They are everywhere.
The friendly store clerk. The fair princess. The nosey neighbor. The teenage babysitter. The hardened ship’s captain.
Each evokes a particular mental image attached to someone from literature, films, or simply your imagination. But the image is specific nonetheless.
They are the ones who live within the world of stories, and understanding them seems the next logical point after discussing plot.
First for the types of characters, since there are only two.
1. The two-dimensional character
These characters don’t have much to them. They usually are there to fulfill a specific purpose, but little information is provided about them. They are more or less part of the background. They are the shopkeepers, the crowds, the henchmen, the other dancers at the ball. They are important–sometimes more important than others–but they are characters of naught but skin. They are friendly, cruel, or elegant, but the face value is all there is to them.
2. The three-dimensional character
Enter the Elizabeth Bennets, Nickie Ferrantes, Bruce Waynes, Captain Barbosas, and Eowyns. They are the characters with substance. They are as complex as whole wheat pasta’s carbohydrates and have just as much substance. (And if you’ve never tried it, you should. It really sticks to your ribs.) Their personalities, appearances, and actions work together to reveal their motives. Never take them at face value. If it is a well-crafted character, you might be surprised.
The roles that these characters primarily play in stories are pretty obvious. Two-dimensional ones typically are minor characters–ones who sit in the background and perform important tasks that push the story forward. Three-dimensional are supposed to fill primary roles. The major roles are below.
1. The Protagonist
Simply, the story is about this character. Batman Begins is about Bruce Wayne and his alter ego. The Lord of the Rings is about Frodo (and Aragorn and Gandalf…). Jane Austen’s Emma is about, well, Emma. They can be refered to as the main character (but protagonist comes from the Greek word meaning precisely the same thing) or “the good guy”–though not all protagonists are good. These characters must be three-dimensional.
2. The Antagonist
The character opposing the protagonist. Batman has the Joker in The Dark Knight. Frodo has Gollum and Sauron (and Saruman…). They are sometimes refered to as “the bad guy,” but like I said, that’s not always the case. In Macbeth, the protagonist turns out to be a villain and Macduff turns out to be a hero. These characters also need to be three-dimensional.
3. The Supporting Character
These characters are other important characters whose main roles are to compliment the protagonist (or antagonist). Sam is a perfect example. He is Frodo’s support and protection–emotionally and physically–but empathy for him stems from Frodo’s position as protagonist. Definitely should be a three-dimensional character.
4. The Minor Character
Just throw them in the background. They are the red shirted, expendable crewmen in Star Trek. Some perform important tasks, but it’s all right for them to be two-dimensional characters. If it is Star Trek, they may not survive long enough to become three-dimensional. After all, you never know when a Gorn or Romulan may show up.
Though there are other character roles, these are the most common and basic. After all, this is just the basics for now…