Sunday, November 23, 2014

Three Types of Characters

I've actually learned something in university! Yes, yes, I know it's not that shocking.

I wanted to share this little englishly tidbit with all of you. I felt a little light bulb go off in my head when my prof lectured about this. All of my writing life, I've been told that characters should be round, deep, complicated, life-like, and not cliched. I used to spend hours figuring out every character's back story, even if the character was only in the story for a paragraph so the MC could buy some groceries! 

Then I learned that different characters have different roles. Here are the three roles and some examples. FYI there will be spoilers, but I think these examples should be common enough that most people will have read them. Anyways, lets get on with it!

Mimetic: the degree to which the character is plausible. Is he/she fully humanized? A high character is rounded, and a low character is flat. Your main character should be a high mimetic character, a fleshed out character. 

Some examples of characters with a high mimetic function are:
Elizabeth Bennett from Pride and Prejudice
Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games
Harry Potter from Harry Potter series

All of these characters change over the course of their story, and are considered relatively complex characters.

Thematic: the general concepts or ideas that the character's story involves. This character represents a theme. This character can often be considered a "stock" character, exaggerated, or cliched.

Some examples of thematic characters:
Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice (represents the people who view marriage as a business arrangement and how Lizzie views them)
Portia, the Capitol stylist from The Hunger Games (represents the consumer, beauty-obsessed, ideals of the Capitol)
Rita Skeeter from Harry Potter series (represents the skepticism and gossip hungry wizarding community, and by extension in the real world, the media)

Synthetic: the role the character plays as an object or "counter" in a work of art. How do they move the plot forwards?

Some examples of synthetic characters:
Lydia Bennett from Pride and Prejudice 
When she runs away it forces other characters into action and brings unity to the plot. It allows Darcy to show Lizzie how much he cares for their family, it brings Lizzie and the Gardners home, and the family must bind together to deal with the social problem. 
Rue from The Hunger Games
Rue's character is used to humanize Katniss in the games. Their relationship is when Katniss begins to look out for someone other than herself in the Hunger Games. When Rue is killed, I would say this is what sparks Katniss's sense of rebellion against the Capitol, which becomes a huge part of the story.
Moaning Myrtle from Harry Potter series
In The Chamber of Secrets, Myrtle tells the golden trio how she dies and acts as a witness to events surrounding the chamber, because of her position in the bathroom. She gives them clues to help them discover how the chamber was opened. In The Goblet of Fire, again, she's a witness. This time she sees Cedric opening the egg under the bath water, so she helps Harry come to the same conclusion.

Of course characters can be categorized as a combination of these roles (and lots that I didn't mention) and one could argue that I misdiagnosed any of these characters, and that's fine. The point of recognizing these three different roles is to help a writer (or a reader!) understand how characters can work. I found that I inadvertently was categorizing my characters like this, but now that I actually know the different functions, I can be more deliberate about how I write them.

What do you think of this categorizing method? Is it useful to you? Let me know all your thoughts in the comments!

Oh and before I go, I'd like to thank Emily and Sammie for nominating me for blogging awards! I probably won't end up doing a post on each of the rewards (as I did a tag not too long ago), but I still wanted to thank you two and give you a little shoutout! If you nominated me for something in the past few weeks and I didn't mention you, I'm so sorry, please PLEASE comment and leave your link.

Reading: If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things by Jon McGregor
Listening: Jason Mraz
Watching: Youtube!


  1. Lily Potter (Harry Potter) also falls under the category of synthetic right?? o.O

    Neal Kind
    Daily Diaries

    1. Hmmm...I'd say yes. When she saves Harry, she sets the whole story in motion and her ghost shows up a few times to help Harry defeat Voldemort. Good call:)

  2. Really interesting post, thanks for sharing it! I feel like I can use it with the characters I write about, and I loved the examples you gave. Really thought provoking! :) xx

    1. Thanks! I'm glad it got you thinking:)

      Also, thanks for stopping by SOI!

  3. Awesome...I didn't know that different characters had names to them! The names do make sense...hmm, how does one go about creating a high mimetic character?

    1. That is the big question!

      I would begin with creating a character that changes over the course of the novel, then add lots of layers to them. Where did they grow up, what secrets are they keeping, how do they feel about different issues, how do they feel about their own issues, and how does all of this effect how the character acts. Real people are complicated, and you're mimetic characters should be too!

  4. hi dear!! wowow!!! so great and imformative posts! i didnt think of these characters that way but you are absolutely right! your blog is really interesting! im your new follower on gfc! hope you can visit mine and follow me too! kisses!:)


    I feel that this is actually helpful, and I love this post. I'm actually writing a bunch of stories that I love, and I feel that this will help a lot, especially in school. Because I had no idea characters are categorized into groups :) that's kind of cool, you made me realize so much more about characters from HP and Pride and Prejudice. I've always loved stories, and anything about them (characters, plots, etc.) catch my interest a lot.

    Interesting post! :) thanks so much for sharing this! :D

    Jillian @ Jillian's Books

    1. I'm so glad that I brought some new understanding! I had the same "Aha!" moment when I learned about this, so I had to share. I too love going back to revisit old characters and learn new things about them:)

      Thanks for your lovely comment and for stopping by SOI!

  6. Good post, it's really helpful. I've never looked at chracters this way before!

    PS. Congrats on 100 followers ;)


      Congrats on being the 100th follower:D


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