Great plots are awesome. Beautiful descriptions are awe-inspiring. But if you can crack character, you are made.
If you have a great plot, it’s a good start, but that plot has to happen to someone. That someone must have somebody else trying to stop them. That someone should also have a friend to help them and, of course, the moment they know what they want, they meet the love of their life. And that love has nothing to do with what they want. In this paragraph I have mentioned four character-types.
- The Protagonist: - Has to achieve the goal. This is your hero and your hero is nothing without his or her story goal. What do they want? What are they going to do for next 300 pages? The story revolves around this character. He or she should be in most of the scenes and if they are not in the scene, the other characters should be talking about them in their absence.
- The Antagonist: - Opposes the goal. Your baddie is in opposition to your hero. It’s that simple. He or she doesn’t have to be evil. What is your hero’s story goal? Who wants to stop him? That is your antagonist. His motivation should be as strong as your protagonist’s is.
- The Friend: - Helps protagonist achieve his goal. Who do you call when you are in trouble? Who do you call when you have good news? Chances are your friend is on the list. Your hero needs a friend too. The friend can also be the mirror character. They usually have a shared past and shared morals, but most importantly, they share the protagonist’s goal.
- The Love Interest: - Lures the protagonist away from his goal. This is a rather neglected, often under-developed character. Genre will determine how important this relationship is. In a hard-core crime novel, romance might be present, but it isn’t necessarily the most important element. It will help to add to the conflict, to show character development, and to portray your character as a rounded person with a complete life. In a romance novel, this character or relationship will be involved in the central conflict and therefore be very important. Keep in mind that the goal of the love interest is to have the protagonist for themselves. The protagonist’s goal is not their goal. Also, this does not have to be a romantic love interest. Which character wants to take your protagonist away for his or her goal? Not oppose it.
But I thought the other character did that?
Don’t get caught up by the names of these characters. In my years of research, I have found hundreds of versions or different kinds of characters. When you examine them, they overlap and are interchangeable. I want you to pay close attention to why a certain character is in the story. What are they doing? Why have you, as the writer, put them there?
Why only four?
There will be more people in your story and I will discuss them in the following weeks. What I want you to do is make sure your story is strong enough with these four characters before you add more. It’ll also stop you from adding a million characters to prop up your plot. By limiting the number of characters, it forces you to strengthen your plot.
Star Wars. This story has a big cast, but most of the story relies on Luke, Leia, Han and Darth Vadar. The story goal for Luke is to find Leia and then to help her destroy the Death Star. Darth, of course, doesn’t want his Death Star to be destroyed. Luke hires Han Solo to get him to Leia where he goes on to ultimately destroy the Death Star.
Can you see how Leia starts out as the love interest for Luke, who then awkwardly turns out to be his sister, but they have the same goal? And that Han initially is the one who wants nothing to do with Luke’s goal, until he is offered money. The flexibility of it is interesting.Shrek. Another example of a four-character story is Shrek. He is the protagonist. We have Fiona who is the love interest, Donkey who is the friend, and then we have Lord Farquaad who is the antagonist. So simple, the brilliance of the story lies in its simplicity, which strengthens the plot.
Remember, these are general guidelines. Right at the end when we lose Darth is he really still so evil? It is all about change and it is up to you to manipulate the characters.
Keep in mind we can have stories with dual protagonists or dual timelines which can also alter the set up. But keep it simple. Keep it plain. Strengthen your plot first.
Figure out your awesome foursome and then decide who else you need.
by Mia Botha
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