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

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

    • 09/06/2011 at 9:51 PM

      Glad to hear it! Happy to help.

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

    Thank you for helping my daughter jewel

    • 09/07/2011 at 5:58 AM

      My pleasure. Thank you and Jewel for reading!

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

    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

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

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

      Can you please go into more detail about a Catalyst?

      • 06/11/2012 at 9:33 AM

        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

    Briiliant post, thanks! Will help with NaNoWriMo 2011 🙂

    • 10/31/2011 at 7:06 PM

      My pleasure. Good luck with your NaNoWriMo project!

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

    Thank you very much for this! Helped me very much. 🙂

  6. Miss Alexandrina
    05/17/2012 at 7:47 AM

    Awesome post, just what I was looking for 🙂

    • 05/17/2012 at 5:40 PM

      Thanks, Alexandrina! I’m glad I could help.

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

    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

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

      • Sally
        08/23/2016 at 5:39 AM

        Thank you Tim… the info. has helped so much on doing my homework

  8. 08/29/2012 at 8:31 PM

    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!

    • 08/30/2012 at 4:03 PM

      You’re welcome, Julie! Thanks for reading.

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

    This helps organise my book, thank you!

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

    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!

    • 01/28/2014 at 5:40 PM

      You’re welcome, Cory. Thanks for the comment!

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

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

    • 01/28/2014 at 5:43 PM

      You’re welcome, Sana. Thanks for commenting!

  12. 02/26/2014 at 7:13 PM

    This post has been bookmarked for future reference. 😀

  13. Yozie!
    05/06/2014 at 7:11 PM

    Are foils a different topic?
    And round and flat characters?
    What are some roles for Alice in Wonderland?

    • 05/06/2014 at 7:26 PM

      Nevermind, you might want to add foil or more about mentors! Thanks for the help!

  14. pauliecera
    01/01/2015 at 3:20 PM

    Hey Tim,
    I love this site. I’ve passed along nothing but praises for the help this site provides to friends of mine. My question is an add on to your 8 Character Archetypes. I just finished reading John Truby’s ‘Anatomy of Story Structure,’ I’m not sure if you’ve read it. However, in his Archetypes Section, he lists a series of examples that run the gamut from Star Wars to The Verdict to Hamlet. Some of the characters he in these stories he applies 1 – 2 Archetypes on a specific character while others receive no archetypes. How do know when to apply one, two, or no archetypes? Is there a limit? Example: If a character is a Father but also a King & Warrior, how do you choose which archetype to go with?

    • 01/01/2015 at 10:38 PM

      Thanks for spreading the word about this site, Paulie. I’m glad I could help.

      I attended a session of John Truby’s at a screenplay conference once and I’m afraid his take on material didn’t work for me. I felt like I was getting stuck in my head, over-analyzing, instead of actually writing.

      That’s why I like the 8 Character Roles instead of archetypes.

      Archetypes are changeable and can be layered onto a character. One, two, three…as many or as few as you’d like. And a lot of writers like that. But when I tried it, I felt like I was juggling and keeping a bunch of information floating around in my head instead of just writing.

      If you’re intent on using archetypes, but it’s getting confusing, I would recommend sticking with just one archetype for each character and maybe have them change in the end, incorporating a character element or quality from the polar opposite archetype (e.g., a Fighter learns to be a little more of a Lover, a Business Man learns to be a Family Man, etc.). But how do you choose which one archetype to go with? Whatever quality you would like the character to incorporate by the end, choose an archetype that embodies the exact opposite. Try that. It might work.

      I hope that helps!

  15. Paulie Cera
    01/01/2015 at 11:35 PM

    Yes Tim it does tremendously and I appreciate you taking the time to shed some light on my question. I have to agree with your analysis of John Truby’s way of over explaining things. The book helps don’t get me wrong, but I have the same feeling as you did as his seminar. It stopped me from writing because I had to keep going back to his book to reread what he said to do. Your advice makes a little more sense. Scale things back a bit & whatever I want my character to become, have him begin his journey the total opposite.

    • 01/02/2015 at 10:39 AM

      My pleasure, Paulie. Best of luck with your story!

      • pauliecera
        01/02/2015 at 3:31 PM

        Thanks mate. God knows I need all the luck in the world. I’m still writing about the same damn story I was writing when I first stumbled upon your site & asked you about Ensemble Casts,(which you kindly answered and made a whole post out of.)hah

  16. 03/25/2015 at 12:29 AM

    Where does the love interest fit in here? And can a sidekick be a love interest?

    • 03/25/2015 at 9:49 AM

      The love interest can be any of the character roles except for the protagonist. Though they usually are not the antagonist or tempter. Typically they are the mentor or sidekick.

      But as I wrote above, be mindful of creating a mentor who is as perfect and principled as humans can be, because the character will seem inhuman. Love interest examples of this would be the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope.

  17. Courtney
    06/29/2015 at 2:08 AM

    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for this information. It’s very concise and accurate!

    I’m just about to teach a Film Study (at Year 10 level) and this has provided me with a great framework. I’m just wondering, do you think it’s possible for characters to fill multiple roles at once?

    For example, could the mentor also be the logical character? Or could the sidekick also be the emotional one; the one who’s lead by their heart?

    Thanks again!

    • 06/29/2015 at 3:34 PM

      You’re very welcome. I’m glad it’s been helpful!

      I can’t think of an example where a single character serves as more than one role, but shorter works often don’t need to fill all of the roles to be effective.

      Having a feature-length or novel-length size and scope is often what brings about more viewpoints or reactions to a given conflict, influencing the protagonist as they go through their journey.

      But a short film like Geri’s Game, doesn’t need all the roles to influence the protagonist. All it needs is a protagonist and antagonist to do what it wants to do: tell a joke.

      Thanks for the comment and best of luck with your class!

  18. 07/27/2015 at 6:32 PM

    Hi, I have a quick question! In a fictional story where the protagonist is manipulated into a dark and controlled relationship with another, would that other person be considered the ‘antagonist’ or the ‘tempter’? I feel like my character is both.

    • 07/30/2015 at 12:18 PM

      Thanks for the question, Mariah.

      That’s difficult for me to say without reading your story, but—generally speaking—the antagonist is the one leading the charge against the protagonist, while the tempter is helping (directly or indirectly). It’s the antagonist’s fight, and the tempter is assisting.

      In Star Wars, Darth Vader is not the antagonist, he’s the tempter. Why? Because Tarkin is the leader in the fight against the rebels. Tarkin is the one trying to use the Death Star to blow up the rebel base. Darth Vader is helping Tarkin succeed.

      Because the tempter is not ultimately responsible for the fight against the protagonist, that’s why they can sometimes take a step back, reassess the situation, and change their minds (which Vader does in Return of the Jedi—the Emperor is the antagonist in that one).

      An antagonist can use temptation as a weapon against the protagonist, so don’t let that confuse you. The real question is: Who is helping whom?

      If your controlling character’s manipulation of the protagonist is helping someone else (directly or indirectly) in their fight against the protagonist, then they are probably the tempter. But if leading the protagonist astray IS the fight against the protagonist (like in Sleeping with the Enemy or Training Day), then your controlling character is probably the antagonist.

      Again, I can’t say for sure without reading it, but those are my two cents for what they’re worth.

      Best of luck!

  19. 09/21/2015 at 9:15 PM

    Very interesting analysis ! I appreciate it. The character types can be used for any kind of fiction, but also identifying types in a memoir to strengthen the “slant” you are aiming for. (at least I think so….emphasis on “think” not “I”.).

  20. 10/18/2015 at 9:49 PM

    is there a name for the lead female character? 🙂 (i.e. princess leia?)

    • 10/19/2015 at 6:48 AM

      The Eight Character Roles are gender neutral. In Star Wars, Princess Leia is the Logical character role, but in Erin Brockovich, Erin is the protagonist.

  21. MTIMadness
    03/04/2016 at 6:51 PM

    I have a question. How can these roles be expressed in realistic fiction. For example, I’m having trouble diversifying my characters and assigning characters to embody the antagonist and tempter. How can I incorporate these characters into my work? Can/Should i express these roles with situations instead of characters?

    • 04/28/2016 at 7:04 PM

      I have found that if I focus on allowing the characters to take actions to achieve goals within the context of the dramatic conflict (whether the fiction is realistic or fantastic), then they start to behave like one of these roles on their own, without me needing to force them one way or the other. For example, one of them will be more against the protagonist than any of the other characters, and will work harder than any of the others to stop the protagonist from achieving their goal — the behavior of this character is serving the role of the antagonist. Another character’s behavior will be very supportive of the protagonist (sidekick) while another will doubt what the protagonist is trying to do (skeptic). And so on.

      I hope that helps.

  22. Elena
    10/09/2016 at 2:37 PM

    This actually helped me a lot. I’m having a test on the Outsiders and I was making a study guide. This helped me because it asked what each character’s purpose was and I didn’t get it at all. But you might want to add hero and villain, too. Also, in my school we do round vs. flat and dynamic vs. static. It’d be even better if you could add those terms in as well. Thanks!

  23. viditi
    12/14/2016 at 7:50 AM

    hello, i am reading a book called” Lolly woe” and the people wanted to ask if the people are good can they be a protagonist , also can their be many people doing a roll of protagonist and only 1 antagonist

  24. 01/29/2017 at 5:29 PM

    This was really helpful! I was starting a manga and I didn’t know what to consider one of the character, but no way that I’ve read this, I’ve decided that she’s the antagonist! (I was confused on if I should classify her as the tempter, the antagonist or just an anti hero, since she’s in early character development, but this really helped!) thank you for this article! 🙂

  25. CJ
    04/26/2017 at 6:35 PM

    This small post helped me out immensely as an aspiring writer. Thank you very much – this was the last step I needed before commencing the writing of my next story!

  26. 05/19/2017 at 8:46 AM

    Thanks a bunch, this was very helpful.

  27. Sandra Mark
    06/12/2017 at 12:44 PM

    How does this apply to a novel about grief & rollercoaster emotions to finding Faith , Hope & Believe vs Fear, Despair & Disbelief. Starts out with Grief of a marriage of 44 yrs to the same man & Dealing with the Sudden Death of her husband to Rollercoaster Emotions – Crying one Moment– Laughing the Next. Struggling with the ” Past & Future” with ‘ Different Mindset takes her on a Difficult Journey. Writing of Faith vs Fear SNAPS her Back to a Congenial Future she can Deal with. And through her ” Tears ” can possibly ” HELP” those who are willing to take this ” Journey” of” Negative /Positive Outlook. In Short: How does Emotions, Opinions & Advice relate to: Eight Archetype Characters.
    I would Appreciate a Reply
    Thank You

  28. Melody
    08/02/2017 at 3:47 PM

    Thank you, this is very helpful because I’m trying to write my own story.

  29. Kashae Hicks
    09/27/2017 at 8:33 PM

    The herald

  30. June Iparis
    11/11/2017 at 11:13 PM

    Thanks for the article! This really helps! I’m still wondering about a few of them. Could you give an example from modern literature for each of these types? For example, in Harry Potter, Harry is obviously the protagonist, but who is the Logical? Who is the Skeptic? And so on. Thanks!

  31. Jeff
    03/08/2018 at 2:35 PM

    Thank’s for the help!

  32. jeff
    03/08/2018 at 2:35 PM

    thank you we are reading winn dixe so thank you

  33. matteoamasiello
    05/30/2018 at 9:43 AM

    Do you think a story needs all these character roles? In a sense can’t a character play multiple roles and not have an individual character for each role?

  34. Laven Whisper
    07/15/2018 at 5:00 PM

    Thanks! This really helped!

  35. ur mom
    02/11/2019 at 11:33 AM

    i think tim died he stopped answering questions in 2015 lol

    • 02/11/2019 at 3:37 PM

      Ha! Actually, I had a kid. He takes a lot of time. 🙂

  36. Novel writer Kate
    02/21/2019 at 10:55 AM

    Congrats 🙂 new role enjoy

  37. Finbar
    10/02/2019 at 10:59 PM

    Boy, am I glad I came across this site. Thank you Tim. I am 71 yrs old.

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