In my last post, I wrote about short stories, plot, and Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory. In this post, I want to apply the Iceberg theory to another important element of the short story: characters.
There are seven types of characters: protagonist, antagonist, love interest, confident, deuteragonist, tertiary characters, and foil.
In this post, I’ll start with the central character–the protagonist. Your readers should be most invested in this character. There are a couple of types of protagonists that you should consider when planning this character. Keep in mind, these types often overlap.
The Every-person Hero
The every-person heroes are the good guys. They start out good and end up good. They are ordinary people with no apparent heroic characteristics and are often underdogs. They have a strong moral compass and are willing to sacrifice much in order to overcome the conflict. Think about Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games), Frodo Baggins (Lord of the Rings), Bilbo Baggins (The Hobbit), and Atticus Finch (To Kill A Mockingbird).
The Classic Hero
The classic hero either starts out with some ability or strength or develops an ability or strength. The ability could be external, like the ability to shoot, fight, or perform magic. The ability could also be internal like bravery, honesty, integrity, or intelligence. Think Captain America (Marvel Comic Books), Harry Potter (Harry Potter Series), Luke Skywalker (Star Wars), Tiffany Aching (Wee Free Men), Spiderman (Marvel Comic Books), and Sherlock Holmes.
The Epic Hero
The epic hero is often found in mythological tales, but not always. These characters have heroic characteristics that have come from somewhere not of this world, thus the use of this type of hero in mythology. They can also be found in comic books. Think Superman, Beowulf, King Arthur, and Achilles.
The Tragic Hero
The tragic hero suffers from a fatal flaw that will lead to their downfall in the end. Tragic heroes abound in tragedies and cautionary tales. William Shakespeare was arguably the king of tragic heroes; think Romeo, Hamlet, Macbeth, King Lear, and Othello. The tragic hero is fodder for comic books as well. Think Matt Murdock/Daredevil, Bruce Banner/Hulk, Ben Grimm/The Thing, and Peter Parker/Spiderman.
The anti-hero has some crossover with the tragic hero. The anti-hero often has traits that are considerably less than heroic. They might be greedy, immoral, vengeful, dishonest, and arrogant. Throughout the story, they fight against these traits, making them highly relatable to your readers. The difference between the anti-hero compared to the tragic hero is that they do not necessarily have a tragic ending. Think Jay Gatsby (The Great Gatsby), Han Solo (Star Wars), Scarlet O’Hara (Gone With the Wind), Wolverine, and, my personal favourite, Deadpool.
The Byronic Hero
The Byronic hero is frequently found in literature from the 19th century. They are brooding, outwardly unpleasant, and sullen yet inside they are sensitive and tender, moral and passionate. They have often suffered some great tragedy, making this dichotomy of personality traits. Think Mr. Darcy (Pride and Prejudice), Heathcliffe (Wuthering Heights), Mr. Rochester (Jane Eyre), Batman (DC Comic Books), and Roland (Stephen King’s Dark Tower Series). Female characters are rarely Byronic heroes although they can sometimes be found in comic books. Think Jessica Jones (Marvel Comic Books).
It’s difficult to write a multi-dimensional and interesting character without a strong understanding of their background and backstory. The background includes external things like the timeline of the character’s life, family history, where they have lived or travelled, friendship history, formative events and trauma, etc. Backstory is the way their background has affected them emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. These include things like fears, desires, and motivations. You likely will not include all of these things in the story itself, however all of these things will point your character in the directions they choose to go. For example, if Steve Rogers did not feel insecure because of his smallish size and lack of strength, he would not have let the army experiment on him and therefore would never have become Captain America.