To understand the purpose of this post and the notations in this diagram, please read the Introduction.
While good Characters are all unique in some way, Characters can largely be divided into three groups: protagonists (Characters the reader is expected to sympathize with); antagonists (Characters who oppose the protagonists); and minor characters whose role in the Story is limited to what the protagonists and antagonists see of them. Minor characters may have Motivations and face Challenges, but we don’t see that in this Story. (They may have Stories of their own somewhere else.)
Here are some common types of protagonists and antagonists. These lists are by no means exhaustive. You should view these as roles, where a given Character may play multiple roles over the course of a Story. A Character may even be both protagonist and antagonist within the same Story.
Expanding on our definition above, protagonist Characters are Characters who help a main Character (theProtagonist) to face Challenges. Except for Protagonists, these all may be minor characters.
This is the main Character in all or part of the Story. This might be the hero or heroine; but in some Stories, the Protagonist isn’t very heroic. A Story may have a single Protagonist, or a group of Protagonists (sometimes called an ensemble). In some Stories, the Protagonist role may shift from one Character to another.
This is a Character who shares some of the same Motivations or faces some of the same Challenges as the Protagonist, and collaborates with him or her to overcome the Challenges.
This is a Character who helps the Protagonist to face Challenges due primarily to friendship or loyalty,
This is a Character who helps the Character because of some past debt or obligation or some prior working relationship.
This is a Character who provides information to the Protagonist.
This is a Character who teaches the Protagonist a lesson.
This is a Character who does some work or provides some service to the Protagonist.
This is a Character who listens to the Protagonist and gives him or her some advice on dealing with Challenges.
Expanding on our definition above, antagonist Characters are Characters who in some way add to the Challenges that a Protagonist faces. They may not dislike the Protagonist; perhaps they even like him or her. But in some way, they make the Protagonist’s task more difficult. Except for Antagonists, these all may be minor characters.
This is a Character who actively seeks to defeat the Protagonist, or whose Motivations create the Protagonist’s Challenges. For the Protagonist to succeed, the Antagonist must fail, and vice versa. Not all Stories will have an Antagonist. For instance, if the Protagonist’s Challenge is to survive a storm, there’s probably no Antagonist causing the storm.
This is a Character who shares the same Motivations as the Protagonist, and who wants to beat the Protagonist at the Challenges. The rivalry may be friendly or hostile.
This is a Character who may support the Protagonist in his or her Challenges, but who also contributes Challenges as a result. For instance, a Protagonist’s coworkers may (as part of their jobs) create new work for him or her.
This is a Character who hires or contracts the Protagonist to face certain Challenges, often as a way of dealing with other Challenges. For instance, if the Protagonist has a Challenge of “Needs to pay the rent,” a Client may pay him or her money to perform some job that entails new Challenges.
This is a Character who judges or evaluates the work that the Protagonist does, or who creates and enforces rules that he or she must follow. Satisfying the Official and complying with the rules (or evading them) becomes a new set of Challenges.
While it may seem odd to categorize Romantic Interest as an “antagonist”, in many Stories the Challenge is for the Protagonist to win the Romantic Interest’s affections. Thus the Romantic Interest is an integral part of the Challenge.
This is a Character who in some way, likely some innocent way, creates or amplifies a Challenge. If the Protagonist tries to chase an Antagonist through a crowd, the people in the crowd can be Impediments.
This is a Character who needs help of some sort from the Protagonist; and procuring and providing that help creates or complicates a Challenge. A parent with children may not be free to chase an Antagonist to some distant locale, as one example.