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Character

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"Plot springs from character... I've always sort of believed that these people inside me- these characters- know who they are and what they're about and what happens, and they need me to help get it down on paper because they don't type." --Anne Lamott

Characters are the people who live in your novel or screenplay, from your main character (often abbreviated MC) to his second cousin once removed who only appears in one sentence. Though they may in some cases be based on real people, characters are fictional and, despite the feeling that many Wrimos share with Anne Lamott, do not have free will. That said, they certainly tend to act as if they do.

Types of Characters

Protagonist

The protagonist may also be referred to as the main character or hero.

A protagonist (from the Greek πρωταγωνιστής protagonistes, "one who plays the first part, chief actor") is the main character (the central or primary personal figure) of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical narrative, around whom the events of the narrative's plot revolve and with whom the audience is intended to share the most empathy.

In fiction, the story of the protagonist may be told from the perspective of a different character (who may also, but not necessarily, be the narrator). Although the protagonist is often referred to as the "good guy" (ex. Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series), it is entirely possible for a story's protagonist to be the clear villain, or antihero, of the piece (ex. Billy/Dr. Horrible in Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog).

Deuteragonist

The deuteragonist (from Greek: δευτεραγωνιστής, deuteragonistes, second actor) is the second most important character, after the protagonist and before the tritagonist. The deuteragonist may switch from being with or against the protagonist depending on the deuteragonist's own conflict/plot.

The deuteragonist often assumes the role of "sidekick" to the protagonist. In Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the protagonist is Huck and the deuteragonist, his constant companion, is Jim. Alternatively, the deuteragonist could be a particularly visible antagonist, whom the main antagonist hides behind, such Irene Adler in the 2009 film Sherlock Holmes.

Tritagonist

The tritagonist is the third most important character of a narrative, after the protagonist and deuteragonist. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the tritagonist is Tom Sawyer.

Antihero

The "antihero" is a main character within a narrative (usually the protagonist but occasionally a deuteragonist) who lacks classic heroic qualities. In modern media, the antiheroes are often the most popular and/or iconic characters of the work they appear in. Protagonists with these qualities include Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the Rye) Rick Grimes (The Walking Dead), and Walter White (Breaking Bad). Non-protagonists with these qualities include Severus Snape (Harry Potter), Daryl Dixon (The Walking Dead) and Sasuke Uchiha (Naruto).

False protagonist

A false protagonist is a literary technique often used for making part of the plot more jarring or more memorable by fooling the audience's preconceptions. The novel introduces a character who the audience assumes is the protagonist but is later revealed not to be.

It involves presenting a character at the start of the fictional work as the main character, but then generally disposing of this character, often by killing them (usually for shock value or as a plot twist), but sometimes simply by changing their role (i.e. making them a lesser character, a character who - for reasons other than death - leaves the story, or revealing them to actually be the antagonist).

A work of fiction that has multiple equal protagonists that then subsequently sees the death of one or more (especially late in the work) is not a use of the false protagonist technique. The method refers only to those works where the audience is fooled into thinking that one character is the primary focus of the work, only to have them replaced completely by another (usually previously unseen) character.

One of the best known examples of this technique in literature is Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, where readers are initially led to believe the protagonist is Bernard Marx until the introduction of John the Savage, at which point the story starts to almost entirely focus on John.

Antagonist

The antagonist may also be referred to as the archenemy of the protagonist.

An antagonist (from Greek ἀνταγωνιστής - antagonistes, "opponent, competitor, rival") is a character, group of characters, or an institution, that represents the opposition against which the protagonist must contend. In the classic style of story where in the action consists of a hero fighting a villain, the two can be regarded as protagonist and antagonist, respectively. The antagonist may also represent a major threat or obstacle to the main character by their very existence, without necessarily actively targeting him or her.

Sometimes, antagonists and protagonists may overlap, depending on what their ultimate objectives are considered to be. Also some protagonists can be antagonists at the same time. For example, when Don Quixote ideals for justice get the best of his sanity, and sees reality in a twisted way, such as seeing windmills as dangerous giants, which causes him to attack them and end himself brutally injured, and so, putting himself as an obstacle for his goals.

Focal character

In any narrative, the focal character is the character on whom the audience is meant to place the majority of their interest and attention. He or she is almost always also the protagonist of the story; however, in cases where the "focal character" and "protagonist" are separate, the focal character's emotions and ambitions are not meant to be empathized with by the audience to as high an extent as the protagonist (this is the main difference between the two character terms).

The focal character is mostly created to simply be the "excitement" of the story, though not necessarily the main character about whom the audience is emotionally concerned. The focal character is, more than anyone else, "the person on whom the spotlight focuses; the center of attention; the man whose reactions dominate the screen."

For example, in Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera, the protagonist is Christine Daaé (the audience is concerned mostly with her emotions, aims, and well-being), while the focal character is the "Phantom" (the audience is concerned mostly with the allure of his actions and reactions — though to some degree, later on, his emotions as well). The focal character is also not necessarily the same thing as the viewpoint character, through whose perspective the story is seen. In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's written works of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. John Watson is the viewpoint character, but the story revolves around Sherlock Holmes, making him the focal character.

Viewpoint character

The viewpoint character is also called the narrator.

A viewpoint character is, within any story (literary work, movie, play, verbal account, etc.), the person who tells the story to the audience. When the narrator is a character within the story, he or she is known as the viewpoint character.

Foil character

A foil is a character who contrasts with another character (usually the protagonist) in order to highlight various features of that other character's personality, throwing these characteristics into sharper focus.

A foil's complementary role may be emphasized by physical characteristics. A foil usually differs drastically. For example in Cervantes' Don Quixote, the dreamy and impractical Quixote is thin in contrast to his companion, the realistic and practical Sancho Panza, who is fat. Another popular fictional character, Sherlock Holmes, is tall and lean; his right-hand man Doctor Watson, meanwhile, is often described as "middle-sized, strongly built."

The "straight man" in a comedy duo is a comic foil. While the straight man portrays a reasonable and serious character, the other portrays a funny, dumb, or simply unorthodox one. An example of this is Leonard (the "straight man" or "foil") and Sheldon (the comedian) in the TV show The Big Bang Theory.

Other

Other types of characters include:

  • Romantic Interests
  • Mary Sues
  • Cameos. This is when the author, someone the author knows, or a fictional character from a different story (such as Mr. Ian Woon) briefly appears in your novel. This is often used as a tribute or an inside joke.

Character Development

Characters who have been deeply developed to seem very much like real people to the readers are said to be "round" characters--this is highly desirable in MCs and, to a lesser extent, recurring minor characters. "Flat" characters, on the other hand, are characters presented with only one side that the audience can see. This is fine for minor characters, especially those who appear only for brief intervals.

For example, an angry old man who yells at the kids cutting across his lawn is a flat character; the old man from Disney's UP is not just an angry old man--he has a backstory, motivation, and goals--which makes him a round character.

The methods for developing characters are delved into in countless books and courses on writing, but the basics are:

  • Make the character imperfect
  • Give the character a past and/or a family
  • Give the character motivation--make him/her want something