I won’t deny it. I’m a fantasy gal from head to toe. But one thing I’ve noticed is that those ensemble adventure sagas have one thing in common: a cast of characters that generations have loved for hundreds of years. Yes, I said hundreds of years because even Tolkien based his cast on types from Norse legends. And these same character types keep reappearing. Why? Because somewhere in our human core, we all resonate with them, or hate them when they are the betrayer or nemesis. We knew them, relate to them, love them, so we keep coming back to see them put in a different story.
This is the cast of Lord of the Rings who reappeared as the cast of the first Star Wars.
They have come back in the last couple of years as the main characters of Lost. In fact, we’re not even sure if Lost has a plot or what it is. There’s tons of loops and sites devoted to finding clues and trying to figure out what the thing is about. Why waste the energy? Why keep watching? Because if you managed to stay tuned for a couple of episodes you subconsciously recognized these characters. They’ve been around, you instinctively are drawn to them.
Let’s define each character within these ensembles so you can see how they might fit in your romance novel or possibly they’re already there.
**First, the IDEALISTIC GOOD GUY – This is Frodo Baggins, Luke Skywalker, and from Lost, Jack Shephard.
In romance he would be called a Beta. He’s motivated by what he believes is the right thing to do and has tunnel vision toward that end. He begins his journey on pure faith, gets knocked down and demoralized at some point, and has to rebuild his belief or support system. Secondary characters will always come into play with this.
**Next, the BAD BOY ROUGE – Prince Aragorn, Han Solo, and Sawyer.
He’s an alpha male & nearly always painfully good looking. He will always show up ornery and mouthing off and working in a questionable occupation that he’s very good at and possibly has an alias, as is the case with both Aragorn/Strider & Sawyer/James. He is wounded, damaged by the past and does not believe that he is a nice person, but he is loyal and strong and good inside and by the end of the novel, he is the king, literally with Aragorn. He has become the hero he was inside. (And if both the idealistic guy and the rouge are in a novel together, the girl will always choose the Rouge, because, well the good guy is simply too good –( Frodo being a hobbit doesn’t count in the love triangle.)
**So on to the PRINCESS – This is the Arwen /Eowyn combination in LOTR, more so Eowyn as she dressed like a man to go to battle. Princess Leia of course, and Kate Austen.
She is feisty and hard to impress and intelligent. If she ever has to be saved, she’s not a weeping willow about it and just gets down to business and will fight right alongside the men. She’s able to hold her own with the rogue and show moments of tenderness with all the other characters. Her motivation is to help other people.
**WIZARD/MENTOR – Gandalf, Obi Wan, John Locke. The main hero needs a mentor of some sorts. In romance, this character can take many forms. In sagas, he’s the guy that usually points the good guy hero on his path, stays around long enough to teach him a bit and then leaves or is killed or has a falling out so that the hero has to finish the journey with his own wits. The mentor always has a failing in his past that makes him doubt his ability to teach or trust the good guy. Sauramon turns from Gandalf, we all know Obi Wan’s history with Anikan Skywalker, and John Locke gets his first little apprentice Boone killed.
**LOYAL MONSTER – Gimli the Dwarf, Chewbacca the Wookie, Sayid. This character is the epitome of what the other characters deem monstrous, ugly. It wasn’t an accident that Princess Leia said, “I’d rather kiss a wookie.” That was to clue us in that their universe thought wookies were yuck. And when Lost first came out, who was more ugly to our society than a torturer of the Republican Guard? Yet as the story progresses, this character shows how loyal, how honest, how true and tender he is. We love him. If anything happens to this character we would be upset.
**THE BETRAYER – Boromir, Lando Calrissian, Michael – If there is going to be a betrayer, he has to be close to the group. Even though Lando wasn’t in the first Star Wars, they got away with it by having him be a close friend to Han. The betrayer will always have a strong motivation to do what he/she does that still makes him sympathetic. Many times he will be able to redeem himself or at least seek forgiveness. We can’t really blame Michael for choosing his son over the group.
**PROTECTED Characters – Samwell Gamgee & Legolas, R2D2 & C3PO, Hurley & Charlie.
These are the characters that see things the way they are. Even though they aren’t necessarily adolescents, they almost seem childlike in the straightforward way they tell the main characters the reality of how things are when the hero loses his way and also in the way all the other characters feel very protective of them. They are reflective characters. They are the ones who are the greatest help to the heroes and sometimes the greatest annoyance as they’ll be the ones to say, “what are you doing?” “This isn’t like you?” Within the books that have both the good guy hero and rouge, each hero will have their own Protected Character. Frodo had Sam while Legolas was completely loyal to Aragorn. Luke relied on R2D2, while C3PO generally annoyed Han, stating things that Han didn’t want stated. And though Hurley & Charlie interchange between Sawyer & Jack, both heroes would lay aside their differences to protect these characters. To a degree Merry & Pippin are another pair of Protected Characters within the LOTRs ensemble.
**COMIC RELIEF ODD COUPLE – Legolas & Gimli, R2D2 & C3PO, Hurley & Charlie. Did you notice that some of these characters are the same as the Protected Character? Dynamics within groups can vary and change. Though Legolas is Aragorn’s loyal supporter and friend, he bickers relentlessly with Gimli. Elves & Dwarves have little in common, yet they become best of friends, the kind that compete and argue with each other, but won’t let anyone else mess with the other. These characters will be opposites, if not in physical appearance, then in personality. R2 & C3PO are both droids, but one’s annoying and the other loveable. Likewise, Hurley is unpretentious, childlike and innocent, seeing possibilities, while Charlie is a junkie with a more callus eye on the world.
**NEMESIS – Sarumon, Darth Vader, Ben and the Others. Even though many romances don’t have a bad guy, I’m going to discuss the nemesis character to round it out. In the fantasy sagas, the bad guy out front has usually been seduced by an EVEN GREATER EVIL, who is so evil, frightening and mysterious that we barely get to glimpse a giant glowing eyeball, a weathered chin beneath a low cowl, or sparking black smoke.
The NEMESIS has willingly given up good to pursue evil. Even though they have willingly set themselves on this course, there will be moments of doubt, just be careful to not confuse a doubtful moment with the Betrayer’s regret. The Nemesis always made the choice on their own without coercion or a belief that they are doing what is right for the majority.
In a modern romance, if you have a bad guy, decide if he/she is a nemesis, seduced by a better job position or affluent marriage, or jealously-- or the betrayer, betraying for what they believe is a worthy cause, or is the baddie a greater evil who is evil simply for the sake of being evil--and then stay true to that trait without flipping back or forth.
So what does this all have to do with writing Romance characters? Do you need to fill your book with an entire cast of this same group. Of course not, that would be overkill with a romance. But like the old saying goes, you have to know a rule in order to break it. These are the basic characters that humans have loved. Understand them and then make them your own. Just like most people would never guess that the Lost cast is the same cast from Star Wars redone, know their basics and remake them. Does the Rouge alpha even have to be a man? Make that character your heroine. Pair her up with a guy that gets along with everybody else, showing his tender side, but butts head with her. In other words he’s the feisty princess, but nobody knows that but you. Pick and choose what secondary characters you want. You possibly might only want one. Is it the mentor or betrayer or protective character? Or does the tone and rhythm of your book call for odd couple friends?
Then switch it up. Can you start out with a character with mentor attributes and then give him or her a strong enough motivation to become the betrayer. You can layer all the characteristics you want into one character as long as you understand what attributes you are layering in.
If your book is complete or nearly complete, can you identify which of these character types best fits each of your characters? Knowing that, can you pull more out of the attributes? For example, if you see that a secondary character is the betrayer, ask yourself if her motivation is strong enough to be sympathetic. If her reason isn’t a good cause, but a purely selfish or evil motivation, then they aren’t the Betrayer at all, but the Nemesis.
If you have a loyal friend character, decide if they are the Loyal Monster or the childlike protected loyal friend. If they are the monster, then make sure you’ve amped up the reasons why all the other characters would normally think they are ugly or monster like. Lawyer maybe? Kidding. If they are the innocent protected character, then you need to make things they say, even how they say it more pure and straight on, just like kids who say things how they are.
Going with the two odd couple characters? Decide how exactly you want to make them opposites and then show that throughout. Make us wonder why they are even friends. Make us laugh at them, with them, and make us fall in love with them.