Saturday, September 4, 2010

Characters; An Overview

NOTE; I just posted some excerpts from my novels on my other blog, in case you want to check them out!

Wow. Where to start? This is every inch as massive a task to write as the Plot post was. So, like the plot post, let's start at the beginning.


Assuming you know what gender your characters are or are going to be (LOL), you must next find out or define what kind of character they are; what type. The problem lies in the amount. There are SO many different kinds of characters that I won't even bother going over half of them. Instead, I'll focus on the kinds of characters that most novels (fantasy novels especially) usually have.

1) The Protagonist

This post is not only about what kinds characters there are (although that helps) but also some tips on how to make them realistic and relatable. An unrelatable cardboard character doesn't do a novelist much good.

The Protagonist. Basically the most important character there is in any story. The Hero(ine), the Good Guy (or Gal), whatever you want to call him/her. If you don't succeed on this character (at least partially), your novel will flop. Utterly.

2) The Companion (or Ally)

Since most of you have a plot type as a Heroic Quest, all quests must naturally have a companion. The Companion(s) is/are usually one of the more important characters in a novel, after the Antagonist. This character is one who believes in your Protagonist, encourages him/her, and accompanies him. In LOTR, the Companion is good old Sam; and I think you'll agree that he was developed well.

Conflict between the Companion and the Protagonist is sometimes a good idea, though rather depressing to write. In the movie version of LOTR, Frodo, after Sam asks if he can 'share' the Ring, tells Sam to go home. I dislike that part, but I have to admit it is good for character development; because Sam decides to go back and help Mr. Frodo.

There can be various types of Companions in a novel, however. The Boromir kind of Companion is different than the Sam kind of Companion. I'll call them the 'Companion' and the 'Ally' for this post; The Companion being Boromir, and the Ally being Sam.

3) The Antagonist (the Villain)

This is, after the Protagonist, the most important character. Good villains make good stories, as OYAN says.

I'll discuss this more in-depth later in this post, but there's one important thing I must note; make your Antagonist human, with human needs and desires. A human-like Antagonist is chilling because you recognize part of him in yourself.

4) The Mentor

This is the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star-Wars. The Brom in Eragon. The Gandalf in LOTR. A story, on select occasions, does not always need a mentor, but it is best to have one. The Mentor is someone who the Protagonist can learn from about various things; the world, God (or whatever name he might go by in a Christian fantasy novel), etc.

5) The Minion

This character is in league with the Antagonist, or represents the Antagonist's 'morals' (evil). Good guys (or Gals) gone bad, betrayers, messengers, generals, etc. Examples of Minions from LOTR would be SmeƔgol, various Orcs (like the ones that had taken Merry and Pippin captive), etc.

6) The Supporting Cast

This is the sixth kind of characters, and it varies. Kings, innkeepers, various other people, etc. fall into this category, providing they are not traveling with your Protagonist, in which case s/he would become an Ally or Companion. This is a vast group, with a lot of different characters. To give some examples from LOTR; Bill Ferny, Glorfindel, Denethor, etc.

These are just some of the kinds of characters floating around in the world of literature.


Just like plot, there are certain elements that drive characters, especially Protagonists. What things make a character need the story goal? What force drives them through pain and disaster?

1) Morals

This is one of the things that makes your characters memorable. They have morals. Villains and Heroes (or Heroines), Antagonist and Protagonist alike have morals. Antagonists have bad, evil morals, whereas the Protagonist is the opposite. S/he represents a good moral; Kindness, forgiveness, humility, etc. An Antagonist represents hatred, bitterness, cruelty, etc.

So pick a specific moral, and have your Protagonist embody it; and have the Antagonist embody the opposite. The Protagonist is kind; the Antagonist is cruel. Better yet; have your Protagonist suffer from his/her morals. Because s/he is kind, s/he is ridiculed. This proves the Protagonist's willingness to suffer for what s/he believes, and readers admire that.

Morals drive a character. Frodo wants to destroy the Ring because it corrupts. To narrow it down, Frodo leaves the Fellowship at the end of The Fellowship of the Ring because he knows the Ring will slowly corrupt every one of the company, as it did Boromir.

2) Stakes

The stakes of the plot are one thing that drive the character to do what he does. Frodo not only takes the Ring upon him to get rid of it for himself; he wants to destroy the Ring to protect the Shire. As the stakes grow higher through the novel, the Protagonist feels an urgent need to finish the quest, because its no longer his quest; the quest is all that is stopping the Antagonist from prevailing.

3) Love

Love for a person may drive a Protagonist, but I'm talking about a broader form of love. Frodo loves the Shire so much that he will undertake a terrible quest to save it. How can a Protagonist just sit and watch the things he loves be destroyed? No, he has to complete the goal and save them.

But make sure that you define why your Protagonist does what s/he does. It deepens the understanding the reader has for your character, understanding that the reader can relate to. When your reader can relate to your Protagonist in a way that makes them care about him/her, then you've done your job.

There are other things that drive a character, but these are the main ones, some of the ones the others flow from.


So how exactly does one create believeable and relatable characters? Is there some secret formula that develops a character? Not exactly, but I'll try to show you what I know about character development.

1) Choices

Choices. Choices are the things that define your character. By the Protagonist's choices, you can tell what kind of a person they are, and that creates understanding--which, as you know, creates relateable characters, someone the reader can care about.

What kind of choices should I use to create development? you may ask. Here's a couple;

1. Difficult choices. This is the most important kind of choice; between two negative outcomes. The choice your Protagonist makes defines who he or she is. The choice between rotting fish or raw rabbit. ;) Sorry if I grossed you out there. Anyway, your character must make that choice--and pay the price. To use an example used in OYAN (it's a great example), in Spiderman, Spidey has to make a choice; his love, or a bus full of children. This is a wonderful opprotunity to reveal what kind of character Spiderman really is. Unfortunately, he does the thing that no writer should ever, ever do. He did both. He saved the love, and he saved the children. Never do something like that; you lose an opprotunity to reveal your Protagonist's character and give your character distance from the reader.

2. On what to do. Have the character make wise choices with disastrous outcomes. Sure, the way through the forest seemed easier than the way through the marshes--certainly wiser--but how was the Protagonist supposed to know the forest was filled with killer monkeys? Wise choices, disastrous consequences. You never want your character do to the less-wise thing; even if it turns out to be disastrous later. The only exception is if the Protagonist was warned against the killer-monkey-road. :)

3. Chances to go back. Frodo, so many times, was offered the chance to give up the Quest and go back to the Shire; but he didn't. Like the wise Sam Gamgee said in the Two Towers; "Those people had a plenty chances of going back, only they didn't. Those were the stories that meant something, Mr. Frodo." If your character is offered a chance to go back, and s/he rejects it, it resonates within the reader, and, (guess what?) creates understanding. And we know what that creates!

2) Suffering

I touched on this in my earlier post, because it is very important; what your character is willing to suffer, and how s/he reacts to it reveals character.

As I said before, "An item is worth however much the buyer is willing to pay for it." If the Protagonist has to pay a high price--loss of a friend, loss of his old life, wounds, etc.--then it proves just how much the goal is worth to him.

What is the Protagonist's reaction? Does s/he bathe him/herself in self-pity? Or does s/he accept that price and stand strong? If s/he does accept the price, it creates admiration in a reader, which creates...

And one more thing, one that I said in my last post that seems necessary to put in here; The fulfillment of the story goal may need to have a lasting price to make it all the more worthwhile. In LOTR, Frodo can no longer go back to his own life; the Ring and the Ringwraiths have wounded him for life, and the power of the Three Rings fade, making most Elves sail over the Sea into the West, along with Frodo. The lasting price can help make the ending more meaningful and sad.

3) Action

What your Protagonist does also creates development. This is closely related to the Protagonist's choices, but there is one thing that is different and stands out; in real life, it can be fairly easy at times to decide what to do. The real challenge is in doing it; it takes courage, just like when Frodo made the hard choice to leave the Fellowship. As it says in the LOTR; "I know what I have to do, only, I'm afraid to do it." When the Protagonist does what s/he had decided to do, it creates admiration in the reader. They know first-hand how hard it can be to do the right things. Which brings me to one more point; if the Protagonist does the right thing, it also creates admiration; doing the right thing can be hard. And admiration creates...

With this, I wrap up my post. Not quite as lengthy, perhaps, as my Plot post, but I hoped it helped you out. :) Feel free to comment if you felt I missed a certain point. I can make another Character post again, sometime soon.

Oh, and as for trivia; what does admiration and understanding create? :D


Galadriel said...

Oh, my charries have lots of suffering to do. They suffer..
and they die
because things are worth dying for

Eldra said...

Admiration and understanding can create the motivation for the reader to keep reading the book :P

Oh, and the whole killer-monkey thing had me laughing. Not really sure why.

Jake said...

That too...

I went off on a tangent there. It was so marvelously ridiculous when it popped into my head that I used it. :)