Character Roles: Understanding the Different Types of Characters in Fiction

character creation
Character Roles:  Understanding the Different Types of Characters in Fiction

Characters are the lifeblood of every story, serving as the driving force behind the narrative's twists and turns. Whether you're crafting a tale of epic proportions or a more intimate exploration of human nature, understanding the various roles of characters is essential to creating a rich and dynamic story

However, while we’ve all heard of stock characters like heroes, villains, love interests, comic relief, etc., a lot goes into creating complex, engaging characters rather than merely following in the footsteps of character archetypes. If you’re struggling to fill your story with well-rounded, interesting people, read on! In this guide, we'll delve into the main types of characters in literature and explore how you can leverage these roles to breathe life into your own characters.

What are the main types of characters in fiction?


The protagonist, often referred to as the main character, is the story's central focus. Whether they're a valiant hero embarking on a quest or a flawed antihero navigating a moral quagmire, this person's character arc forms the backbone of the narrative. Their desires, struggles, and growth are integral to the story's progression, making it crucial to further develop their backstory and motivations.

Of course, the protagonist does not necessarily have to be a singular person. Some stories have multiple main characters and several POVs. Here is a brief list of the types of protagonists you can write:

  • The True Hero: A benevolent soul who embodies integrity and courage (e.g., Luke Skywalker in Star Wars).
  • The Villainous Hero: A protagonist with morally ambiguous traits, challenging conventional notions of heroism (e.g., Joe Goldberg in You).
  • The Reluctant Hero: Someone thrust into the hero role against their will, often grappling with inner turmoil (e.g., Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit).
  • The Antihero: A morally gray protagonist with traits typically associated with villains (e.g., Harley Quinn in DC Comics).
  • The False Protagonist: A character initially presented as the main character but ultimately sidelined or eliminated (e.g., Marion in Hitchcock's Psycho).
  • Multiple POV Protagonists: Stories featuring several main characters, each offering a unique perspective (e.g., the ensemble cast of George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series).


The antagonist serves as the primary obstacle standing in the protagonist's path. Whether they're a malevolent villain bent on destruction or a force of nature posing a formidable challenge, antagonists drive conflict and tension within the story. However, antagonists need not always be villains; they can also be forces of nature (such as in Yann Martel's novel Life of Pi), societal norms, or even the protagonist's own inner demons.

For tips on writing a memorable antagonist, check out this post on making your antagonists memorable.

Secondary Characters (aka Deuteragonists)

Also known as secondary or supporting characters, deuteragonists are crucial to the plot but are not protagonists (think Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings). They play pivotal roles in the story's development without necessarily occupying the spotlight. These characters often undergo significant growth or transformation alongside the protagonist, serving as confidants or mentors.

It's important to make sure that your deuteragonist is a round character who is fully developed. Like your protagonist and antagonist, your secondary cast should consist of dynamic characters who grow and change by the end of the story.

Types of secondary characters:

  • Sidekick: A loyal companion who aids the protagonist in their journey.
  • Love Interest: The object of the protagonist's romantic affection, adding depth to their character arc.
  • Best Friend: A trusted ally who offers guidance and support to the protagonist.
  • Mentor: A wise figure who imparts valuable wisdom and guidance to the protagonist.
  • Foil: A character who contrasts with the protagonist, highlighting their strengths and weaknesses.
  • Shapeshifter: A character whose allegiances or personality undergo significant changes throughout the story.

It’s important to note that none of the above roles must go to secondary characters (perhaps the love interest is the villain!), though they typically do, and there can be a lot of crossover between these roles. For example, the best friend could become a love interest, or a sidekick could be a foil. Including every possible character role separately may result in a bloated cast; likewise, meshing too many roles into one character may be confusing, so mix and match responsibly! For more tips on how to write stellar secondary characters, check out this blog post.


The confidant is a trusted ally and confidante to the protagonist, offering support, guidance, and insight during their journey. Confidants are crucial in shaping the protagonist's decisions and development, whether they're a best friend, mentor, or romantic interest.

Tertiary characters

Tertiary characters, also known as background or minor characters, populate the story's world, adding depth and realism to the narrative. While they may not drive the plot forward, these types of characters contribute to the story's atmosphere and provide context for the hero's journey.

These are often static characters, meaning they don't go through much change or transformation over the course of the story. However, when creating these characters, don’t be afraid to make them meaningful in some way to the plot. They could be an estranged love interest, or a foil character for the protagonist who only pops in occasionally. Have fun creating your village of background characters, and playing with all the endless possibilities!


A foil is a character who provides some perspective on the protagonist’s character and helps us understand them better by being their polar opposite. By being so different, the foil draws attention to the protagonist’s qualities, abilities, and personality. The foil could be an antagonist (Dr. Jekyll vs. Mr. Hyde) or a vessel that illuminates the protagonist’s true colors (Mr. Darcy vs. Mr. Wickham in Pride and Prejudice). They could also be clashing personalities who become good friends, as with Spock and Captain Kirk.

When thrown together, the foil can help the protagonist strengthen their weaknesses and learn to value their strengths. They can also expose the protagonist for who they really are.

Ready to flesh out your cast with different types of characters?

Understanding the various roles characters can play in a story is just the beginning. As you embark on your writing journey, consider exploring character types and archetypes to further develop your cast. Remember, while starting with familiar tropes and archetypes is perfectly fine, adding your own unique twist and flair will elevate your characters and make them truly memorable.

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