A non-exhaustive list of character terminology

Characters are the lens through which a reader is guided through a narrative. There are many different types of characters that exist within a story, and the terminology of these can be confusing. So here is a summary of the most common character terms and definitions!! →

A character is a person or other being within a narrative that carries out actions and speaks dialogue in order to guide readers through their stories. They are the lens through which readers come to understand plot lines and themes, and most stories have multiple characters interacting in order to generate conflict and depth. Every writer and reader knows that there are also many different “types” of characters, and a cursory search of the internet will reveal a hundred and one definitions. Today, I thought I’d summarise some of the most common terminology out there to try and make sense of it all!

Often, characters can be distinguished by their narrative function and separated into three key levels. These are:

  • Primary characters: The “main” or “principal” characters, who are the major players within the story and a focal point of the plot
  • Secondary characters: The “supporting” characters who play an important role, but with a narrower focus
  • Tertiary characters: The characters that populate the world of the story, but does not necessarily link to the main story line

There is a common set of four types of characters that refer to the way a character changes throughout a story. These are:

  • Dynamic character: A character that experiences a change(s) throughout the story, often in the form of their outlook or personality
  • Static character: A character that stays the same throughout the story and does not develop at all
  • Flat character: A character that displays few personality traits or little complexity, and may not be described in much detail
  • Round character: A character that is complex and fully fleshed-out, with a distinct personality, background and motives that we know much about

Characters can also be defined by their role in the story. This list, in particular, seems endless, but some of the most common roles are:

  • Protagonist: The central character around which the story resolves, and whose decisions shape the course the story takes
  • Antagonist: The person or force opposing and/or causing conflict for the protagonist
  • Deuteragonist: A character close to the protagonist, often a best friend, confidant or “sidekick”
  • Love interest: A character that is the lover, or potential lover, of another character, in particular the protagonist
  • Mentor: The person that guides the protagonist through their journey and may represent the protagonist’s conscience
  • Narrator: The character who tells the story

Often, there are also characters who fulfil a specific purpose within the story. Some examples of these include:

  • Foil: A character who contrasts strongly with, and therefore highlights or brings out, the corresponding qualities of another character
  • Stock character: A stereotypical or archetypal character with a fixed set of traits, often familiar to readers from other works
  • Symbolic character: A character that represents a concept or theme larger than themselves, and subtly steers the readers’ minds towards it

What are the most common character terms you’ve encountered? Do you ever get confused by them? Can you recommend any resources on this subject?

  One thought on “A non-exhaustive list of character terminology

  1. 20/06/2020 at 12:28 AM

    I’ve never heard of a Deuteragonist character before. And the last three were an eye opener too. ☺️

    Liked by 1 person

    • 20/06/2020 at 7:34 AM

      There you go!! I’d heard the word “deuteragonist” before but never really knew what it meant. There’s always something to learn by doing a bit of research! 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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