Learn About Characters in Fiction

Sherlock Holmes style detective's hat, pipe, magnifying glass and pen
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In a work of fiction, a character is depicted through both narrative and dialogue. Characters can be flat, minor characters or round and major, developed with depth. The persona is revealed by how a character responds to conflict, by dialogue, and through descriptions. Characters in fiction can have many roles and purposes, all of them dictated by the writer's intent and style. A few possible character roles include:


Also sometimes called the hero or heroine of the story, the protagonist is the main character. In some cases, the reader experiences the story through eyes of the protagonist; in other cases, the protagonist may be only one of many characters whose perspective is described. It is important to note that the protagonist need not be a character with whom the reader identifies; he or she might be a true hero but could also be a character the reader is supposed to dislike.


In many genres, particularly but not exclusively fantasies, thrillers, spy novels, crime stories and mysteries, the protagonist is pitted against an antagonist. The antagonist can be a truly immoral or evil individual, such as Dr. Moriarty in the Sherlock Holmes stories, but he can also be a well-meaning but domineering parent or even a person who unintentionally stands in the way of the protagonist.


In some works, characters are created not as fully realized human beings or fantastical beings but rather as metaphors for a particular human quality.

For example, Lord Voldemort, in the Harry Potter books, is not intended to be seen as a fully conceived person but rather as a metaphor for the terrible outcome that results from scorning and opposing the power of love. 

Plot Device

In some cases, characters exist largely for the purpose of moving the story along from one plot point to the next.

The characters themselves, therefore, are only sketchily conceived; it is their actions that matter. For example, it is common for writers to create characters whose sole purpose is to motivate the protagonist to take the actions that propel the story forward.


Some stories are built around a time, place or situation that requires certain types of characters to be present. These characters might not be terribly important either to the plot or the theme, but their absence would be felt. A story that takes place in a hotel, for example, would be incomplete without including at least a few members of the hotel staff; a story that takes place on a spaceship headed for Mars would be incomplete without at least a sketch of the ship's captain.

How to Create Characters

To create a character, you need to be clear in your own mind about your character's purpose in your work. While it is important to fully flesh out your protagonist's personality traits, motivations, emotional status, interests, and talents, you'll need far less detail for a character who serves as a plot device.

No matter how significant or insignificant your character is, it is important to be sure that he is consistent and believable within your story's parameters.

Motivations and actions must work together so that the reader isn't left confused and frustrated.