Today we are starting at the very basics of character — the primary versus the secondary characters.

Which have your read?  I’ve read all of HP
and only the first 2 in CB.

Just like in real life, the book world has your A-list, B-list, C-list, etc. characters.  And no, I don’t mean the difference between Harry Potter and Charlie Bone.  (Both are wizards at school in series put out in America by Scholastic.  One is a household name, the other is less known, a B-lister if you will.)  Here, I’m talking about the A-list (or primary) characters and the B, C, and D-list (or secondary) characters in your story.

Your primary characters are the leads in your story.  These always include your protagonist and may include your antagonist (if there is only one or a primary antagonist).  Your primary character may or may not be your narrator.  However, your primary character is, literally, the most important character in the story.  This is the person that wants or needs something, and the entire story will be about that character trying to fill this want or need.

Some memorable primary characters:

  • Olivia (picture book)
  • Amelia Bedelia (early reader)
  • Clementine (chapter book)
  • Calpurnia Tate (middle grade)
  • Sabriel (teen)

(For some reason all female characters popped into my head first thing, but of course there are many memorable male primary characters.)

Books can also have multiple primary characters.  This occurs when there is a shared protagonist or you can think of it as the book having an ensemble cast.

Some great examples of books with multiple protagonists:

  • Toot & Puddle (picture book)
  • Frog & Toad (easy reader)
  • Magic Tree House (Jack & Annie) (chapter book)
  • The Penderwicks (middle grade)
  • 13 Reasons Why (teen)

If you don’t have a strong, compelling primary character (or characters), you aren’t going to have a good story.  These people (or pigs or dogs or whatever) have to provide the motivation for the reader to keep turning the page.  Of course, the way you can help explore your characters is through their interactions with secondary characters, which we will talk about tomorrow.

© Copyright 2006-2011 Madeline Smoot. All rights reserved.
May be excerpted and duplicated for educational purposes.