Every character plays a certain part in a novel and their importance depends on their role. You all know the main actor, the protagonist. And you know about the usual opponent, the antagonist. But do you know some more?
Today we’re taking a look at the five most important and well-known roles.
Your protagonist is your main actor, the hero of the story. The actions or reactions of your protagonist have a huge influence on your plot and the progression of the story. If the world is going to end, your protagonist shouldn’t be the one chilling on a couch completely unaffected. Your main actor isn’t some spectator. If a character merely observes the situation or does nothing at all… he or she is not the main actor. The role of any protagonist is to take action and to move things forward. After all the story has to be worth telling. If nothing is happening and your wannabe protagonist is completely unaffected then you don’t have a story to tell.
Frodo Baggins is the well-known protagonist of The Lord of the Rings who has to step up from his ordinary life to deliver the ring in hope of obtaining peace. It’s his decision to take responsibility and to actually leave the Shire which drives the story forward. He didn’t push the ring on Gandalf and continued with his life. Sure, it needed a call to action – the imminent threat of the ring and the dark lord – but it was Frodos choice that kept the ball rolling.
Every story needs one or more antagonists. They are the biggest obstacle in your protagonists way. Protagonist and antagonist stand in direct opposition and while the antagonist obstructs the protagonists way, the protagonist is usually a thorn in the antagonists side as well. Keep in mind that they should be two sides of the same coin. You can do that by giving both the same choice and let them make different decisions.
One traditional route is the fight between good and evil. While the protagonist usually equals the hero, the antagonist takes the role of the villain and the hero has to stop the villains evil plans. Whatever they may be – chaos, dominance, destruction…
One such villain antagonists certainly is Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter. Devoid of kind emotions and unable to love he strives for ultimate power. Interestingly both Harry and Voldemort share quite some similarities. Both grew up as orphans and both are half-bloods, but while Harry longed for family and didn’t mind his parentage, Voldemort started manipulating and threatening the children around him and even killed his own Muggle father. Both had to deal with death and while Harry actually chose death to save the people he loved, Voldemort sacrificed the lives of other people to cling to life himself. Two sides of the same coin.
A sidekick has a supporting role for the protagonist and aids them on their quest. Sidekicks are very loyal and are aligned to the heros goals. To not make it boring the sidekick does have to be quite different from the protagonist and has to add to the story as well through complementary skills and knowledge and potential conflicts.
A well-known sidekick is Dr. Watson from Sherlock Holmes. His pragmatism aids Holmes in a lot of situations and his character intensifies the brilliancy of Holmes’ mind, because even though Watson is intelligent he can never match with the skills of Holmes. Socially he is quite the gentleman, unlike Holmes with his eccentricity.
Quite a lot of stories make use of some kind of mentoring character. Especially if you have a protagonist who’s inferior to the antagonist and who doesn’t stand a chance against them on their own. A mentor can lend a helping hand and be a teacher to the hero (or a combination of both). Usually this person also embodies the moral standard the hero has to live up to like being honest or not running away from their responsibilities.
In Star Wars Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda are both important mentors of Luke Skywalker and both overlook his training and his emotional development. They guide him to the best of their abilities and they keep him accountable to his quest in their own ways.
A love interest is someone your protagonist falls in love with. Depending on the story this person loves the protagonist back… or not. A love interest can always be an emotional source of conflict. You can make them the protagonists strength or their weakness. Your hero may also have to grow to actually get the girl or boy.
Love is such a universal desire for humans that adding some form of love interest seems mandatory, even though I personally don’t always like it. They do have to add to the development of your main actor and they also have to contribute to the overall story to deserve existence in my opinion. If you’re writing a Romance novel it’s obviously a completely different story 😉
Speaking of romance: Think of Mr. Darcy from Pride and Prejudice, the obvious love interest of protagonist Elizabeth Bennet. Those two have to overcome quite a lot of obstacles born out of expectations, lies, but also pride and prejudice, before they get their happily ever after.
Aside from a protagonist and some kind of antagonistic force you don’t necessarily have to include any of the other mentioned roles, but it’s good to know of their existence in case you need them. I am a fan of multilayered stories and multiple individual characters are able to enhance a story a lot. Instead of making your main character some utopian superhuman, you may want to add a sidekick who contributes some of the necessary skills. When you’re working on moral quicksand you can add a mentor to guide your hero to safe land and to provide some room for contemplation.
Ultimately it’s completely up to you and your own wants and needs. What do you think about this topic and those archetypes?
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