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Creating Characters with A Cast of Characters

K.M. Weiland has said there are eight characters your story needs. I have expanded and contracted this statement, and still determined there to be eight characters.

Let me explain why you need these characters added to your cast:

Weiland’s eight (and a half) characters are: a protagonist, an antagonist, a sidekick, a mentor, a contagonist, a sceptic, a reason, an emotion, and the love interest counts as half because they can be any of the above.

I say there are eight because I added two mini antagonists (like bosses in video games before you get to the Final Boss) and converged a few of the other characters. I ended up with a Protagonist, a Big Bad, a Contagonist, a Sidekick/Emotion, a Mentor/Reason, a Sceptic, a Disk One Final Boss, and a Dragon.

So, we agree there are eight characters you need in your story. But we’re not finished yet.

No, I’ve gone one step further and added categories for your cast of characters.

You have major characters, minor characters, and defining characters.

Let’s dive in and investigate this further.

What Are the Three Categories of Characters?

Well, I took this idea from TV shows and their story bibles, particularly the character index bit.

In the index, it suggests that major characters are the focus of the show. Buffy Summers, and possibly the Big Bad of the season, is the focus of the show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The show follows Buffy through her life as both a student and the Chosen One. Many shows also follow the Big Bad as they try to get their plans to fruition, which in this example would be the Master from Series One.

Minor characters, by contrast, are the groups surrounding your major characters. These are the Scooby Gang and the minions of the Big Bad of the Season. The support, the Bat Family. The show might focus on these characters, they might even be narrators of certain and specific scenes, but they’re not the focus of the show. Buffy, at its heart, is about Buffy Summers and her fight against Evil.

Finally, we have defining characters. Characters who only come in to define things, maybe they add a bit of context, but never have more than a handful of appearances in the entire run of the show. Joyce Summers, possibly Tara, never someone who appears on the title credits (unless they’re a famous actor with a special appearance, then they’ll appear on the titles).

These are the three categories of characters, so how do they relate to the cast of characters I mentioned earlier?

There are eight characters your story needs, and three categories to put them in. George has you covered in this article. Click To Tweet

How to Separate the Eight Main Characters into These Categories

I think it’s quite simple, but then again, I did come up with this thing. So I’ll create a little table for easy viewing, complete with simple definitions:

Major CharactersProtagonist, this is who the story is about
Big Bad, this is who gets in the protagonist’s way
Minor CharactersSidekick/Emotion, the Sam to the protagonist’s Frodo
Mentor/Reason, this is the Gandalf, the wise, guiding one
Contagonist, mostly on the protagonist’s side
Sceptic, the Doubting Thomas of characters
Disk One Final Boss, it turns out he’s not the Big Bad
The Dragon, the 2nd in command of the Big Bad
Defining CharactersAny Other Character, family member or pet

The main thing to remember is that these are all the important characters, and as such they should all get a lot of screen time. But every story should have all these characters in them.

Let me re-iterate, all these characters are important, but it is in descending order as to how much screen time each character (or their actions) gets.

A Bit More About Each Character In My Cast, Please.

A slightly more in-depth description of each main character is as follows:

Your Protagonist is the character your story is about. As with The Great Gatsby, the protagonist doesn’t have to be your narrator, but it usually always is. The protagonist drives the story, their actions dictate what happens and what the consequences are that follow.

Masked Couple

The Big Bad is, by contrast, the entity which stands in the way of the protagonist’s goal. Whether a force of nature, an entire government, or a single person, the antagonist’s actions (or inactions) are what cause the protagonist to set off on their Plot Goal. In most cases, the Big Bad is in clear opposition to the Protagonist, but there are a few instances where the real antagonist has been revealed to have been close to the Protagonist in the final quarter of the story.

The Contagonist is, as described by K.M. Weiland, someone who is not directly opposed to the Protagonist, but ends up hindering the Protagonist all the same. Whether or not this hindering is unwilling is up for debate. Consider characters such as Han Solo or Spike (Buffy) for comparison.

While everyone knows the Sidekick is a loyal supporter of the protagonist, while differing in certain ways to show the protagonist’s growth, the Emotion is the fundamentally emotional character who influences the protagonist’s choices.

On that note, the Mentor is the character who acts as the moral standard, guiding the protagonist down whatever path it is they need to take. I’ve combined this with the Reason as that character is fundamentally logical and influences the protagonist in that respect.

The Sceptic is the one who acts as the voice of caution. They question the protagonist’s choices while remaining loyal to them. This character is, I think, different from the Mentor in that the Mentor is a mentor first and foremost, and the sceptic is either a friend or on the edge of the friendship group.

The Disk One Final Boss is a minor antagonist. They’re the red herring villain, the bad guy who is either working for the Big Bad or is deposed by the Big Bad for whatever reason. They’re who we’re led to believe is the bad guy before we’re later proven wrong.

And finally, the Dragon is the sidekick of the Big Bad. The second in command or the top enforcer, and absolutely dangerous in their own right. They’re also almost always the final barrier between the protagonist and the Big Bad, and are the physical challenge where the Big Bad is the mental or moral challenge the protagonist faces.

How does this cast apply to you?

Well, here are eight characters your novel can do with.

In any case, these are just the ones I found a common theme with in most of the stories I read/play/watch. Disregard or use this ‘cast’ as you see fit.

There are four, though, your story must have, if only to drive it. A hero, a villain, a mentor, a sidekick. Harry Potter, Lord Voldemort, Albus Dumbledore or Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley.

Some stories, Harry Potter included, will have characters which switch roles throughout the run. Ron is not always the Sidekick, sometimes he’s the Contagonist. Hermione can act the Mentor just as well as she does the Sceptic. If this is the case, use this as a guide to which roles your characters will most often fill.

I use eight as a guideline as too many characters require too many pages of filler just to get them all ‘onscreen’. Too few characters and you have a rather thin book with not a lot of action. Many of the characters, particularly in Harry Potter and epic fantasy novels such as A Song of Ice and Fire and Lord of the Rings, are only there to show how the world works, they’re defining characters, that’s what they do.

So, here are eight cast members to get you started in populating your world. Try not to go too crazy in keeping them in line.

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