“just because a mage wears the black robes does not make him evil.”
― Margaret Weis
Fantasy characters. The moment we begin to think about them I suspect images of characters from our favorite books, movies, or cartoons begin to rise from our memories. Could be a witch or wizard, a dragon or troll, a superhero or an evil stepmother that reminds us of our favorite story. The question is not which character we remember but why. What characteristics of a fantasy character makes them memorable?
Fantasy stories are rarely simple. They are an incredible tale of the impossible told on an epic scale. With such a grand story there must be characters that are equally majestic. They form the core of your story and the conduit to complete the quest.
Overall, our main characters, the protagonist, and antagonist regardless of genre are the hooks we use to draw our readers into our realm. If we don’t provide a character that a reader can identify with the reader loses interest. In a fantasy, while there may be several main characters, the focus will always be on the one character who faces the ultimate conflict. Secondary characters also hold a very important role in the story. In addition to providing support for the main character, they carry subplot arcs to drive the story to its conclusion.
The most important character in any story is the protagonist. If your reader does not identify with the protagonist, the quality of the story and other characters won’t matter. It is imperative to capture your reader’s heart for them to become engaged.
The protagonist is the hero, and in fantasy as in other genres, this character should possess the strength of soul and determination. Their commitment to the story’s goal and how they deal with conflict and obstacles in their path drives the narrative. Your hero should be flawed, hold secrets, be at times uncertain and afraid. The more human and ordinary the character is the more endeared they become to the reader.
Fantasy adds another level to the protagonist’s abilities, magic. Decide how your character will reveal their powers or skills or react to magic if they do not have powers. Is this quest the hero’s destiny or was he drawn in by accident? Does your character have a dark side, something that must be quelled to complete their task?
This is fantasy. Allow the magical tone of your story to flow through your protagonist.
Ah, the evil genius. But should your antagonist be entirely evil? The answer is no. It is easy to assign only vile characteristics to a villain. Resist the temptation. As you give your protagonist flaws, give your villain some qualities that your reader can identify with as well. Remember, the villain thinks his motivation is correct. By giving your villain a reason for his evil ways, you bring depth to his actions. Weaving the villain into the lives of the protagonist and his sidekicks also strengthens the power of the antagonist to create greater conflict.
There will be sidekicks. There must be sidekicks. They provide a support network and are needed to show the human and vulnerable side of your hero. These characters may not always be physically with the protagonist, but they are an integral part of the story. In fantasy, the variety of characters is boundless and the more imaginative, the more interest for your readers. Think Muggles and Hobbits and dragons and begin to create.
Among the secondary characters you will find the following:
Best Friend: A single secondary character who is a confidant, loyal to a fault, someone, who would give their life for the hero. To create a stronger bond between hero and best friend add depth by disagreement, estrangement, competitiveness, or humor. Placing the best friend in mortal danger often provides the catalyst for the hero to grow and face the conflicts ahead.
Mentor: A classic figure in fantasy, the mentor gives guidance and educates the hero as he follows his destiny. The mentor, who may have magical powers or wisdom, could be someone familiar or a stranger, the relationship strained or close. At some point in the story for the hero to prove they have grown and no longer need their mentor, there could be an emotional parting of the ways.
Romantic Interest: We all love a good romance, and the fantasy genre is no different. A love interest also humanizes the protagonist, adding another layer to the hero’s vulnerability. Often a romantic partner can serve to challenge the hero to remain committed to the quest despite whatever adversities are encountered. Do not make the romance larger than life or it will overshadow the ultimate quest, keep the relationship grounded and real.
In truth, these characters minus a magic spell or two, are characters found in any genre. The differences are often in the minute details. Be inventive, allow some characters not to be traditional. Never lose sight of the world you have created and allow your characters to reveal the magic it holds to your readers.
Deborah Ratliff is a Southerner with saltwater in her veins and love of writing. A lifelong mystery fan, her first novel, Crescent City Lies will be published soon and a second novel, One of Those Days to follow. She has also written numerous articles on writing. Deborah serves as an administrator for the Facebook group, “Writer’s Unite!,” with 41,000 + members from around the world.