Fictional characters are what make reading literature fun and worthwhile. Depending on who they are they make us smile, laugh, think or cry and are our doorway to experiencing another world.
Think of Samwise Gamgee and Huckleberry Finn or Quasimodo, D’Artagnan, Anna Karennina, Heathcliff, Count Vronsky, Starbuck, Billy Budd, Emma Bovary, The Mad Hatter and all the other characters that fill your imagination.
These characters are more than just a bunch of pretty (or pretty ugly) faces meant to entertain us. Each one of these characters plays a role in the piece of fiction they inhabit that shapes the story and leads it to its inevitable end.
You see, there are archetypal roles that real people and fictional characters play at different times of their life and in different situations. For example everyone has played the role of the child at one point in time just as you may currently be playing the role of the parent.
The Seven Most Common Roles For These Fictional Characters Are As Follows
The hero (or heroine) is someone who will sacrifice his own needs for the sake of others, either an individual as in the case of a parent for a child or for the greater good as in the case of a Nelson Mandela who served over 20 years in prison for the sake of ending Apartheid. In either case the hero represents self-sacrifice.
These fictional characters are stereotypically portrayed as wise old men or women. Mentors represent our higher or better selves, that part within us which tells us the difference between right and wrong and inspires us to do that which is right when no one is looking.
The Threshold Guardian
This character’s fundamental purpose is to test the hero to see if he has what it takes to make it to the next level. Before any of us cross a line to confront physical danger we must slay the dragon of the fear of crossing that line. By taking the test of the threshold guardian we either pass or fail, become something more than we were or remain the same.
This character enters the story to tell the hero he’s got to wake up and smell the coffee and that he must take some sort of action in his life. A decision must be made. An action must be taken. A conflict must be faced.
This character is one of the best ways to develop and portray the hero’s personality to the reader. The shapeshifter helps to develop the drama by providing suspense and uncertainty into a story. We frequently don’t know whether to trust them or whether to believe their story and, consequently, they move the plot along and provide a continual plot question.
This character is frequently played by an antagonist or multiple antagonists and represent unexpressed or rejected aspects of the hero’s personality or goals that the hero has yet to realize. The shadow differs from the threshold guardian in that the threshold guardian can be enlisted to help the hero and serves only a momentary obstacle. Shadows are frequently shapeshifters. If a mentor has to really kick a hero in the butt to motivate him the mentor may, in fact, play the role of the shadow for a while.
Tricksters are the mischief makers of the story and provide much needed comic relief. Anyone can play the role of the trickster and they are frequently shapeshifters, characters of whom we don’t know what to expect. Tricksters frequently provide the catalyst for change and keep the story moving forward.
OK, so now you’ve just been introduced to the seven most common roles that fictional characters (and real people) play. I could go on for pages and pages on each one and, in future articles, I might. But now you have an idea how these characters can shape a work of fiction.
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