Saturday, June 24, 2017

Your 4 Key Characters

Whether your story's cast consists of twenty characters or five-hundred, at least four of them are your primary characters. As once eloquently put by writing wizard K.M. Weiland in a post on Helping Writers Become Authors,

"These four characters are important for the simple reason that, together, they provide the foundation for not just your plot, but a multi-faceted theme."


In J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter, we meet Lord Voldemort (and yes, I'm pronouncing that "t" as silent). He's the reason Harry's an orphan, and provides a stark contrast to the story's theme of love and loyalty.
Voldemort {source}, George Warleggan {source},
and Lady Tremaine {source}.

In the BBC's Poldark, there's George Warleggan. Crafty, manipulative, and determined, George shares Ross Poldark's burning anger and desire for change... which makes him the perfect villain.

In Disney's 2015 remake of Cinderella, Lady Tremaine serves as the primary villain. She's jealous of Ella: jealous of the time she spent with her father, jealous of her father's passionate familial love for her and her mother, and jealous of the beauty, courage, and kindness Ella holds.

The antagonist ultimately revolves around who your protagonist is. What traits do they share? Does your antagonist ever try to partner with your hero? How does your antagonist help to support (or not support) your story's theme? What drives your villain?


And now, we come to the hero.

Harry Potter, like Voldemort, is an orphan. He even shares Voldemort's "race" or "blood type". The difference between Harry and Voldemort is Harry's use of his sorrows for good: his passion for justice, his kind heart, his unwavering loyalty, and his dedicated friendship.

Harry Potter {source}, Ross Poldark {source}, and Ella {source}.
George Warleggan once looked up to Ross Poldark. The two of them started from nothing. Both are, as once again put by K.M., "vastly ambitious, aggressive, [and] intelligent".

Ella's parents taught her to "have courage and be kind". She is driven by her constant desire to be good, and not the sort of woman her stepmother is.

What is your protagonist's motivation? Why don't they team up with their villain? What makes them who they are?


Draco Malfoy is a coward. He longs for protection, and desires to carry on his father's legacy, but is unsure how.
Draco Malfoy {source}, Francis Poldark {source},
and Anastasia and Drizella {source}.

Francis Poldark longs for his wife's unconditional love. He is afraid of failure, which is a reflection of Ross's fearlessness in taking risks in the hope of success.

Anastasia and Drizella both want riches -- and handsome husbands to be by their sides. Their carelessness and lack of brains allows for Ella's love and compassion to shine through.

Your foil is a mirror image of your protagonist. Take a look at your hero -- what makes them tick? Now take a few of those traits, and flip them. Your hero and your foil's similarities and differences allow your protagonist's strengths to be more visible.

Consider your foil like a clear coat of nail polish. Though it may be weak in some areas, its weakness provides the bottom coat with shininess and an extra boost of endurance. 😉


Not every story has a love interest, and not every story needs one. Still, there is oftentimes a character who serves as an element of attraction for the protagonist, and, possibly, in the dreaded case of a love triangle, another character, as well.

**Warning: To proceed may involve spoilers from the last three Harry Potter movies
and the last two Harry Potter books; the latter half of Poldark, season one;
and the majority of Cinderella.**

Ginny Weasley exists to guide Harry. She guides him through ridding himself of the Half-Blood Prince's Potions textbook. She throws herself forward as one of the mourners at Harry's "death".

Demelza guides Ross into a purer life, and allows him to teach her the manners of an upper class society.

Ginny Weasley {source}, Demelza {source},
and Prince Kit {source}.
Kit guides Ella to embracing herself just as she is, without the need for wealth or power.

Your love interest (or center of attraction, if there is one) serves to guide your protagonist along their journey. They may be, in a sense, the protagonist's foil -- or someone who shares a majority of their traits and beliefs.


In the process of outlining, identifying your four key characters and their clockwork can be extremely helpful.

Tell me, Dragons: does your story have a love interest? How is your foil similar to your protagonist? How is he/she different?



  1. That's really helpful. I don't think I have a foil all the time, although in my current dystopia it's probably my MC's bff. The antagonist is the government and certain people in it, and I have a love interest and a hero, (obviously). This is a cool post!

    1. Thanks, Florid! And of course a foil doesn't always exist. ;) I have a government as the antagonist in one of my stories, too! :D

  2. This was a super helpful post - thanks, Liv! I loved your use of popular stories to help explain it all ;)

    ~ Savannah @ Scattered Scribblings

  3. Great, helpful post! Thank you :) I'll be keeping this in mind when I write.

    Amy @ A Magical World Of Words

  4. Really cool post! I was inserting all my characters into their respective roles as I read. ;)

  5. This is super helpful!! I usually write large casts of characters, so it's good to know which ones are the major ones. Bookmarking this! ^_^

    1. I'M BEING BOOKMARKED!! *freaks out because all the feels* Thank you, dear!! <3


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