1. The Protagonist.
This is the hero/main character of your story. When a reader picks up your book, it is to find out what happens to this person. You might have more than one protagonist (I’m looking at you George R. R. Martin), and that is fine, just make sure YOU know who they are and centre the events around them. Otherwise, your reader will be left confused.
Example: Jane Eyre from Jane Eyre.
2. The Love Interest.
Now, before you say, “But, Alicia, my story isn’t a romance, why do I need a love interest?”, have a look at every successful novel ever written. THERE IS ALMOST ALWAYS A LOVE INTEREST. Humans are wired to seek out meaningful connections, which is why we love to read about them. Introduce a love interest and see how it takes your story to the next level. The impact the love interest has on the plot and other characters is up to you and the conventions of whatever genre you are writing in (hint: it will need to be more for a romance novel and less for certain other genres, such as horror).
Example: Mr Rochester from Jane Eyre. Later in the book there is also her cousin, John Rivers. Yes, there can also be more than one love interest.
3. The Antagonist.
This is the person, event, or thing that blocks the protagonist from achieving their goals. Like the protagonist, there can be more than one. The more antagonists you have equals more conflict, and you want as much conflict as possible. You can also mix up the types of protagonist. For instance, the weather could be one and an assassin could be another. Be bold in experimenting with this!
Example: President Snow/The Capitol, the challenges and harsh environment during the games, and the other competitors in The Hunger Games.
4. The Sidekick.
We all know, and usually love, this character. It’s the best friend or new acquaintance of the protagonist who gives them sound advice, unwavering support, and help on the journey to come.
Example: Samwise Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings.
5. The Mentor.
This character is different to the sidekick in that they are not always by the protagonist’s side. They also sometimes engage in tough love to kick the protagonist into action. To make this character even more complicated, they can sometimes be an antagonist.
Example: Consider both Dumbledore and Snape in the Harry Potter series.
An end note: many books have been written that do not include these 5 characters. Like everything in life, you need to know the rules, and be expert at keeping them, before you can start breaking them. If you are at the beginning of your writing career or don’t feel like your novel is strong enough, then remember to put all 5 of these characters into your final manuscript.
All the best in your writing,
A.K. Leigh xxoo