Characters are perhaps the single most important part of a novel, and at least equally as important as your plot and setting.
But the types of characters are as diverse as the people on this planet, and that’s a lot of people.
To help, I’ve assembled a thorough list of character types you typically find in a story, along with some of the roles they fill.
Because even though there are literally infinite ways to create a character, not all of them work in storytelling.
So lets dive in.
- The primary roles that characters play in a novel
- The different types of development that each character can have
- How you can build your cast of characters
Table of contents
Characters By Role
First, let’s examine all the major character types based on the role they play in the story.
General roundups of these types of characters can vary, and sometimes they carry different names, but you’re likely to find most of the following in any good story.
- Sidekicks (Deuteragonist)
- Love Interest
Bear in mind that you don’t need a separate character for every single one of these roles. Some roles can be combined with others, and not every one will be necessary in every story.
That said, let’s dive deeper into what makes these character types click.
The protagonist is the central figure of your plot. They are the main character, and are pretty much the only character type on this list that must exist in your story.
Some would say that your protagonist must possess certain qualities, like they must have internal conflict, or experience a character arc. While this is common, it is not 100% necessary.
Take James Bond, for instance. Bond is a static character through most of his fiction, and it works because that is the purpose of his character. We don’t want a Bond film to see him grow, we watch to see how he interacts with the situations he is placed in.
That said, recent films, especially Casino Royale, have added a character arc to Bond with great effect. So we definitely shouldn’t choose a static protagonist without seriously considering a character arc.
When writing in the first person, protagonists are usually the perspective character, though this is not always the case. Consider Sherlock Holmes, where the stories are primarily told from Watson’s perspective, or Nick in The Great Gatsby. These are not the main characters, but they serve the vital function of observing the protagonist, nonetheless.
Examples of protagonists include:
- Luke Skywalker in Star Wars
- Frodo Baggins in The Lord of the Rings
- Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series
- Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games
- Indiana Jones in the Indiana Jones series
The Antihero is often the protagonist of a story, but doesn’t have to be. They are a heroic character that we follow, who also happens to lack moral judgement.
Often we can get quite emotionally invested in these characters. I, for one, always thought it strange how much I root for Ocean and his team to steal millions of dollars in Ocean’s 11. But ultimately, we can acknowledge that these characters are not “right” in their morality, even if they can be enjoyable to watch.
Why are they enjoyable? Typically the antihero has some redeeming quality, for example they are very competent at a certain skill, or perhaps they had some tragedy in their life that helps us sympathize with them.
Examples of antiheroes include:
- Walter White in Breaking Bad
- The Punisher in Marvel Comics
- Jack Sparrow from Pirates of the Caribbean
- Hannibel Lecter from the Hannibal series
- Dexter Morgan from Dexter
- Michael Corleone in The Godfather
The antagonist is the character who primarily opposes the protagonist. They antagonize.
The Antagonist isn’t always a villain. Villains are almost universally bad, but an antagonist doesn’t have to be. An antagonist can be a good character if your protagonist is more of an evil character, such as Hank Schrader in Breaking Bad.
An Antagonist is the second-most important character in your story, besides the protagonist. Every story must have some kind of conflict in it. However, that doesn’t mean that the conflict must be another character. If the conflict of a story is primarily internal, a main character can be both the protagonist and the antagonist, such as Holden Caulfield in The Catcher in the Rye.
An Antagonist doesn’t even have to be a person either. For example, in The Martian, the main antagonist is the challenge of trying to survive on Mars with limited resources.
Examples of antagonists include:
- The Emperor in Star Wars
- Sauron in The Lord of the Rings
- Voldemort in the Harry Potter series
- President Snow in The Hunger Games
- Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark
Also known as the mentor character, the guide is the person who imparts something of value to the protagonist, whether it be training, wisdom, support, or physical objects.
While often depicted as the wise old man trope, they can be best friends, love interests, teachers, or even complete strangers.
The guide is often friendly to the protagonist, but doesn’t have to be, as with Ra’s Al Ghul in Batman Begins.
Likewise, the guide doesn’t have to be a person, but could instead be memories, written materials, or experiences. The point is the guide helps to shape the protagonist so that they may better fulfill their role.
Examples of guides include:
- Obi-wan Kenobi in Star Wars
- Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings
- Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series
- Haymitch Abernathy and Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games
- Marion Ravenwood in Raiders of the Lost Ark
The contagonist is a powerful and often important character, who acts as a secondary antagonist to the protagonist.
They are often united with the antagonist, but their goals will usually differ. They will often have a more personal connection to the protagonist, though this is not always the case.
Let’s face it, if Luke Skywalker had gone toe to toe with the Emperor in the first film, he would not have survived. The contagonist allows the story to present a less challenging threat to the protagonist, one that often grows and evolves with the conflict as we go along.
Examples of contagonists include:
- Darth Vader in Star Wars
- Gollum in The Lord of the Rings
- Severus Snape or Barty Crouch Jr. in the Harry Potter series
- Other contestants in The Hunger Games
- Various Nazi leaders in Raiders of the Lost Ark
The sidekicks, also sometimes referred to as the deuteragonists, are extra characters who support or accompany the protagonist in some way.
Most of the time, the sidekicks are close friends with the protagonist, and provide a convenient way for the author to present alternate ideas, personality traits, quirks, and conflicts within the story.
A sidekick can have a character arc, and the most important sidekicks probably should, but they can also act as a flat character for your protagonist to bounce off of. The interaction between a deuteragonists’ various personality types and the character's personality, can be a great way to move the plot along, create conflict, or instigate character growth.
Examples of sidekicks include:
- Han Solo in Star Wars
- Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings
- Ron Weasley and Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter series
- Gale in The Hunger Games
- Short Round in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
7. The Henchmen
Henchmen, also known as Hecklers, are often more of a group than a specific character, but play a vital role in the opposition the protagonist faces.
Like the contagonist, the henchmen provide conflict to the protagonist that is not as extreme or difficult to overcome as the primary antagonist. They often exist in greater numbers, and can serve as great opposition for sidekicks and other tertiary characters.
Examples of hecklers/henchmen include:
- Stormtroopers in Star Wars
- Orcs in The Lord of the Rings
- Draco Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle in the Harry Potter series
8. Love Interest
Almost every good story has at least a little romance in it, even if it’s not in the romance genre.
That is why, the love interest is a key player in our list of character types. A love interest has the potential to bring out heightened emotions, both from our main character, and also for the reader. They often overlap with other types of characters, such as the sidekick or guide.
A love interest is usually of the romantic type, though it doesn’t have to be. A love interest is someone for whom the protagonist has very strong personal feelings. If the love interest becomes hurt, the protagonist feels hurt as well.
A good example of a non-romantic love interest is the brothers Sam and Dean in Supernatural. While they are obviously not romantic love interests of each other, their relationship follows that of a love interest character type.
Examples of love interest characters include:
- Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice
- Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter series
- Petra Mellark in The Hunger Games
- Edward Cullen in Twilight
- Lois Lane in Superman comics
Unlike the love interest, who offers genuine guidance and comfort to the protagonist, the temptress offers fake love and assurances.
A temptress can be anyone, from the devil in the Adam and Eve story, to the sirens in Homer’s Odyssey.
In fact, the temptress is often not a character at all, but a force or object, often one that is so alluring or powerful that it can often be personified as a character of its own. Take the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings, for example.
Examples of temptress characters include:
- Talia Al Ghul in The Dark Knight Rises
- The One Ring in The Lord of the Rings
- The Dark Side in Star Wars
- The Elder Wand in the Harry Potter series
This one often blurs the lines with other types of characters, particularly with sidekicks, guides, and love interests. But while a confidant might be one of those things, that doesn’t mean that all sidekicks/guides/love interests are also confidants.
A confidant is a character with whom the protagonist has one of the strongest relationships in the story.
This person can usually offer advice that will directly impact the protagonist (for good or ill), leading to a lot of growth for the main character. They may be someone that the protagonist seeks out for advice.
Examples of confidant characters include:
- Horatio in Hamlet
- Alfred Pennyworth in Batman comics
- Princess Leia in Star Wars
- Gale in The Hunger Games
- Spock in Star Trek
The foil is a character whose personality and general disposition is completely at odds with that of the protagonist. They are not necessarily an antagonist, but their difference from the main character is meant to highlight certain qualities in both characters.
The foil character often clashes dramatically with the protagonist, but they are not necessarily bad. Sometimes their relationship will lead to one of friendship, as we see with Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth in Pride and Prejudice, where both characters definitely start out as foils for each other.
Examples of foil characters include:
- Draco Malfoy in the Harry Potter series
- Effie Trinket in The Hunger Games
- Willie Scott in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
Characters By Type
Unlike the character roles that we’ve just discussed, there are various “types” for each character that can be applied to any role.
These are more like frameworks that you can use to build up a cast of characters. They generally include the following:
- Dynamic Characters
- Static Characters
- Stock Characters
- Symbolic Characters
Though you can apply at least one of these to almost any character role (yes, even the protagonist can be static under the right circumstances), it’s important to have an understanding of each of them.
Only when you know how each character type operates, will you understand when it’s appropriate to apply it to a specific character role.
1. Dynamic Characters
A dynamic character is a character who changes from one end of the story to the other. This usually takes the form of a positive character arc, or a negative character arc.
A positive character arc is where the character learns something, usually wisdom, knowledge, or skills needed. They are able to overcome certain weaknesses in order to overcome the antagonist of the story.
Examples of positive character arcs include:
- Luke Skywalker in Star Wars
- Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice
- Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol
A negative character arc is exactly the opposite. They change for the worse, usually by fixating on something they want to the exclusion of all else.
Examples of negative character arcs include:
- Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars
- Macbeth in Shakespeare’s Macbeth
- Walter White in Breaking Bad
Dynamic characters are very often called round characters as well. A round character is equally adaptable and change with the actions of the story.
2. Static Characters
Unlike dynamic characters, a static character remains the same through most of the story. While your gut instinct might be to assume that a static character is not as well written of a character, that is not necessarily true.
While dynamic characters are changed by the course of the story, a static character can likewise change those around them with their “flat” nature.
That said, make sure that it is your intention to make a static character, and you’re not just creating them because you don’t want to build a character arc. That can lead to lazy writing.
Examples of static characters include:
- Pollyanna in Pollyanna
- Sherlock Holmes in the Sherlock Holmes series
- Captain America in Marvel Comics
It’s important to know that static characters and flat characters are not necessarily the same. A flat character may appear like a static character, but flat characters are generally a result of lazy writing, when a static character is more intentional.
3. Stock Characters
Also called tertiary characters, the stock characters are those who fulfill certain roles or character archetypes to serve the story.
They can be dynamic or static (more commonly the latter), and often overlap with other character roles we’ve already mentioned, such as the guide/mentor. However, they don’t have to be. Each archetype is unique, and worth looking at on their own.
Stock characters are great to round out your cast of characters, and provide your world with a realistic ensemble of roles. They will make up the majority of your supporting characters.
Examples of stock character types include:
- The bad boy
- The fool
- The seer
- The con artist
- The crone
- The damsel in distress
- The jock
- The mad scientist
- The nerd
- The rebel
4. Symbolic Characters
Symbolic characters help support a theme in your book. They can represent a particular aspect of a problem that the characters face, they can also represent specific issues that are larger than just one person.
Often, we deal with issues and situations that are much more important than ourselves in our books, and it’s impossible to boil down so much information and meaning into just a few pages, so having a symbolic character represent those ideas can be a great shortcut.
This can also be a great way to represent your theme without getting too preachy. That said, make sure the character is well-rounded and realistic, so you can avoid being perceived as preachy or sappy.
Examples of symbolic characters include:
- Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird
- Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia
- Jack and Piggy in The Lord of the Flies
Whether you want a round character, a flat character, or a completely different type of character in your novel, these character types are a great place to start.
I recommend you start with your protagonist. Figure out if they should be a static or dynamic character. Then move on to your antagonist and do the same for them. Then you can slowly start to build up your cast, depending on the needs of your story.
Don’t try to hammer in every single character type into one novel. That would be too much, and overcrowd your pages with unnecessary fluff. Instead, pick and choose the character types that make the most sense for the type of story that you want to tell.
On the flip side, try to make it as diverse as possible. Too many flat characters or not enough supporting characters can lead to a dull novel.
Find what works for you and your book, and role with that.