NaNoWriMo Boot Camp: Necessary Characters

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp: The characters you need to have before you start writing. #thewritersaurus #amwriting #nanowrimo

Click here to see the previous posts in the NaNoWriMo Boot Camp series. 

Hello, dear writer-readers. In the last NaNoWriMo Boot Camp session, I laid out my theory of what aspects of your novel you need to focus on in pre-writing. Please click on the above link to review that info.

The first thing on that list is your characters. Obvious, right? There would be no plot without characters to drive it, no conflict without character goals, and setting would be meaningless with no one to populate it. Here are the necessary characters your novel needs:

  • Protagonist (duh)
  • antagonist
  • protagonist friends
  • antagonist friends

Protagonist

The protagonist is the one who drives the plot, the one our attention is centered on.

Duh,” you’re thinking. “Of course I need a protagonist, and I have one.”

That’s great. but ask yourself, do they have a goal beyond being awesome and heroic? Something they can work towards? If they don’t, you need to figure out what drives them. Character goals will be especially important when we get to the next session on conflict.

Remember, goals can and do shift throughout your story, especially at major crossroads.

Antagonist*

Your antagonist prevents the protagonist from reaching their goal. Why?

If your answer is anything like “because they’re evil,” or “because they’re the villain, duh!”, you have failed. Please move your game piece back to square one of the “Writer’s Life” game board and skip your next turn. Unless you’re writing children’s fiction, in which things are little more black and white, it’s outdated to have a mustache-twirling nefario as your antagonist. Even then, you can do better. It’s lazy. Even Lord Voldemort had a crappy childhood that made him desperate and power hungry.

Your antagonist needs a goal, just like your protagonist. In fact, your antagonist could be the protagonist of this story if we heard their side first. And here’s the important and tricky part:

your antagonist’s goal and your protagonist’s goal must be mutually exclusive.  This means that if one succeeds, the other must fail. There shall be no compromises here. But we’ll talk more about that in the next installment of the NaNoWriMo Boot Camp on conflict.

*Some of you are thinking, “what about a non-sentient antagonist, like a storm? or a giant boulder pinning your protag’s leg to the ground in the middle of nowhere?”

and to that I say … “you have won, this time.”

Haha, just kidding. Actually, I think it makes this whole process easier. Let’s take the storm example. The storm’s “goal”, if we use the term loosely, is to destroy everything in its path, including your protagonist. Your protagonist’s goal is to stay un-destroyed. Mutually exclusive? Definitely. And you didn’t even have to worry about realistic motivation! 

Companions, allies, and friends

If there is one aspect of character development that writers overlook, it’s the protagonist’s companions. Probably because their role(s) in any given story are more amorphous and not immediately obvious. Of course you need need a main character, but friends? Not to mention that your protagonist might encounter dozens of people, and even the most zealous plotter can’t plan each of them out. It can be difficult to know where to focus your attention.

I suggest starting with either the “power trio” group model or the “five-man band” model. Here’s a brief rundown of each:

power trio

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp: necessary characters to know before you write your novel. The power trio.

Harry, Ron, and Hermione from The Harry Potter series form a perfect power trio.

The power trio is comprised of three characters:

The protagonist (ethos)

The ethos character (usually the protagonist) acts as a guiding force for the pathos and logos characters, and is often the source of conscience and moral judgement. The protagonist is the fulcrum that emotion and logic balance on.

The logical one (logos)

The logos character is smart and logical. They tend to be book smart and analytical. They can come off as cold and calculating.

The Emotional One (pathos)

The emotional one is governed by feeling and emotion. They can be quick to act in anger or another strong emotion.

The Five Man Band

NaNoWriMo Boot Camp: Necessary Characters to know before writing your novel-the five man band

The core cast of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”–Buffy, Giles, Willow, Xander, and Angel–form a five man band.

Protagonist

The protagonist is the protagonist, the moral compass, the guiding force. See above in the power trio.

Lancer

The Lancer is the protagonist’s best friend and/or right hand man.

The Smart One

The smart guy is logical and book smart.

The Big One

The big one is the muscle of the group.

The Heart 

The heart is the emotional center, the one everybody cares about. They bind the group together. Usually known as “the chick”, this role has generally been a female in the past. But this is 2016, people. Our women can kick ass and our men can wear their hearts on their sleeves, and vice versa.

It’s best to use the power trio and the five man band as starting points rather than end goals. Allow your characters to grow and break these bonds as they develop, lest you get flat, cliched characters. Note also that characters can move between these roles depending on the plot and where they are in their arc. In real life, everyone embodies each of these characteristics, we just favor certain ones in different situations. Our characters should, too.

How do you develop your characters? Tell us in the comments! And check out the next NaNoWriMo Bootcamp article on conflict. 

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H. Duke
H. Duke writes contemporary fantasy, horror, and more. She currently lives in Tempe, Arizona with her husband, Giru, and a shiny black dog named Jupiter. Her weird west serial Jeremiah Jones Cowboy Sorcerer is being released in eight episodes (sort of like a TV show, but for your e-reader!). you can get the first four episodes here.

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