These notes are courtesy of the writer/screenwriter, John Boles, from his 2010 FWA presentation in St. Augustine. He did an outstanding job of compiling the character types – in a way that should be very helpful to beginner and experienced writers, alike. I came across them when trying to compile some information that would help some of my newer clients. Thought them worth sharing with everyone! See you Sunday…keep reading and writing. NQ
KNOW YOUR CHARACTERS, John Boles, ACCFWA 7/17/10
Basic Character Types
Protagonist – The central character of the story.
Antagonist – The character who provides opposition to the Protagonist.
Pivotal Characters – Lesser characters who directly affect the main characters in some way, and literally cause the story to turn or “pivot” in another direction.
Secondary Characters – These are minor characters who populate the story, but do not have any major effects on the main characters or cause any real changes in the story.
- Always try to find a way to make at least some of your major characters unique and memorable.
Four of the most common HERO Types
1. The Idol Hero – A character whose abilities are usually much higher than the average
person’s; but the defining quality of Idol Heroes is his or her lack of self-doubt, ambivalence, and inner confusion. James Bond is an example of the Idol Hero. These heroes do not have to be perfect, or physically impressive. Two more examples are the pompous Hercule Poirot and the elderly Miss Marple because of their lack of self-doubt. The Idol Hero can have imperfections, like Superman’s bashful behavior as Clark Kent or his weakness to kryptonite.
2. The Everyman Hero – Unlike the Idol Hero, whose abilities and exploits are far above the average person’s, the Everyman Hero lives and struggles right in the thick of everyday challenges. The core of the audience’s emotional bond is that we see this hero as a peer, with strengths and weaknesses similar to our own. The same things that are difficult for the audience are difficult for this type of hero. Many actors have made a career of playing Everyman Heroes. Examples are: Jimmy Stewart, Bette Davis, Henry Fonda, Harrison Ford, Sandra Bullock, Tom Hanks, Jody Foster, Kevin Costner, and Will Smith. Some film examples are Courage Under Fire, Poltergeist, The Way We Were, and North by Northwest.
3. The Underdog Hero – This character is at a genuine disadvantage when compared to the world around them. Their handicaps can be physical, emotional, social, or mental.
Underdogs become heroes by triumphing over seemingly insurmountable obstacles in a way that lets them take control of their lives. Some cinematic and literary examples that featured Underdog Heroes are: Forrest Gump, My Left Foot, Rocky, Mask, and The Jerk. Many actors have made a career of creating this type of character. Examples include Charlie Chaplin, Johnny Depp, Jim Carrey, Pauley Shore, Chris Farley, as well as many roles played by the likes of Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, Joan Crawford, and James Cagney.
4. The Lost Soul Hero – This character connects with the audience through the darker side of human nature. These heroes express an aspect of life that readers/viewers rarely want to talk about or deal with. Audiences almost always admire these characters’ courage to be bad, because they are not stopped by personal morality or by fear of consequences like the rest of us. Some examples of the Lost Soul Hero are seen in Bonnie and Clyde, Raging Bull, Amadeus, Dracula, Citizen Kane, A River Runs Through It, and Public Enemies. Some actors who’ve portrayed this type of character: Robert DeNiro, Nicholas Cage, and Brad Pitt.