Why are characters important in a story? 4 ways important characters contribute (2023)

like onewriter, You know that a story cannot exist without characters. But have you ever wondered why characters are important in a story?

Perhaps you've raised an even harder problem: "When is a character important enough to stay in a story, and when does the narrative work better without them?"

Why are characters important in a story? 4 ways important characters contribute (1)

for onesupporting character—or any character—to have a role in a story, they must function as an essential character influencing the protagonist, the plot, the setting, or other important aspects that shape or drive the story.

In this article, you'll learn four ways to determine if (1) the character is essential and (2) how it contributes to a story.

You'll also learn about the main types of characters and how to determine whether it's best for characters who don't qualify as essential to have their role reworked or removed from the storyline.

Character-based stories are not the same as many characters.

I am in loveCharacterdirected stories.

While opinions can differ on this subject, I believe that ultimately a story is about the characters: their choices, their consequences, their trials and tribulations, and the lessons they learn.

The characters carry the story, and at the end of the day, it's the fate of the characters that interests readers the most. When you talk about stories that captivate people, think of the characters.

Sherlock Holmes, Katniss Everdeen, Frodo Baggins. . . they are more than fiction. They drive an engaging story and create a personal connection with the reader.

So it might sound strange when I say fewer characters are better.

Bear with me a moment. Having fewer characters doesn't mean you should like themfew charactersIt's not possible, nor does it mean that you should tell a story that has to reduce your current cast just to reduce size.

It just means that when you tell your storymake each character count.

4 essential character traits

The first step in making characters count is to assess whether each character is essential.

It is best to evaluate your cast after the first draft.

This is because it's difficult to determine which characters are important and which aren't until you've gone through the events of the story at least once.

A main character makes at least one (preferably more than one) of the following four contributions to the story:

1. Contribute to the storyline

An essential character must help move the story forward. If a character's sole purpose is to grace the stage, then their presence is probably not essential.

Some questions to think about:

  • Does this character show complex emotions?If your character doesn't seem to be reacting emotionally to what's happening in the story, they're probably not contributing to the plot.
  • Is this character believable?Believable characters connect more with the readers and therefore help them connect with the storyline. If a character is overdone or shallow, it tends to become distracting.
  • Does this character cause any change in the story?If that character's action doesn't change anything, then he's probably more of a supporting character.

2. Contributes to the development of the main character

Concentrate on what shapes youHeldand how the supporting characters influence them.

This could mean that someone is from the main character's past and influenced who he is in the past.Tempoof the story, or someone is the reason why the main character has certain principles or makes the decisions he makes.

If a character has no direct influence on how or why the main character makes their decisions, then that character may not be essential.

Some questions to think about:

  • Does your protagonist change his mind because of this character?Influencing decision making, especially when it comes to difficult decisions, means the character acts as a catalyst for character development.
  • Does your protagonist have a personality trait because of this character?Someone who is the reason your protagonist is happy/angry/jealous/restless is an essential character. This is especially true for the child protagonists.
  • Does this character contribute to the success or failure of your protagonist?Playing a direct role in how a story ends often makes a character essential.

3. Contribute to at least one conflict

SoloConflictit is interesting. WithoutConflict, there is no story.

A character that causesConflict(e.g. quarrel, quarrel, misunderstanding, misunderstanding) is more of a central figure.

signs that causeconflictsmay or may not be part of itConflictitself.

Some questions to think about:

  • Does this character have a personal conflict with the protagonist?A personal conflict with the protagonist almost always makes a character essential, especially when it involves an emotional conflict.
  • Does this character cause conflict even when not directly involved?Misunderstandings are a useful literary tool. The one who provokes them is always essential.

4. Resolve at least one conflict

A character solving aConflictit is more likely essential. It could be someone ending an argument, mediating an argument, clearing up a misunderstanding, or simply providing useful information.

Characters that solveconflictsmay or may not be part of the conflict.

Note that a character who is part of the "main cast" usually has all four of the above attributes. If a character that you consider part of the main cast doesn't have all four attributes, you should consider whether it really is a "main" character or more of a supporting character.

Some questions to think about:

  • Does this character resolve a conflict directly?The characters that end the conflicts have a major impact on the plot.
  • Does this sign contain important information that could lead to the end of a conflict?This could be something that solves a riddle, puts a puzzle together, or resolves a misunderstanding. A minor character can become a main character if given the right information.

When to combine characters (and when to split them).

After you figure out which onescharactersmake up the main cast and who the supporting characters are, you need to determine if each character is essential.

In a good story, every character has a purpose. If you're not sure if a particular character has a purpose, it might be time to combine it with another one or get rid of it altogether.

To do this, consider whether your characters belong to one of the following types:

Set dress-up figures

They are characters that appear very briefly.

A passer-by, a street vendor, a member of the crowd: any character who contributes to the setting but not significantly to the story.

The narrative mentions them once and probably never again, but these characters must have a purpose.purpose.

When your protagonist has arrived in a new town, you might want to see someone else dressed in the local colors, which helps set the scene. Or maybe they get captured and watch one of the other prisoners in a crowded cargo hold.

Landscape characters should be treated as such: landscape. They should not be named or overly described.

single purpose characters

These are one level higher than the stage characters. They have names and interact with the protagonist, but they only exist to resolve specific conflicts or create specific situations.

These characters are prime candidates for pairing with other characters.

As an an example:

Let's say your protagonist is in a coffee shop with a friend. A woman ahead of them in line is rude to the cashier who seems very sad and uncomfortable with the interaction. The protagonist comforts the cashier and leaves a good tip.

This interaction serves to show that your protagonist is friendly.

Is the badass woman really a necessary character? He will never appear again and his only goal is to start the incident.

The protagonist's girlfriend is there but she doesn't do anything even though she should be part of the main cast. Instead of using an additional character for this scene, why not make better use of the main actors?

Instead, imagine that the protagonist's friend is having a bad day. She complains about her life and then is rude to the cashier when he accidentally gives her the wrong change.

The protagonist waits for her to leave and quietly comforts the cashier by telling him that his friend isn't usually like that and tips him well. Perhaps the friend's humor is part of the story, which not only makes this scene much more tense, but also serves as an introduction to the overall plot.

Deus Ex Charaktere

Deus Ex (from the setDeus ex machina) are similar to single-purpose characters, except they only exist for one major plot twist and nothing else.

This type of character usually shows upmystery storiesor fantasies in which the hero "discovers his mysterious power". Rather than weaving the series of events through the plot, it's tempting to throw a character into the twist and call it a day.

Imagine your protagonist trying to solve a murder, and at the end an unnamed character suddenly appears and says, "I'm the old roommate of the victim's brother's third wife. I was the killer all along!

or maybe yoursHeldis in the midst of a crisis and has been building for half the book when suddenly a mysterious stranger shows up and saves her for no apparent reason. They guide you with a power you never knew you had.

Suddenly they attain superhero status and the entire course of their destiny changes.

These are very simplified examples, but you get the point.

Deus Ex characters are lazy and can confuse the reader. However, there are two ways to fix this:

  1. Delete this character.Combine them into another character like you would any other single purpose character.
  2. Integrate the character into the story.If you don't want to remove the character and really want him to play the role of the plot initiator, then maybe it's time to upgrade his role. Introduce them early in the story, find other roles to play, and hint at their presence throughout the storyline. It will make her a better, well-rounded character instead of just being a plot device.

Multitasking Characters

Multitaskers are very busy characters.

They are the opposite of single-purpose characters. They play multiple and sometimes conflicting roles in the story. This causes them to compete with the protagonist for attention or appear inconsistent in their development.

The best example I can give of a multitasking character comes from my own book.headspace.

I needed someone other than the main antagonist to challenge the protagonist. Someone on your side but not quite on your side, a friend who cannot be trusted, or a perceived ally with ulterior motives.

In the first draft, this character was Crish Michaels, a handsome and popular actor, and a much more popular contestant in the game Headspace than the main character, Astra, who is funny but quickly becomes controversial in public.

Crish Michaels openly opposed Astra and other candidates, showing contempt and arrogance towards them, while at the same time plotting behind their backs to undermine them in public.

There was one problem: I was doing too much.

By openly challenging her, he became less believable as someone with hidden agendas, appearing more like a one-dimensional idiot.

At the same time, the intrigues behind his back raised the question of why he wanted to draw attention to himself when he wanted to operate in the shadows.

ANDMultitaskingIt's a rare case where I tell you to add a character.

Break the multitasking and find out what your real intentions are.

In my case, I asked myself, "Which role of Crish Michaels is most important to the story?" The decision I came to was that he was a deeper and more significant character operating in the shadows.

I still needed someone to challenge Astra in a more obvious and brazen way, so another character was added to fill that role.

As a result, both characters filled different, dedicated roles and were better characters for it.

Kill your favorites to make a meaningful occupation

"Kill your loved ones" is common advice given to writers. It is often attributed to William Faulkner, but can actually be traced back further.

This statement is intended to advise writers to approach their writing matter-of-factly and without feelings, such as killing a loved one.

Kill what you love about your story, but also what you don't likeAddfor your story, it is also essential for the casting of your character.

Creating characters is one of the funnest things we can do as writers. The possibilities are limitless. But sometimes those wonderful, incredible characters you've created just don't fit into the story.

Remember the previous section on essential character traits and ask yourself:

  • Is this character really essential?
  • Does the story really need this character, or do I just want her to be there because she's fun to write?

It's hard to be honest with yourself. Murdering your loved ones isn't easy, but it's often necessary.

Of course, there are other ways to save your favorite characters. Just because they don't quite fit into your current story doesn't mean they can't be saved.

Here are some options to consider:

  • Give the character a bigger role.Maybe they should replace the role of a character you don't like that much.
  • Give the character their own story.Maybe you like them so much because they are too big to ignore and deserve to be the protagonists of their own book or story.

Remember, never put your love for a character ahead of the story itself. If your character doesn't fit, find a way to change their role. If it can't be fixed, remove them.

Removing a character will hurt for a second, but it will make your story better.

How many characters does your current work in progress consist of?let me knowthe comments.


The good news is that the more you improve your writing skills, the better you'll be at creating compelling and complex characters that are essential to your story. Use today's practice to determine if your cast includes important characters.

If you have a recent book in the works, make a list of the characters in it.

WearFifteen minutesto evaluate each character's role using the list of essential character traits. Check whether the result corresponds to your initial impression of them.

Are some characters more important than you think? Or maybe a character you thought was important doesn't fit a particular role.

Let us know how this exercise goes.Remarks, and if you feel like it, respond to another author's experience.

JD Edwin

J.D. Edwin is a dreamer and writer of long and short stories, typically soft sci-fi or urban fantasy.Subscribe to your newsletterFor free articles about the author's life and updates on her novel go toFacebookand Twitter (@JDEdwinAutor) or read one of his many stories about itLiteraturzeitschrift Brief Fiction Break.

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