One of your first considerations when creating a character should be the role you intend them to play in your story. Is the character a hero or a villain? If the character is a hero, is she a straightforward hero, a dark hero, or a comic hero? Below is a list of character types that borrows heavily from Christopher Vogler’s book, The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. His book goes much more deeply into the different aspects of these characters. I highly recommend it. One thing to keep in mind is that you can have more than one character in the same role and that characters often play more than one role.
Also, remember that roles can be defined in many ways. The method I am presenting is just one. Wikipedia describes a few others here.
Hero: Heroes come in many forms, but the essential trait of a hero is that at some point they make a major sacrifice in order to achieve a goal. A hero may be willing or unwilling, serious or comic, a leader or a loner.
Mentor: The essential trait of mentors is that they provide guidance and tools that the hero or heroes may need. The guidance that a mentor gives often varies in quality, but it is there nonetheless. A mentor can be anything from a slightly more experienced friend, a parent, or a boss to a former hero that succeeded or failed in their own quest.
Threshold Guardian: The essential trait of a threshold guardian is that they represent a barrier that the hero attempts to pass through. Threshold guardians are often minor villains, but may also be good or neutral people whose position happens to represent a barrier or a competing goal. Their job is to test the hero in some way.
Herald: A herald is a character whose information or actions alter the lives or goals of the hero. They may deliver a challenge or simply inform the hero of a change in the status quo. Heralds are often fairly minor characters.
Shapeshifter: A shapeshifter is a character whose role and even personality change dramatically throughout a story. They may start out as a villain but become an ally. They may begin as a romantic interest but become a villain. They may even wear a disguise and appear as more than a person. In many cases, the hero’s love interest is a shapeshifter,
Shadow: A shadow is the hero’s dark counterpart. Shadows often serve as the central villains of a story, but may also serve as a cautionary victim. They often have many of the same traits as the hero but have somehow become corrupted. They represent what can happen to the hero if she loses her way.
Trickster: The trickster represents mischief and misdirection. Tricksters often serve as comic relief, but can sometimes be threatening or heroic in their own ways. Mentors can also come in the guise of a trickster.
When creating a character based on their role in a story, you need to do more than simply decide what category (or categories) the character falls into, you need to decide what traits, skills, goals, flaws, and experiences lead that character to take on that role. There are many ways to go about this. Here are a series of questions you can use to probe the character.
- What is my character’s primary role?
- If my character has a secondary role, what is it?
- What personality traits lead my character to take that role?
- What skills does my character have that might help to fulfill that role?
- What are my character’s goals and how do they relate to their role?
- How are my character’s goals changed by their role?
- What flaws does my character have that influence their role?
- What experiences lead my character to take that role?
Feel free to post your response to this exercise in the comments section.