The Book Character Types Tag

There are many character types in fiction and I have decided to create this tag to showcase some of them, taking inspiration from this website on writing. The first five character types presented below simply reflect the characters’ roles in a story (there are seven such roles overall), while the last five are typical archetypes (there are twelve overall, as categorised by Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, among others).

I. Protagonist: “The main character of the story is the protagonist” – Klara from Kazuo Ishiguro’s sci-fi novel Klara and the Sun [2021]

Klara is a very curious choice for a protagonist and I don’t think I’ve ever read a book before with such an unusual narrator. Klara and her vision of the world are presented convincingly and the readers are constantly wondering how much of a “human” Klara really is or is becoming. It is precisely when we follow Klara’s “mental-processes” that Ishiguro’s new novel really “shines”, which also means the beginning is one of this novel’s strengths.

II. Love Interest: “The love interest is the protagonist’s object of desire” – Erica from Mohsin Hamid’s book The Reluctant Fundamentalist [2007]

British-Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid (Moth Smoke [2000]) wrote a touching love story in his 2007 book. Changez’s infatuation with a girl Erica is one of the best aspects of the novel. Their romance is full of confusion and contradiction, but it is also sweet and heart-breaking. Erica is an interesting character. She has a tragic past to deal with and balances between hope, promises of a better future, and depression and hopelessness.

III. Antagonist: “The villain of the story is the antagonist” – Long John Silver from Robert Louis Stevenson‘s adventure book Treasure Island [1883]

His left leg was cut off close by the hip, and under the left shoulder he carried a crutch, which he managed with wonderful dexterity, hopping about upon it like a bird. He was very tall and strong, with a face as big as a ham – plain and pale, but intelligent and smiling” [Stevenson, 1883: 68]. This is the description of the Treasure Island antagonist – cunning and ruthless Silver. I think he is a perfect adventure book villain – cool under pressure, changing sides as it suits him and rethinking action strategies on the spot.

IV. Confidant: “This type of character is the best friend or sidekick of the protagonist” – João da Ega from Jose Maria de Eca de Queiroz’s classic novel The Maias [1888]

This eccentric character is probably the most memorable from the book. Ega is the best friend of the protagonist of the novel, Carlos da Maia, and it is often this character’s wit and loyalty to his friend that make the pages of this book “come alive” – with both humour and touching feelings of comradery. The novel itself is a beautiful, “must-read” Portuguese classic. Even though the “twist” in the story may be easily guessed, the vivid characters, gentle drama and beautiful prose all make this book worth reading, as the story offers a fascinating glimpse into Portugal at the turn of the century through the eyes of one rich, aristocratic and well-connected family.

V. Foil: “A foil character primarily exists to bring the protagonist’s qualities into sharper relief. This is because the foil is effectively the opposite of the protagonist” – Freddie Miles from Patricia Highsmith’s superb thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley [1955]

The biggest foil in The Talented Mr. Ripley is probably Dickie Greenleaf himself who is a complete opposite to Tom Ripley, but Freddie Miles is also an important character in the novel whose traits also bring Ripley’s qualities into sharper relief. If Freddie is loud, boastful and obnoxious, as well as well-educated and rich, Tom Ripley is quiet, unassuming, neurotic and poor.

VI. The Sage: “A wise figure with knowledge for those who inquire. Strengths of the sage include wisdom, experience, and insight; weaknesses: over-cautiousness and hesitation to join all the action” – the Other from Susanna Clarke’s fantasy Piranesi [2020]

The other from Piranesi takes the role of a Sage in relation to our main character. He is the one with some “secret knowledge” and our narrator often consults the Other: “The Other believes that there is a Great and Secret Knowledge hidden somewhere in the World that will grant us enormous powers once we have discovered it” [Clarke, 2020: 8]. The Other is also a character that is very hesitant to explore the world in the story and he does not actually know much about the other Halls.

VII. The Explorer: “A character naturally driven to push boundaries and find what’s next; their strengths: curiosity, drive and motivation to self-improve” – Jo March from Louisa May Alcott‘s classic book Little Women [1868]

Jo March is a typical explorer. She is independent by nature, hardly satisfied with her literary work and does everything to find more about the outside world, even going to a large city to live, while rejecting a perfectly good marriage proposal. Her quest for more knowledge and self-improvement as a writer takes her to other places (outside her home town) where she meets other people, including charismatic Professor from Germany Friedrich Bhaer.

VIII. The Innocent: “A morally pure character, often a child, whose only intentions are good; their strengths: kindness and sincerity; weaknesses: vulnerability, naivety and minimal skills” Adam from Ian McEwan’s novel The Children Act [2014]

Adam, a boy who is a Jehovah’s Witness in the story, represents the “innocent” character. When the book starts he is still legally a child, and his selflessness, kindness, quick intelligence and naivety make Fiona Maye, a High Court Judge, reconsider her own life. The Children Act is a quietly powerful, beautiful, “legally-minded” novel from Ian McEwan, the author of critically-acclaimed Atonement.

IX. The Caregiver: “A character who continually supports others and makes sacrifices on their behalf; strengths: they are honourable, selfless, and loyal; weaknesses: they lack personal ambition or leadership” – Susan Henchard (Newson) from Thomas Hardy’s classic The Mayor of Casterbridge [1886]

Susan is a typical “caregiver” in the novel. She is willing to sacrifice anything for the happiness and wellbeing of her only daughter. She would even go so far as to commit a morally-reprehensible action for her daughter. She is first very loyal to one husband, but then feels some moral obligation to follow another. She is simple, good-natured and caring.

X. The Jester: “An intentionally funny character who provides comic relief but may also speak important truths; strengths: ability to be funny, disarming, and insightful; weaknesses: the capacity to be obnoxious and superficial” – JB from Hanya Yanagihara’s moving novel A Little Life [2015]

It is fair to describe JB from A Little Life as the Jester. He is an artist and a friend of Jude, Willem, and Malcolm in the story. He is hardly ever serious and is a creative, independent spirit. His words in the story do a lot of damage and he also has the capacity to be rather obnoxious.

Do you have a favourite book character type? What character type do you find the most interesting/intriguing/annoying or maybe over or under-used in fiction?


13 thoughts on “The Book Character Types Tag

  1. An interesting approach to characters, Diana. I’ve always been fond of the faithful companion/servant (e.g., Frodo Baggins’s Sam), which I guess would be a variant on the caregiver among your categories. I often find categories like these helpful when analyzing fictional characters.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I also always liked a “faithful companion” character. Sometimes they bring so much to a story. And, a “caregiver” may even emerge unexpectedly as in some character taking this role for awhile. Some authors experiment with the above categories and make them rather fluid, including characters behaving “out of character” and changing beyond recognition, but I think it is also true that even subconsciously we tend to like stories similar in some way to what we have always read and in some way “conditioned” by stereotypes to like more or less clear categorisations.

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  2. This is a really interesting list and informative examples, and though I’ve only read a handful of the books you cite I’m encouraged to seek out some of the others now. Certainly the Ishiguro is one I want to read in due course.

    Do I have a favourite character type? Hard to say, but knowing there are all these categories I suppose I’d like to read novels with several of these types for the sheer interplay, even those like Piranesi with its limited cast.

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  3. I’ve heard of A Little Life from a Youtuber before, and she said she loved it. Initially, I thought it was a book about the main character’s life and I expected it to be sad. Guess not! Also, I want to say I love Little Women, but I spent 2/4 months on it and I only ever got to page 18 lmaoo

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  4. Wow, what a brilliantly created book tag! I love learning about how to use character tropes in writing. Like foils to show an opposite to the protagonist, or jesters to bring humor and truth to the book. Really great tag! Also, I just got Klara and the Sun from the library! I really can’t wait to start it because the more I hear about it the more amazing it sounds!

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