In preparation for NaNoWriMo, I am (probably) beginning a series on “How to design a novel.” In this episode, I discuss Characters.
Novel Design: Character Types
But how does one figure out what other characters should exist in a novel? Here is a list of a few to consider, based on mythical archetypes.
- Heroes – Self-sacrificing do-gooders. Care little for themselves, but want to fix the world. They have some driving issue that propels the book forward.
- Villains – The Bad Guys. Always looking out for #1. Villains can be layered, one controlling another. They should reflect the specific weaknesses of the Main Character.
- Allies – Sidekicks, lovers, friends, stalwarts, informants, mothers. These are the people the Hero can count on when the going gets rough. They watch the Hero’s back.
- Mentors – Father/Mother figures, religious leaders, authority figures, angels, teachers. Anyone the Hero can learn from. Use the Force!
- Heralds – The news. Directly or indirectly calls the Hero to action.
- Tricksters – Comic relief. Can put the death of thousands into perspective.
- Shape Shifters – Liars, thieves, assassins, prostitutes, basically anyone who cannot be trusted. They have two (or more) faces. Unpredictable and inscrutable.
- Threshold Guardians – Thou shall not pass! Except for the $1.50 fare.
Your genre may include other archetypes. For instance, Romance requires a Romantic Interest, Mystery requires a Detective, etc.
So what does this mean for creating a novel? Start looking at the different types to see who would fill these roles.
- Heroes – What qualities of Heroism does your Main Character illustrate? Why are they qualified to be Heroes? What must they learn during the course of the story to achieve true Heroism?
- Villains – Who is the main opposition to your character? What do they want? Why are their interests diametrically opposed? Who are their henchmen? Which ones might be turned to the Hero’s side?
- Allies – Who are your Main Character’s most reliable, most trusted friends? Why are they friends? What to they themselves want? Can they really be trusted? Are they who the Hero wants to be Allies or are they throw together by circumstances? Which ones bolt when things get rough?
- Mentors – Your Hero is about to tread on dangerous ground. Who can help him through the perils ahead? Who has been-there-done-that? Does the Mentor have his own agenda? Does the Mentor steer your Hero wrong?
- Heralds – Sometimes the Universe calls to your character. A mysterious note. A friend of a friend. An anonymous text. A call from the Chief. The buxom blond in the PI’s office. If you build it, he will come.
- Tricksters – Do you have a character who just doesn’t care about all the grief your Main Character goes through? The Trickster is all about grounding your characters in reality, showing that things are never as serious as they seem. The Trickster is also thought of as a Child, innocent and uncorrupted, but sometimes it’s a jaded oldster giving your Hero a hard time.
- Shape Shifters – By far my favorite archetype, and probably the hardest to define. Who wears a mask? Who is a double-agent? Who is having an affair? Think skeletons in closets, secret agendas, etc. The basic question is: Who is going to screw over your Main Character when they least expect it and are most vulnerable? Alternately, who is going to come to Hero’s aide when the Hero least expects it, especially from this person?
- Threshold Guardians – Your characters must pass tests to advance in their quest. Who do you suppose administers these tests? Everything your Hero achieves comes at a price. Some Guardians are easy to pass, others nearly impossible.
I hope this gives you a good starting point when thinking about the various types of characters that populate novels. Note that one character can fulfill multiple roles, and that not all roles are well-represented. So you can have a Villain-Mentor, a Shape Shifting-Ally, or a Trickster-Herald. Every character can display different archetypes at different points of the story. Allies can be turned into Villains. A Threshold Guardian can become a Mentor once the test is passed.
Have fun with it. Will post soon with tips on developing individual characters.