Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Creating Compelling Characters: Character Roles from Dramatica

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

Today we are going to look at character interactions. Using Dramatica's eight archetypal characters, I am able to think through the role of minor characters in my plot and make sure that each has a place in regard to my protagonist. It also helps me determine whether I have any characters filling the same role in the story.

Dramatica Theory’s Eight Archetypal Characters
Dramatica is a computer program that helps you build a story to their model. I've not done their program, but I read about their eight archetypal characters online and found it to be a helpful concept. These eight character archetypes, and how they are paired, help me see how different character motivations will clash and create conflict in my stories before I start writing.

Here are the definitions of Dramatica's eight archetypal characters. If you'd like to learn more about this product, click here.

Protagonist: This person drives the story and, through his choices, forces the action of the story onward.
Antagonist: This person is directly opposed to the protagonist. He is a representation of the problem that the protagonist is seeking to solve in the story.
Guardian: This is a teacher, mentor, or helper who gives aid to the protagonist while he is on his story journey. The guardian is a moral compass to the protagonist.
Contagonist: This person hinders and/or misleads the protagonist in his goal. This person might also tempt the protagonist to take the wrong path. (Click here to read an article on the difference between an antagonist and a contagonist.)
Reason: This person makes decisions based on logic. He does not allow feelings to distract him from rational choices.
Emotion: This person makes decisions based on feelings, without thinking first and without regard for practicalities. He reacts emotionally, whether that be in a positive or negative way.
Sidekick: This person behaves with unfailing loyalty and support to the protagonist.
Skeptic: This person doubts everything—and says so. Often.

Here are some examples of each character type:

Prince Trevyn's Character Interactions
Now let's examine the characters that will interact with Prince Trevyn in my book. There are more characters than these in my story, but I was able to choose one person for each of the seven character archetypes (with Trevyn filling the role of protagonist). And, as Dramatica teaches, each of the archetypes has a partner with which it is in conflict. Everyone knows that the protagonist and the antagonist will be in conflict with each other. But Dramatica teaches that the actions of the guardian and the contagonist will conflict with each other—whether or not they ever share a scene in the book. As the prtagonist interacts with each of them, their actions and words will be conflicting to the protagonist. The same is true of the reason and emotion pair and the sidekick and skeptic pair. These little conflicts between the character pairings create extra conflict for the protagonist.

So, here is Prince Trevyn's breakdown:

Protagonist: Prince Trevyn   -PAIRS WITH-   Antagonist: Prince Janek (Trevyn's brother)
Guardian: Father Tomek (Trevyn's teacher)   -PAIRS WITH-   Contagonist: Queen Thalla (Trevyn’s mother)
Reason: Prince Willek (Trevyn's eldest brother)   -PAIRS WITH-   Emotion: Miss Mielle (romantic interest)
Sidekick: Cadoc (Trevyn's shield)   -PAIRS WITH-   Skeptic: Hinck (Trevyn's backman and friend)

When I fill out my character worksheets on minor characters, I choose characters who will fill these roles for that character. For example, Hinck might be a skeptic to Prince Trevyn, but when I look at Hinck as a protagonist, Prince Trevyn fills the role of contagonist in Hinck's life. So this can be something fun to play with.

Have you ever used Dramatica? Can you name the seven character archetypes to your protagonist?


  1. This looks interesting . . .
    Ok. Protagonist: Gwen Alyron
    Antagonist: Nightshade Alyron (Gwen's half-sister, wants to kill her)
    Guardian: Aleta comes the closest, I think. (Former assassin, switched sides.)
    Contagonist: Don't think there is one at the moment.
    Reason: Dea Alyron (half-sister) fits best here, I think, though Aleta could also fit.
    Emotion: Hunter Firhirt (friend) or Emma Alyron (half-sister).
    Sidekick: Jake Alyron (half-brother)
    Skeptic: Dea Alyron or Hunter Firhirt would both fit here, kind of. Neither doubts EVERYTHING Gwen says, but on certain topics they do disagree and they do let people know it.

    New character, different story:
    Protagonist: Poppy
    Antagonist: King du Karel
    Guardian: Doesn't really have one, but I guess Hyacinth could count?
    Contagonist: Doesn't really have one.
    Reason: Prince Hayden (Prince of Aldurna) comes closest. For characters who appear in more than half the book, Aster or Wisteria (older sisters) probably fit best.
    Emotion: A lot of Poppy's sisters, but especially Daylily, Daffodil, and Pansy.
    Sidekick: Ivy (yet another sister)
    Skeptic: Jason Silver (Soldier of the League)

  2. Are there rules about having pictures of famous people on your blog? I have a character board, but I'm worried about the legality. And it's just plain creepy to have pictures of people you don't know. When I had only one picture on the board, my daddy saw it. He thought the picture of Stefano Masciolini was a picture of my boyfriend, not my MC. That took a while to explain.

    1. Ha ha! Oh dear. I think it falls under fair use, Michaella. I wrote a blog post on this once. Here is the link:

  3. What about when you have 2 POV characters and therefore 2 protagonists. They live in very different cultures but both share a common antagonist. Does each character have a different set of eight archetypal characters?

    1. I like to give each character their own set. But that doesn't mean there can't be duplicates. So your 2 POVs could absolutely have the same antagonist.

  4. Mine does not actually have the full list of characters as separate entities necessarily. They are kind of involved with each other. But I can try to separate them out:

    Protagonist: Artemis
    Antagonist: Hera
    Guardian: Adonai
    Contagonist: Zeus
    Reason: Chiron
    Emotion: Melba
    Sidekick: Artemis' hounds
    Skeptic: Demetre

    Then for Demetre:
    Protagonist: Demetre
    Antagonist: Himself
    Guardian: Adonai
    Contagonist: Artemis
    Reason: Kari
    Emotion: Chiron (funny how he plays a different role in both their lives)
    Sidekick: Artemis' hounds
    Skeptic: Everyone

    1. Looks good! I'm intrigued by your character names. :-)

  5. Okay let's see:
    Protagonist: Marea
    Antagonist: Amaris
    Guardian: probably Harold or Sage
    Contagonist: hmmm...don't think I have one at the moment
    Reason: Zachary
    Emotion: maybe Sage or Melodie
    Sidekick: Caleb
    Skeptic: again, can't think of one

    Well it looks like I need to do a bit more developing in this area. Thanks for the post Jill!

    1. You're welcome, Katie. I found this to be an interesting exercise.

  6. Neat article. It's interesting how a character's archetype can change depending on which other character you ask.

    I have a question: would it be unreasonable for a character's archetype to change by the time their story is over? E.g., a switch from hero-hindering Contagonist to a mere Skeptic?

    1. I don't see why not, Abigail. All characters should grow or change in some way, so it makes sense that such changes might alter their archetype.

  7. Can a story be told from the point of view of the sidekick? Looking at it now, I think that my WIP is told like that.

    1. And in the character sheets, is the protagonist always the character the sheet is about?

    2. Sure, you can have a main character who is someone's sidekick. And when you fill out each character sheet, it helps to think of each character as the hero, that makes creating those characters easier when you think about how they see themselves.

  8. Hmm. This is interesting. I've never thought of placing my characters into these types of roles before. Let's see how they turn out.

    Mel, a girl who was unwillingly pulled into a world of supernatural beings and creatures that seem to step out of Celtic mythology.
    Alfr, an Elf prince. He is one of the sons of the High King and has a strong thirst to prove himself to his father.
    Livia, a middle-aged Selkie with a questionable history.
    Noah, a friendly, two-face Dwarf. Not sure if he exactly fits the definition of a contagonist, but he ends up betraying the group so...
    Brighid, a talented Pixie. She is the Reason for most of the time, sometimes considered a tad bit cold.
    Astor, Brighid's brother. He is the polar opposite of his sister, friendly and bubbly.
    Astor has unfailing loyalty to those he cares about, especially Mel and his sister.
    Hermes, a young boy raised by Livia, Brighid, and Astor, and is like a little brother to everyone. He bonded particularly well with Mel.
    Brighid. There is nothing that can get past her.

  9. Late to this party (trying to catch up on GTW posts!) and I just thought I'd say this is really interesting. I never thought about how the secondary characters pair up with/oppose each other. Thanks for sharing!

  10. Protagonist- Cass
    Guardian- Tomas
    Reason- Mary
    Sidekicks- Siblings- Tomas, Mary, Rosalyn, Lisa, And James
    Antagonist- King Lyran
    Contagonist- Nature (not only do they have to avoid the King and Soldiers, but they have to live on whatever nature offers them)
    Emotion- Also Cass. Ideas come into her head, out her mouth, then send her racing to carry out harebrained schemes. She would have died in chapter three if Tomas hadn't stopped her.
    Skeptic- I don't really have one yet.

  11. Do we need to have all of them??????