The different types of character in a story

I find story theory fascinating and I love noticing the patterns that pop up over and over in story telling. For example, If you think about it, you will find that most stories (films, books, TV shows, even video games) feature certain ‘types’ of characters, who have certain roles and functions.

Take a look at the list below and think about who is performing these roles in your own stories. Is there someone missing from your story? Do you need to add that person?

Character archetypes and roles:

Protagonist (P)– most important person, main actor, most affected by the antagonist. His actions and reactions drive most of the plot. Readers identify with him. His inner journey is the most obvious manifestation of the theme.

Antagonist – a character or a force. Exists to be an obstacle of P’s plot goal. He’s directly opposed, rather than incidentally opposed to P’s goals. He shares important similarities, good or bad, to the P in order to highlight areas of P’s growth. Not necessarily evil, just the opposite of the hero. Can be like the shadow version of him.

Sidekick – best friend, accomplice, family member etc. He’s loyal to P, aligned with his goals. He differs from P in important ways, good or bad, in order to highlight areas of P’s growth.

Sceptic – every character has an opposite which allows the author to plumb depths of the theme. Sceptic is the opposite of the sidekick. He doubts everything, especially P’s choices. He’s mostly on P’s side but is pessimistic about his choices. Voice of caution, sometimes to P’s advantage. Eg Miss Sally in Cars

Guardian – aka the mentor. Eg Obi-Wan. He can take any form. He’s a teacher or helper who guards the P during the quest. He’s a moral standard. He supports or opposes the P’s shifting goals according to their morality.

Contagonist – hinders and deludes the P, tempting him to take the wrong approach. He is the opposite to the guardian because he actively seeks to hinder the P. He’s different from the antagonist because he’s not directly opposed to P’s plot goal. He may be on the P’s side in the overall plot goal, but he gets in P’s way, makes him consider backing out of the battle against the antagonist or take the wrong path to reach his end goal.

Reason – the voice of logic rather than emotion. He’s logical, independent of P and influences the P for better or worse. Eg C3P0

Emotion – opposite of reason. He’s fundamentally emotional and makes decisions based on emotions rather than logic. Can be positive emotion or negative. His emotion influences P for better or worse.

Love interest – P falls in love with and usually falls in love back. Often a catalyst in the journey, supports P and resists him depending on what’s necessary to push him forward towards personal growth.

Anti-hero – eg Snape or Han Solo. He’s on the side of good but no one’s sure why because he’s not like the good guys.

Fool – eg Dori in Finding Nemo. Shows other characters how to be simple and happy and can be unwittingly wise.

The impact character – This character is necessary for any character arc. He’s the catalyst who enables, empowers or forces P to change. He himself doesn’t change much through the story. He can be friend or foe. He is pivotal because he represents the inner conflict. The antagonist represents the outer conflict because his and the P’s goals are opposed. With the impact character, it’s the world views that are opposed. He can be a mentor who teaches him the truth or an example who shows him it. His central purpose is to represent the truth. He may or may not have all the truths figured out. He may be more of a mess than the P except when it comes to this particular truth. He may fulfil other roles too. He could be a collective of several characters.

People can be more than one of these at various times. You can see these are functions performed temporarily depending on what’s needed in the story at that point. So you could have all of these roles in a few characters. You’ll notice that all of these characters impact the protagonist somehow. If someone in your story isn’t impacting on the protagonist, then you  can probably cut them out.


Ask yourself:


Is this character necessary: Characters who don’t advance the plot are unnecessary.

What is the Protagonist/Antagonist relationship glue? They hate each other but why can’t they just walk away? They’re bonded by something. Here are 7 possible adhesives:

  1. Duty or obligation – eg P is responsible for A’s existence so has to deal with him
  2. Hatred or vengeance – P needs A to help him get vengeance
  3. Survival – it’s kill or be killed
  4. Love – P has complicated feelings for A
  5. Enjoyment or obsession – likes the cat and mouse game, also common in romance stories, where love interests are also antagonists for much of the story
  6. Greed – P wants something from A
  7. Pride – can’t turn away from A because they’re too proud

What are the repercussions of P walking away from A? There have to be some.