Types of Characters in Fiction
“What drives a novel, plot or characters?”
Well, that isn’t an easy question to answer for any writer, editor, or serious reader. There is a whole lot that drives a story of a novel apart from those two aspects. But we aren’t going to get into that nitty-gritty in this article.
In the previous article, we have already seen what is a plot and how to write one. In this article, we will understand the types of characters commonly found in all novels. Let’s take a look:
These characters are the focus of the story. Most of the book revolves around them, their goals, desires, fears and worst-case scenarios. These factors drive the core events. Central characters are driven by goals and desires that form the central part of the story and plot, from the start right through to the end. Protagonists, antagonists, and other dynamic characters also comprise as central characters of the story.
Ian Fleming’s popular spy James Bond is an example of the heroic protagonist, this type follows the hero’s journey.
Villain protagonists are created to tell the story from the antagonist’s point of view. Like John Gardner’s Grendel tells the story of Beowulf from the monster’s perspective.
Bilbo Baggins from The Hobbit is a great example of a supporting protagonist.
Also called supporting characters, they are just what it sounds like. They support the main characters in their conflicts and motivations. They’re as important as the major characters of your book, they advance the plot and play a major role in the development of the major characters. They can also serve as a medium to set the tone of the story. You see their relationship unfold naturally with the main characters as the story advances. Minor characters disappear at some point in the book or stop being important.
Ron Weasley from the Harry Potter books is just one example, but you can recall innumerable memorable minor characters from that wizard series alone. Think about Harry’s friends, allies and enemies…
Such characters change throughout the story. All the mentioned characters in this article can be dynamic. Well-developed characters naturally turn out to be dynamic. The change comes about through internal or external conflict that they have to deal with.
In the timeless Christmas story A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge is a classic example of a dynamic character. He is introduced in the story as a crotchety, greedy old fellow. However, after the eye-opening experience with the ghosts of past, present, and future, he turns into a pleasant charitable man.
These are characters who don’t change much through the course of the novel. They don’t have a lot of scope in the story and have a limited role. The author creates them with a single or specific purpose in the hero’s journey, so we don’t get a peek into what’s going on with the minor characters. Enemies and foils are mostly static, as they pose a challenge to the main character but their motivations are related to the main character.
The Oompa-Loompas from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were the workers Willy Wonka imported directly from the Loompaland. They take respite from chocolate-making slavery by dispensing satirical songs.
Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice is another example of a static character.
These are well-rounded characters fleshed out with backstory, strengths, weaknesses, etc. Readers can get into the skin of these characters. Writers spend a considerable amount of time creating “round” characters. They have character arcs, unlike static and flat characters who get a one-dimensional playfield and are easily forgettable.
All main characters are dynamic characters as they go through a transformation from the start to finish. Hamlet, Harry Potter, Lisbeth Salander, and Saleem Sinai are round characters.
Like static characters, flat characters don’t have a lot going on for them in a book. Showing unremarkable traits, these characters are dull and predictable. But they’re important nonetheless, they have some scope to create genuine conflict if used well. It is someone like the waitress at the cafe who served breakfast to the murder victim for years with the same smile and greeting, we don’t know anything else about her apart from that. But later in the book, she has an important clue for the detective, about who the murderer is.
Thomas “Tom” Buchanan from The Great Gatsby is Daisy’s immensely wealthy husband, once a member of Nick Carraway’s social club at Yale.
These are characters you’re already familiar with. You know them through other books or other mediums such as movies, history or mythology. You’ll mostly find them in satirical or historic books. They find a place in the books for stylistic purposes.
A thug, a town drunk, a tragic hero, a femme fatale, and an absent-minded professor are all examples of stock characters. Any more that comes to your mind? Let us know in the comments!
The term comes from old jewelers’ practice of displaying precious stones on sheets of foil to make them shine more brightly. Thus, in storytelling, a foil is a character which “illuminates” other characters. They’re used to define the relationship between a plot’s “antagonist” and “protagonist”. A foil helps to make the readers understand the traits, motivations, and attributes of other characters.
Draco Malfoy was a foil to Harry Potter, a rude, bigoted, arrogant and generally horrible throughout most of the series, antithetical to what Harry is.
In the upcoming blogs, we’ll break down all major characters in further detail. Which characters apart from the protagonist do you think are crucial in storytelling? Tell us in the comments.
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