Character is destiny, part 2: The Character Store

This is part of a six-part series on characters that I'm doing. You can find the other parts here.
~Character is destiny, part 1: The Edward/Bella dilemma.
~Character is destiny, part 3: Character Store, cont.
~Character is destiny, part 4: Who gets to be the catalyst?
~Character is destiny, part 5: Building a villain
~Character is destiny, part 6: Never underestimate the Everyman 

So, now that we've talked about WHICH character should tell the story, we have another problem.

What kind of characters should we have in our stories?

To help you out, I asked my readers to tell me their favorite characters, and I threw in a few of my own as well. (There were a lot, so it will take two posts.) I've also given movie examples of these characters, so you  can see how they work.

The Trickster:  The trickster has a wide range of manifestations, such as the good-at-heart con-artist or the thief with a sense of honor. Tricksters are identified by their practical skills, exceptional intelligence, good powers of observation, and the ability to plan and execute elaborate schemes.  Tricksters occasionally try to go straight, but are usually prevented by the need to protect family or enact revenge. Subsets can include the spy or the super-hacker.

Movies with Tricksters: The Sting, Ocean's Eleven, Gone in Sixty Seconds, The Bourne Identity

Strong and Tortured:  This character is generally tall, dark, handsome and mysterious. They are experts at brooding and hint often at dreadful secrets in their past. The Tortured character is usually wrestling with their past or their future. They're often in love with someone that they try to stay away from, or they may give up love for the greater good. Immortality is a frequent attribute, but isn't necessary.

Movies with Tortured characters: Twilight, Aragorn from The Lord of the Rings.

Coming-of-Age or Coming-into-Power:  This character usually starts out as an insecure, doubting person, who sees themselves as ordinary. As the events of the story unfold, they grow in confidence. In fantasy lit, this character often turns out to be possessed of unusual powers, or someone with a great destiny.  In current day novels, this character is usually a teenager, or a twenty-something finding their place in the world.  Coming-of-Age characters are usually taught by the Wise Mentor.

Movies with Coming-into-Power: Shopgirl, Garden State, Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, Frodo from Lord of the Rings

The Screw-Up: This character has messed up beyond all recognition, whether through addictions, misunderstandings, or selfishness.  They have a tendency to ignore signs of disaster, and often believe what they want to believe despite the evidence. The story here is a redemptive one, the characters, once confronted with the truth,  are generally forced to make amends in some way. At the end, they usually achieve a sort of peace.

Movies with Screw-Ups: My Best Friend's Wedding. Twenty-Eight Days,


That's all for now. Questions? Comments? Snide Remarks?


  1. That's a great way to define the characters. I tend to write most about the coming-into-power characters. I think it'd be interesting to pare up your main character with a major secondary one of the other ones on your list. For example, coming-into-power main character with the trickster as a secondary character. I think some books do this and it raises the tension in the story. Looking forward to your next post on this.

  2. I need the plot store. Do you have the web address for that? :)

  3. Fun list of characters! I like the anxiety-ridden character, intelligent and likeable but often gets into trouble due to their anxiety-caused blunders. i.e. Woody Allen movies

  4. The more I read, the more I realize how much comes down to characters.
    And Aragorn, anything with him works :)

  5. Natalie- Hey, you're right! I can think of at least two books right off the top of my head that do that. It's a really successful way to put humor in the story and keep it from getting to heavy. Good thought!

    Amy- Um... Not at the moment. But when this character series is over, I'll post one just for you! :)

    Karen- Ooo, that one hasn't come up yet! Would you classify it as a subset of the Screw-up? They're more inadvertent disasters, but there's usually still a redemptive element at the end.

    PJ- So true. If I don't care about the characters, I can't stick with the book.(Not like Catching Fire, which I'm reading now and CANNOT PUT DOWN WHAT HAPPENS OMG!!)

    Ah-hem. And I do love me some Aragorn. I prefer characters who are broody about the future, rather than the past. :)

  6. Very good definitions. And I love that you give movie examples to make the characters more visual.

    Straight From Hel

  7. In one of my books, I went through this same thing for fairy tales not movies. Fairytales have very stock characters too. The trickster is a very popular one. I don't know if you've ever read any of Joseph Campbell's thoughts on the Hero's Journey but it's fascinating the reoccurence of characters and themes in myths and literature.

  8. Helen- Thank you. ;) I borrowed the idea of movie examples from a book on writing sci-fi/fantasy by Orson Scott Card. He points out that since more people have seen the same movies and TV than have read the same books, they make better examples.

    Wendy- I really want to read The Hero's Journey, but I haven't got a chance yet. And I agree, fairytales are full of types. That's what makes them so fun to play with! :-)

  9. Some authors go at character types from the situation and work backwards.

    Say your situation is that an employee is nearing retirement. And along with the others facing receiving their benefit packages, he is invited to a company retreat. The catch? The retreat is the company's way of "downsizing" before any of them retire. Poison, drowning, "choking" on food, car accident, getting lost in the woods, wild animal attack.

    What character would generate the most reader interest?

    A man who got the job through the Witness Protection Program -- and was originally a hit man for the Mob?

    A former Navy Seal who kept mum about his deadly past?

    A meek-looking serial killer who knows his way in the dark like a rabid cobra?

    Or an alien, using the company job, to blend in, while satisfying his gruesome dietary needs among the derelicts of the city -- and who is more than happy to add the company killers to his menu?

    Or a shy receptionist with no skills but to scream loudly?

    Many authors think the situation/crisis of the novel dictates what character you use.

    Just a thought. Lovely blog. Thanks for all the obvious work and effort you've put into it, Roland

  10. Roland- Wow, what an AWESOME scenario! I would totally go for the Navy seal, because I love super-competent characters. Especially when they're underestimated.

    You make a really good point. A lot of times scenario comes first. But as you pointed out so well, you can often use many different kinds of characters in the same setting. It depends on the kind of book you want to write, and what fires your imagination.

    I do think this kind of character brainstorming is a really good exercise in thinking outside the box. The first character idea you have may not be the best one for the story, or even the one you get the most excited about.

    Thanks for coming over and joining the conversation!

  11. The epitome of the Trickster character, specifically the good-hearted con man variation, is O. Henry's Jeff Peters, the main character of the short story series 'The Gentle Grafter.' Positively hilarious - the two best stories are 'The Man Higher Up' and 'Jeff Peters As a Personal Magnet.' Lots of tongue-in-cheek humor comparing the con man's trade to supposedly respectable professions like politics and banking. :) Tricksters are a ton of fun to write, especially when they're free of ulterior motives and are just in there for the fun.

    Hmmmm...I'm recognizing the hero of my unfinished novel draft as Strong and Tortured. And I believe my heroine is Coming-of-Age.

  12. Elizabeth- I like your example! Funny Tricksters are the best, aren't they.

    Strong and Tortured and Coming of Age are very complementary characters!


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