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Writing Fiction: The Three Types of Lead Characters

Today's writing tip comes fromWrite Great Fiction: Revision & Self-Editing by James Scott Bell. If you are writing a fiction book, you'll need to create a strong lead character for your story and one readers can relate to.

Writing a Book: Types of Characters | Revision & Self-Editing James Scott Bell

Writing Lead Characters

There are three types of Lead characters:

  • The Positive Lead. This is what has traditionally been called the hero. The mark of the hero is that she represents the values of the community. She is representing the moral vision shared by most people and is someone we root for as a result.

Most fiction uses the Positive Lead because it’s the easiest to bond with, and to carry an entire novel. Note that by positive we don’t mean perfect. Leads, to be realistic, must also have flaws and foibles.

Further, those flaws must have a basis for existing, due to something in the character’s past. A flaw alone is nothing. A flaw explained is depth.

  • The Negative Lead. Naturally, this is the hardest type of Lead to do, because the reader may not like him. Why read a whole book about somebody who does not care about the community? Who is, indeed, doing things we find reprehensible?
  • The Anti-Hero. This is a Lead who doesn’t seek to be part of the community, nor actively oppose it. He is, instead, living according to his own moral code. He is the loner.

Like the classic anti-hero Rick, in Casablanca, he “sticks his head out for nobody.”

A powerful story motif occurs when the anti-hero, because of the unfolding events, is forced to join the community.

In Casablanca, Rick is dragged into anti-Nazi intrigue. Will he continue to keep his neck out of trouble? He doesn’t, and at the end of the film he rejoins the community by going off to fight with his new friend, Louis.

Ethan Edwards, the character played by John Wayne in The Searchers, joins the common enterprise to find his niece, captured as a child by Comanches. But at the end of the film he doesn’t come back into the fold. Back turned, he walks poignantly away from his family, returning to his own world.

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