Writing Tip — Two Types of Characters in Stories

Can there only be two types of characters in stories? I’ve read many articles about types of stories, claiming that there are a limited number of stories in existence. I don’t believe it. Not for a second. There are as many stories as there are human beings — and humanity is changing all the time. You can’t say someone crossing a street while talking into their cell phone is the same kind of person as someone scrawling figures on a cave wall. Their stories just can’t be completely similar as to call them one, though maybe some elements are the same.

But can there only be two types of characters? While I’m not a fan of formulas for fiction, the redoubtable Jane Friedman has written an article making a brilliant case for the idea that there are only TWO TYPES OF CHARACTER in fiction. Read her essay and think about it. The abnormal person and the normal person. Their stories would definitely be very different.

It’s something I was thoughtful about in writing my novel The Renaissance Club. Although I didn’t think about there being two types of characters in stories, when I look back, I see that mine is  the story of a normal person (though one with potential to become something out of the ordinary, an artist) meeting an abnormal person, the 17th century Italian sculptor Bernini — definitely THE ROCK STAR OF HIS TIME.

How does meeting a star affect an aspiring fan? It’s definitely going to have an impact, and if they fall in love, a BIG impact. In the case of my young art historian, May Gold, Bernini’s effect on her is to bring out her own  extraordinary gifts and inspire her with the courage to do something audacious about them. One of the very true points Jane Friedman makes is that your ordinary character doesn’t have to stay that way. The journey can change her:

“Take the hero’s journey—one of the most common types of story in existence. It starts off with a normal character thrust into an abnormal situation, and the only way the character can handle it is to transition himself into an abnormal character.”

This is probably my favorite story, the story of how someone ordinary or normal becomes extraordinary. How do we summon those extraordinary dimensions within ourselves to do something truly heroic, however you define heroism — small or large acts and intentions. I think we all have courage within us — it’s not the same as audacity, but more like will. And often we like to read about one of the two types of characters in stories. My favorite is the normal  or ordinary person. Often that normal heroine’s journey (because I’m writing women’s fiction) is about summoning the will to face her fears and overcome them. As my heroine, May Gold, did. But I won’t tell you how she did, as that would spoil the story!

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