8 Types of Characters to Include in Your Story

8 Types of Characters to Include in Your Story

Why do we remember characters like Huckleberry Finn, Oliver Twist, Frodo Baggins, and Harry Potter years after we meet them?

Page-turning novels feature believable characters with human flaws, people who grow heroic in the end.

So how do you conjure up characters like that?

First, it pays to understand the basic types of characters that exist in a story and the roles they play.

Types of Characters in a Story

1. Protagonist

Your main character or hero is, naturally, the essential player. He* is your focus, the person you want readers to invest in and care about.

(*I use the pronoun “he” inclusively to represent both genders, male and female.*)

He’s the center of attention.

He drives the plot, pursues the goal, changes and grows as your story progresses.

He must possess:

  • redeemable human foibles
  • potentially heroic qualities that emerge in the climax
  • a character arc (becoming a different, better, stronger person by the end)

Resist the temptation to create a perfect lead character.

Perfect is boring. (Even Indiana Jones was afraid of snakes.)

No protagonist, no story, so develop this character first.

Get him on stage early, introduce him by name, and immediately start layering in personal details that give readers reasons to care about what happens to him.

Protagonist examples:

    • Romeo and Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet
    • Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice 
    • Dorothy in L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
    • Wilbur in E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web
    • Jack Ryan and Marko Ramius in Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October
    • Katniss Everdeen in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games

2. Antagonist

This is the villain, the character who opposes and undermines your protagonist.

The more formidable your antagonist, the more compelling your hero.

The antagonist must:

  • have a realistic and sympathetic backstory
  • exhibit power
  • force the protagonist to make difficult choices
  • cause the protagonist to grow

Be careful not to make the villain bad just because he’s the bad guy.

Make him a worthy foe by giving him realistic, believable motives.

The most compelling villains have had bad things happen to them.

They don’t see themselves as bad. They see themselves as justified.

Antagonist examples:

  • Lord Voldemort in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series
  • Mayor Larry Vaughn in Peter Benchley’s Jaws
  • Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
  • President Coriolanus Snow in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games
  • Professor James Moriarty in many of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mysteries

3. Sidekick

The character second in importance to the protagonist, not all sidekicks support the protagonist.

Some switch back and forth, hindering him. Others turn out to be the villain.

But most often, the sidekick is a friend who supports the protagonist, offering advice, adding depth to the story.

Sidekick examples: 

  • Dr. John Watson in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes
  • Runaway slave Jim in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Samwise Gamgee in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series
  • Iago from Shakespeare’s Othello

4. Orbital Character

Third in importance behind the protagonist and the sidekick, this character is usually an instigator, causing trouble for the protagonist and giving him plenty of opportunity to shine.

Sometimes he also turns out to be the antagonist.

Orbital Character examples:

  • Tom Sawyer in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  • Hermione in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series
  • Princess Leia and Han Solo in George Lucas’s Star Wars
  • Khan in Star Trek

5. Love Interest

The object of your protagonist’s deepest affection often serves as a prize, but she could also function as an obstacle to attaining his goal.

Rendered well, the love interest reveals the main character’s strengths and vulnerabilities.

But be careful.

As with your main character, a too perfect love interest will fall flat and come off unrealistic.

Love Interest examples:

  • Rhett Butler in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind
  • Peeta in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games
  • Mr. Darcy in Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice
  • Daisy in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby

6. Confidante

The character in whom the protagonist trusts the most is often a best friend, a love interest, or a mentor. But sometimes he can be an unlikely character.

The confidante is an essential tool through whom your protagonist’s thoughts and feelings are revealed.

Confidante examples:

  • Samwise Gamgee in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings series
  • Albus Dumbledore and Hermione in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series
  • Horatio in Shakespeare’s Hamlet
  • Cinna in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games

7. Extras

You’ll likely need Central Casting-type characters for specific, limited purposes.

These are background characters who come and go, but they often lend meaning to the story.

So be careful not to make clichés of them.

These are people your main character encounters, like the repairman, a clerk, a teller, a waiter, or someone he sits next to on a bus.

Extras examples:

  • Madame Stahl in Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina
  • Radagast in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings
  • Parvati and Padma Patil in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter

8. Foil

Like the villain, this is an opposite of the protagonist, highlighting his strengths.

But the foil isn’t usually the antagonist. Rather, he exposes things about your protagonist you want more sharply focused, while the antagonist is his enemy.

Foil examples:

  • Effie Trinket to Katniss Everdeen in Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games
  • Draco Malfoy to Harry Potter in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series
  • Dr. John Watson to Sherlock Holmes in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes

You Can Do This

Remember, you may only use one or two types of characters from this list.

Next time you watch a Netflix series or read a novel, try identifying the different types of characters in the story.

The protagonist should be easy, but some others can be a fun challenge.

Other helpful blog posts on character development:

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