We’ve talked about character arcs and types of character: now let’s delve into the various character roles that appear in most stories. Talking about characters in terms of the role they play in the story is among the more common ways of discussing characters.
Most people are familiar with at least a few of the characters roles that follow.
Protagonist – the protagonist is the main character of a story. They have a full character arc and drive the story forward with their goals and motivations. Every story has at least one protagonist although a story can have more than one. The protagonist is usually the character readers empathize with the most.
Antagonist – the antagonist is the person or situation that opposes the protagonist. As with protagonists, a story can have more than one antagonist that needs to be overcome but there will always be one main antagonist.
Villain – villains are always people. Specifically they are bad people (in the sense that they oppose the protagonist). Villains are also always antagonists.
Secondary Characters – secondary characters are close to the story’s centre but not quite in it. They can have a big impact on the protagonist and help keep the plot moving but the story isn’t about them. Secondary characters don’t need to have an arc of their own. If they do have an arc, the choice to explore it will depend on their importance to the plot.
Tertiary Characters – these are the characters who populate the background of your world. They don’t have to tie into the storyline. They don’t have arcs, goals, or motivations outside of what is needed for the story. Tertiary characters have minor appearances which are purely functional.
Love Interest – this one is self-explanatory. The love interest is the protagonist’s object of desire. They can also be a secondary character. Not all stories have a love interest but since many stories have some sort of romantic thread, the love interest is worth mentioning.
Confidant – a confidant is the person the protagonist confides in and turns to when they feel they can’t turn to anyone else. The role of confidant often overlaps with other roles such as secondary character or love interest.
Foil – a foil is used to accentuate certain qualities of the protagonist by providing a contrast. The personality of a foil character is often the opposite of the protagonist. While the foil and protagonist will clash with each other, the foil is not necessarily a villain.
Not all of these roles need to appear in every story, but a good mix of them will help keep your story moving. Think about how each role relates to the others and what purpose they serve. This should help you figure out which character roles you need to use for your story.
Is there a character role you enjoy writing more than the others? Let me know in the comments.