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Great ideas for characters will come and go, but there are always concrete character types that you can count on to carry a plot.
Check out the most common types to see if they’re what you need to make your next story come to life.
What Are Character Types?
Character types are the distinct roles each character plays in a story. It may cover their overall purpose, how they change, and their intentions.
You can always personalize character types to new identities that make your story stand out. However, naming which category they fall under can help you define your plot and character arcs.
16 Potential Character Types for Your Next Story
Check out these most common character types to decide how you’ll write your next cast and who it will include.
This is your main character. They’re the central focus of the story, the person who resolves the main conflict, or the individual who grows with or from the story’s theme.
You can also have multiple protagonists! 3rd-person point-of-view (POV) stories or books often have at least two main characters because switching between their points of view furthers the plot, adds tension, or develops their world for the reader.
Examples: Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit; Claire Randall in Outlander
This is your main character’s opposition. They’ll be the force against which your protagonist clashes to experience the conflict that results in their growth. Sometimes the antagonist functions as an obstacle for the protagonist to overcome. Other times, they’re a lesson the main character needs to learn by the end of the story.
You can create multiple antagonists for one protagonist or multiple antagonists for a cast of protagonists. It depends on the story you have in mind and what POV you’ll be using.
Examples: The White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Pennywise in It
The Central (Major) Characters
Central characters are what you would call the individual protagonists who make up your cast of characters. They all grow throughout your plot and are essential to the backbone of your story.
Examples: the seven demigods in the Prophecy of Seven in The Heroes of Olympus series; the multigenerational protagonists in Homegoing
The Secondary (Minor) Characters
Secondary characters are often called sidekicks or companions. They’re part of your protagonist’s life and are along for the ride with them. Although your plot might not be the same without them (if they’re a love interest, family member, or another person close to your protagonist), they primarily exist to develop the protagonist.
Examples: Dr. Watson in the Sherlock Holmes series; Cinna in The Hunger Games series
The Static Characters
Writers need static characters to essentially remain the same for plot purposes. These characters are typically unaffected by what’s happening in the protagonist’s life because they’re one or two steps removed from it.
Alternatively, your static character can also be the antagonist. They’re actively involved in your protagonist’s life, but they don’t undergo any inner changes that result in character growth.
Examples: Dolores Umbridge in the Harry Potter series (she remains unchanged because she has to be a constant source of conflict); Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird (he remains unchanged because he represents morality and reason to Scout)
The Dynamic Characters
Dynamic characters change throughout a story. They’re most often the protagonist or one of the main cast of characters because they are actively involved in the plot.
These could be your protagonist, antagonist, or any other character that undergoes some time of fundamental change.
Examples: Ebenezer Scrooge in A Christmas Carol; Celaena Sardothien in Throne of Glass
The Flat Characters
Flat characters experience no change throughout a story. They may arrive at the end with a different opinion or goal, but they’re almost identical to who they were at the beginning of the story.
Don’t assume flat characters are boring or unnecessary! They always represent something for the protagonist or the reader. They can also be the antagonist!
Examples: Marmee in Little Women (she’s a role model for her daughters and remains their true north throughout the book); Suzy Nakamura in American Born Chinese (she helps Wei-Chen face his complicated feelings about feeling like an outcast for his race by being vocal about hers, but that remains her sole purpose in the plot.)
The Round Characters
When someone talks about a round character, they don’t mean the character’s physical appearance. Instead, this phrase refers to a protagonist or antagonist’s internal depth.
Round characters have complex personalities. They may contradict themselves sometimes or the people they love the most. These characters typically have full backstories and embody the phrase, “they contain multitudes.”
Examples: Amy Dunne in Gone Girl; Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice
The Stock Characters
Stock characters are flat characters that resemble a stereotype easily recognized by readers. They’re your geek teenager with oversized glasses or the best friend who is only there to be the punchline.
Sometimes these characters are written so well that readers don’t mind the stereotype. It depends on their relationship with other characters in your story and if they only embody the stereotype up front. Successful stock characters eventually reveal the depth of their hearts or undergo developments that push beyond the limits of their stereotype.
Examples: Rapunzel (the damsel in distress); Alaska Young in Looking for Alaska (the pixie dream girl)
Readers love anti-heroes because they’re protagonists who start off as the worst version of themselves and sometimes grow into the best they can be. There are always external and internal obstacles for them to overcome, which may or may not clash.
They can also start off as versions of themselves that are inherently good, then become more like an antagonist but for the right reasons. Readers may still cheer them on and hope they revert to their previous good ways or read your story to watch your anti-hero follow their worst instincts until the world crumbles around them.
Examples: Dexter Morgan in the Dexter series; Patrick Bateman in American Psycho
Typically, the foil in any story is someone who’s opposite of the protagonist. They encourage the main character to grow throughout the plot by holding reverse opinions, world views, or values.
Examples: God and Satan in Paradise Lost; Lennie and George in Of Mice and Men
The Symbolic Character
Characters can be great by themselves, but many times they will represent something the author is trying to talk about through their work. A symbolic character is the representation of an aspect of society, an idea, or theme.
Examples: the raven in The Raven (symbolizes the narrator’s grief and the presence of death in general); Aslan in The Chronicles of Narnia series (symbolizes God/Jesus)
Deuteragonists are also called secondary characters. They’re the closest characters to the protagonist throughout their journey. They give the story more depth, either through their close relationship with the protagonist or by working against them as or alongside the antagonist.
Examples: Edward Cullen in the Twilight series; Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio
You’ll rarely see a tertiary character more than a few times in a story. They’re background characters that most often create minor conflict on the protagonist’s journey with their primary conflict. Tertiary characters add depth to a story’s world, but aren’t essential to the plot.
However, tertiary characters are important! Without them, there would be no nosy server at your protagonist’s favorite coffee shop or supportive librarian at your main character’s library.
Examples: Parvati and Padma Patil in Harry Potter; Madame Stahl in Anna Karenina
The Love Interest
Ah, the love interest. They are the secondary integral part of any romantic plot line and may challenge the protagonist to grow by introducing new experiences or points of view.
Examples: Peeta Mellark in The Hunger Games series; Will Traynor in Me Before You
Characters who are confidants are literary devices that help the protagonist reveal their secrets, state of mind, intentions, flaws, and feelings while all of those things are actively changing throughout a story. They can also represent real-life relationships by maintaining a healthy friendship or a manipulative friend.
Examples: Horatio in Hamlet; Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings series
Consider Writing New Character Types
Many of these character types merge to create stories with more depth. Defining your existing or future characters with these terms could help you figure out their role in the plot and how to make your story stronger by flexing the purposes of each type.
I have some great character-building tools over on this post that are all free! Use them to create vivid cast members for your next story, no matter which character types you decide to use.