Introduction to Characters


‘Character is Plot and Plot is Character’ F Scott Fitzgerald, but really all Plot comes from Characters not the other way around.

Without Characters there is no point to a plot. Without a character’s journey and change, either physical or emotional, there is no point to a plot. Even if there is a constancy in the character, something has to change, maybe it’s the environment, the town where they grow old and that changes more than the character. In this scenario, effectively the setting is a character and the plot is driven by that changing.

Ultimately if readers aren’t engaged by characters then they won’t care and will stop reading.

Who are the main Characters in a novel?

  • The Protagonist is your main character. They are the hero.
  • The Antagonist is the obstacle to the hero’s objective. They mess up the hero’s goal for them. They may be internal e.g. emotional baggage that prevents the hero from succeeding, such as self-doubt, or external. If the external antagonist is a person they are a character and have needs and desires too. They are the baddie.
  • The Ally or Confidante everyone needs a friend, but they may help or be the antagonist/baddie and hinder the hero’s goal.
  • Every major character in the book should have a story arc and all of the elements you’ve given to your hero – but you may not reveal them all in detail, you may just hint at them. After all you might want to tell their story at another time. But having this detail will help them to be more rounded and less cardboard cut-out.
  • Subsidiary characters need the similar levels of character development but to a lesser extent than the hero and the baddie. The level of detail that this is explored will depend on how important they are and how often they appear. For example if your hero gets a lift in a taxi, you don’t need to spend pages on the driver, unless they are going to perform a greater role than just a cameo or a bit player.

But equally if you don’t understand what motivates and drives the most important characters in your story, then they may come across as cardboard cutouts, or stereotypes which seem unreal.

For example take the following character – The Confidante

Obviously they are the person that the hero confides in. They are someone who wants or needs the hero to succeed – or at least gives that impression if it turns out that they actually don’t, and that’s the plot twist.

They need to fit that role logically and not just be some random homeless person at the bus-stop. They should be linked to the hero in some way and trusted by them. So they need to have a reason to want the hero to succeed – it is their friend, their partner, their business associate, a relative, etc and they might even need skin in the game so they are willing to stick their neck out when required. Also they need to be readily available as required, although that could be at the end of a phone or via telegram if that works for your plot, or they may be with the hero all the time, or dip in and out of the action.

They may be the POV character e.g. Dr Watson, but whatever treatment you adopt you need to be mindful of repeating information to the confidante which the reader already knows. This might bore the reader but a bit of telling and a lot of summarising may be useful if this is required.

Just make sure that the confidante has a role to play, for example that might be to bounce ideas and thoughts off, or to ask questions about what is happening or anything which could lead the hero to an ‘ah! But wait a minute!’ moment.