Writing a novel is hard work. Everyone who has written a novel or tried to write one (or several) would most likely agree with that.
Much of the struggle today—besides from the writer’s fear of failure or judgment or feeling like a fraud or the like—is based in overcomplicating things. The fictional world the story is set in has to be rich in details, the characters complex and fully fleshed out, the scenes meticulously described, the characters’ actions explained so the reader gets what the writer wants to say or show, and so on.
That’s enough to get anyone overwhelmed.
There is, however, a way to make the process of writing a story a lot easier (at least in the beginning so you have a place to start because starting is the first step to actually getting somewhere). This solution I’m talking about is to simply break everything down into the most basic building blocks of a novel.
What is it that a novel truly needs? A world, a cast of characters, and a story/plot. This is the foundation of every novel and it is the place to start (you can figure out everything else later).
In this post, I’ll be writing about characters, the place they have in the novel, why they are an important part, and give you tips on how to develop your characters to fit your novel.
A note before we continue: many of the categories and archetypes are old and traditional so you may find some roles stereotypical (as do I). However, these are meant to give you inspiration. If you find an archetype stereotypical and want to change it then, please, do so. We need change, diversity, and innovation.
Character Creation and Why it’s Important
Characters are one of the most important building blocks of a novel. Without any characters to take action and move the story forward, the story will fall apart.
The truth is that in every sensational story is an extraordinary character (or a cast of extraordinary characters). These types of characters do more than just advance the plot. They jump off the page and grip the heart of the reader.
It’s important to craft compelling characters the reader will want to spend time with. You, as the writer, therefore need to think of your characters as living and breathing people. Yes, they are fictional and imaginary, but they need to feel authentic.
Breaking Down Character Creation
There are two methods in which to start with character creation:
- By categorizing them
- By figuring out what archetype the character fits into
You don’t have to use both of these methods for each and every character. You can choose to work with one of them or both, it’s up to you.
If you only use the categorizing method, you’ll develop and establish your character’s moral compass and a little about who he is at the heart.
If you only use the archetype method, you’ll get a more traditional framework and an idea of who your character is in terms of his behaviors, his goals, and his overall role in the story.
You will, obviously, get more information about your character if you use both methods, but not all characters require this (I, personally, use both methods on my main characters only).
Let’s go through these methods one by one.
Categorizing Your Characters
Categorizing your characters will help you gain a clearer picture of who they are and how they should be portrayed.
You can get to know your characters better by categorizing them as:
- Dynamic or Static, Round or Flat Characters
- Black, White or Grey Characters
Dynamic characters usually experience some kind of emotional or mental change while static characters don’t experience this.
Round characters are those most like real people because of their complex personalities and fully-defined background stories while flat characters often can be described in a single sentence.
All stories have a varying range of these types of characters. The most important ones (protagonists and antagonists) are usually round and dynamic while minor characters often are static and round or static and flat (depending on their importance to the story).
Black, white and grey characters are distinguished by their fundamental sense of good or evil. Black is evil, white is good, while grey is the area in between.
Characters that fall into the black category are the purely evil kind They have no hesitations about doing whatever it takes to attain their goal. In contrast, characters that fall into the white category are the purely noble kind. These characters believe in doing the right thing and they often make the fight against the evil forces their personal mission.
Black and white categorized characters often receive critique in modern literature because they’re unrealistic and stereotypical (it’s all more realistic and authentic to show characters that have both good and evil inside, as all of us real human beings have). I believe that’s one of the biggest reasons grey characters have become increasingly popular.
Characters that fall into the grey category are, as mentioned, in between good and evil and usually fall into the antihero archetype. Some grey characters are good but make questionable decisions because of a character flaw. Other grey characters are bad people who have a sympathetic background that may justify their actions.
There are four main character categories often talked about within storytelling:
- The Protagonist (which includes the hero, heroine, and the antihero)
- The Antagonist
- The Sidekick
- The Mentor (common in fantasy and science fiction)
Each of these categories contains several character archetypes that I’ll go through below.
Here’s a list of common protagonist archetypes:
- The Boss (mostly used for female characters)
- The Charmer (mostly used for male characters)
- The Leader (can be used for both female and male characters)
- The Nurturer (mostly used for female characters)
- The Professor (can be used for both female and male characters)
- The Rebel (can be used for both female and male characters)
- The Seductress (mostly used for female characters)
- The Swashbuckler (mostly used for male characters)
- The Warrior (can be used for both female and male characters)
- The Fighter (used for antagonists)
- The Leader (used for antagonists)
- The Sociopath (used for antagonists)
You can find out more about these archetypes in previously published blog posts: The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 2: Heroine Archetypes, The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 3: Hero Archetypes, and The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 4: Antihero Archetypes.
Here’s a list of common antagonist archetypes:
- Tangible Antagonist
- Substitute Antagonist
- Abstract Antagonist
You can find out more about these archetypes in a previously published blog post: The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 5: Antagonist Archetypes.
Here’s a list of common sidekick archetypes:
- The Brains
- The Friend
- The Humanizer
- The Muscles
You can find out more about these archetypes in a previously published blog post: The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 6: Sidekick Archetypes.
Here’s a list of common mentor archetypes:
- The Counsellor (can be either male or female)
- The Experienced Friend (can be either male or female)
- The Master (usually an older male character)
- The Wise Man (also usually an elderly male character)
You can find out more about these archetypes in a previously published blog post: The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 7: Mentor Archetypes.
An Additional List of Character Archetypes
There are, of course, many more character archetypes than the ones I’ve mentioned already. Whether you choose to use these or not is entirely up to you and if you believe they can/will fit into your novel.
Here’s the list of character archetypes additional to the ones I’ve listed above:
- Threshold Guardians: These are guardians that keep the unworthy from entering a new world that’s on the other side of the threshold.
- Heralds: These are the characters that bring the call to adventure, news of change, news of challenges to overcome, etc.
- The Tricksters: This archetype (also known as the Comic Duo) includes characters that are usually the center of mischief, tricks, and fun.
- The Spunky Kid: This character archetype is somewhat of a tomboy (if a girl), resourceful, strong, and willing to do whatever it takes to help her friends.
I have previously written posts about character creation where you can learn a technique on how to categorize your characters and see which archetype the character fits into:
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 1: Categorizing Your Characters
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 2: Heroine Archetypes
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 3: Hero Archetypes
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 4: Antihero Archetypes
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 5: Antagonist Archetypes
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 6: Sidekick Archetypes
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation, Part 7: Mentor Archetypes
You can also read the box set where I have gathered my ebooks on these topics right here. In this box set, I’ve added additional questions so that you can start creating your characters. If you’re interested in a specific book, you can get them separately:
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation: Protagonists
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation: Antagonists
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation: Mentors
- The Epic Guide to Character Creation: Sidekicks
If you want to get more in-depth into your character’s backstory, worldview, voice, internal growth, appearance, and more, you can find out more and download the Crafting Sensational Characters Workbook right here.
Do you want to learn more about the building blocks of a novel?
Build a story from the ground up by learning how J.K. Rowling used building blocks like world building, character creation, story structure and much more to build the foundation for the Harry Potter series. You’ll also learn how to adapt those techniques to fit your own story, no matter in what genre you write.