Broadly speaking, a novel contains two types of character: Major Characters and Minor Characters. And still speaking broadly...
The purpose of this article is not to discuss flat and round characters and how to create them - they are covered in separate articles.
It is simply an introduction to the range of fictional characters found in a typical novel, together with tips on how to handle each type during the novel writing process.
Not all characters in a novel are created equal. Some are important to the story and will demand a great deal of your time and attention as you create them. Others might appear in just a single scene.
A typical novel contains dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of characters, though few of them will be significant enough to command much of the writer's time and attention.
In order of importance, there are four main types of character...
Let's look at them one by one...
This is your leading man or woman - the person the novel is "about." They are also known as the leading character, the central character, or the main character.
Novels can have two or more protagonists, though it is generally better to stick to one if you can. Even if a novel has several leading characters, all of them of seemingly equal importance, it is usually possible to single out one of them as being at the novel's core.
In terms of time spent on characterization, it is your protagonist to whom you will want to devote the most time and effort.
Like I said, major characters can be virtually indistinguishable from the protagonist...
The overall story will be "about" the protagonist, but the subplots - each of which should have a bearing on the main plot - will be "about" one or other of the major characters.
What do I mean by a story or a plot being "about" a character?
Simply this: if a plot consists of a character struggling against some form of opposition to achieve a specific goal, the character with the goal is the one the plot is "about"...
Needless to say, each of your major characters should receive virtually as much care and attention during the planning process as your protagonist.
It seems obvious to say it, but minors are the exact opposite of major characters...
Minors are essentially two-dimensional stereotypes, or flat characters, and there is therefore no need to spend much time fleshing them out on paper before you begin to write.
A few broad brushstrokes will be all that is required.
The difference between major and minor characters is clear, but won't there be plenty of characters who fall somewhere in the middle?
Yes, there will be. You will have minor majors and major minors (and perhaps even some straight mediums), but don't waste your time trying to categorize each and every one.
Simply come to a decision about the importance, or otherwise, of each of your characters and treat them accordingly.
Just as a movie needs hundreds, even thousands, of extra characters for the crowd scenes, so too do novels.
If your character eats in a restaurant or walks down the street and there is no mention whatsoever of the people around them, the scene will lack realism.
The good news is that extras in novels aren't really characters at all, more a part of the setting.
They are unlikely to speak or even be named, and if they are singled out at all, they don't need to be characterized so much as "labelled" - a young girl clutching a doll, a fat man reading a newspaper, and so on.
And what all of that means, of course, is that extras don't involve much work - hardly any, in fact. All you must remember to do is to mention them, just as you would mention other aspects of the setting, like trees and motor cars and what the weather is doing.
So if your central character is travelling on a bus, for example, don't just describe the dirty windows and the uncomfortable seats, describe the passengers, too, perhaps singling out the odd interesting one.
Having described the four types of character, I can now reduce them to just two broad types: majors and minors...
Though, like I said, there will always be fictional characters who fall between the two.
I have talked about the differences between major and minor characters in some detail but, in a nutshell, the single biggest difference between them is this...
Major characters are three-dimensional and minor characters only two-dimensional.
Or to put it another way, major characters are round characters and minor characters are flat.
Understanding the differences between round and flat characters, and how to create each type, is important. So let's start by exploring Round Characters...