’ personalities.
The main problem with flat characters is that they don’t have enough depth to be interesting. They’re often used as minor players in a story, but if you want your audience to relate to them on a deeper level, you’ll need to give them more dimensions than just their stereotypical personality traits.
The dynamic character is a character who changes over the course of the story. The change is usually a result of their interaction with other characters and events in the story, but it can also be because they are forced to confront some internal conflict that they have been avoiding.
A static character is not a flat character. A flat character has no depth to them. They are as thin as paper and hold no interest for the reader. A static character can be well-rounded, but they will remain unchanged throughout their story arc and end exactly where they started when it began: in the same place they were at when the story began. Some examples of static characters include:
- The narrator in The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allen Poe – this person’s name is never revealed, but his actions throughout the story show us that he is nearly insane with guilt over murdering Uncle Pervy’s corpse (and disfiguring it). He also keeps himself locked up in his room most of the time so that no one else will see him or hear him scream when he thinks about what he did!
- Dr Jekyll/Mr Hyde – here we have another example of a man whose split personality prevents him from being dynamic; while Dr Jekyll may be kind and generous towards others, Mr Hyde (which appears after drinking a potion) shows us just how evil he can truly be!
Round characters are well-rounded, complex and realistic. They are more interesting to read about because they have a full range of personality traits, which makes them more believable. Round characters are also more memorable than flat characters because they don’t just fit into one category or stereotype. Round characters are often the main character in their own story (for example, Harry Potter) but they can also be used as an antagonist (for example, Professor Moriarty).
We’ve talked about different types of characters in Fiction. Remember, these are just general guidelines! You may have your own way of categorizing different kinds of characters that works best for you, so don’t be afraid to experiment. The important thing is to know what makes each type unique so they can help you craft a story that’s believable and compelling.