Eight Character Roles

The Eight Character Roles describe what function each character serves in the story.

They are similar to archetypes, but with less importance on how the character behaves as a person and more importance on what each character does for the story. Character roles are not interested in how the character approaches the job, just that the job is fulfilled.

(Note: I advise using this as a rewriting tool to avoid forcing characters into a role they are not meant to have. Instead, allow the characters to exist as they already are in your creative mind and they will naturally find a role, which you can flush out during the rewriting stage.)

A story may have more than eight characters, but all characters (including groups of people or the story’s setting) can serve a particular role.

Protagonist – the character responsible for handling the main problem and the one most in need of change, emotionally.

Antagonist – the primary bad guy. The character that opposes the protagonist outright on all counts, physically and emotionally.

Mentor – the protagonist’s conscience and the prevailing side to the thematic argument. The mentor voices or represents the lesson that must be learned by the protagonist in order to change for the better and achieve the goal. (Note: Be mindful of creating a mentor who is as perfect and principled as humans can be, for doing so will make the character seem inhuman. Instead, let the mentor be flawed, like all us humans.)

Tempter – the right-hand to the antagonist. The tempter doesn’t need to know the antagonist, but they both stand for the same thing: stopping the protagonist from achieving the protagonist’s goal. The tempter tries to manipulate and convince the protagonist to join the “dark side”. However, in the end, the tempter can change his/her mind and realize the benefit of joining the good guys.

Sidekick – the protagonist’s unconditionally loving friend. This character can get frustrated with the protagonist and have doubts, but will always stand by the protagonist in the end. Typically, the sidekick embodies the theme without even realizing it. (The mentor can explain the theme, while the sidekick just does it without thinking and can’t explain it – they just do it).

Skeptic – the lone objector. The skeptic does not believe in the theme nor in the importance of achieving the protagonist’s goal. Without loyalties, the skeptic is on his/her own path. The skeptic may like the protagonist and want the protagonist to succeed but not at the cost of the skeptic’s goals. However, the skeptic may have a change of heart by the end of the story.

Emotional – this character acts according to their gut and lets motions fuel decisions. Impulsive. Reactive. Sometimes the emotional character is right and succeeds in ways that a thinking person would never have even tried, but sometimes the character finds trouble by not thinking before jumping.

Logical – the rational thinker who plans things out, shoots for logical solutions and gives reasonable, matter-of-fact answers to questions. However, sometimes the head needs to listen to the heart to work at its best.

I’ve found variations of this information in a number of different sources. The first two that come to mind are Dramatica Pro, a software that helps you organize your writing, and I Could’ve Written a Better Movie Than That by Derek Rydall, a great book about script consulting.

  1. jewel
    09/06/2011 at 9:43 PM | #1

    Thank you for your help, appreciate it. I got an A on my homework.

  2. salone
    09/06/2011 at 9:54 PM | #3

    Thank you for helping my daughter jewel

  3. X.A.E.K.
    10/04/2011 at 5:49 PM | #5

    you forgot catalyst, even thought I do realize that a catalyst is only a character that develops to become the change, good or bad, I still think that you could have done that little bit of description. Other than that I think that this really helped me a lot. thank you.

    • 10/04/2011 at 9:58 PM | #6

      Thanks for your comment, XAEK. Glad I could help.

    • Matt.L
      06/11/2012 at 4:44 AM | #7

      Can you please go into more detail about a Catalyst?

      • 06/11/2012 at 9:33 AM | #8

        The definition for a catalyst is a person or thing that precipitates an event or change (Ex: His imprisonment by the government served as the catalyst that helped transform social unrest into revolution). In storytelling, a catalyst is a moment in the plot which shoves the characters down the path of change and transformation, whether they are ready for it or not. See more here.

  4. Laydilejur
    10/31/2011 at 12:10 PM | #9

    Briiliant post, thanks! Will help with NaNoWriMo 2011 :)

  5. Rain
    04/11/2012 at 5:48 PM | #11

    Thank you very much for this! Helped me very much. :)

  6. 05/17/2012 at 7:47 AM | #13

    Awesome post, just what I was looking for :)

  7. Matt.L
    06/11/2012 at 4:43 AM | #15

    Thank you so much. I learnt a little bit more than what I knew previously. It’s especially useful now as I am doing a character study for school

    • 06/11/2012 at 9:25 AM | #16

      You’re very welcome, Matt. I hope it comes in handy.

  8. 08/29/2012 at 8:31 PM | #17

    Tim! Thank you for this post. I read somewhere that if two of your characters have the same role, you need to remove one of them, but the writer didn’t supply a list of roles or their functions. I can’t wait to go back through my story and see what needs to change. Thanks for sharing!

  9. jenni
    05/30/2013 at 6:43 PM | #19

    This helps organise my book, thank you!

  10. CoryM
    01/27/2014 at 7:52 AM | #20

    OK, I’m glad I found this; the only thing I found I was missing is a “logical” role character. It helps to have a specific role name for your characters; thank you for some valuable insight!

  11. sana
    01/28/2014 at 2:33 PM | #22

    wow!! its just the thing i needed :-)
    thanks for helping ;-D

  12. 02/26/2014 at 7:13 PM | #24

    This post has been bookmarked for future reference. :D

  1. 10/29/2009 at 11:00 AM | #1
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  3. 03/24/2011 at 7:56 PM | #3
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