Four Characters

Four charactersI’m currently attending a Writers’ Workshop at my local library on Thursday nights. We’re only just getting started, but so far have looked at aspects of writing such as ideas, characterisation, location, dialogue, and plot.

Last week, almost in passing, my writing tutor mentioned something about ‘four character types’ that are often to be found forming a fictional group:

  • The one who’s top dog
  • The one who wants to be top dog
  • The one who’ll never be top dog
  • The one who doesn’t care

This reminded me of a thought I’d had ages ago, about four different character types, which I’ve noticed cropping up with enough regularity for me to consider it a ‘thing’. Some groups fit the paradigm quite neatly, others are a bit more of a stretch.

To be fair, I suspect each of my types could be aligned to one on the above list – so it’s possible I’ve not come up with anything new, just come to the same conclusion but with slightly different descriptions.

Anyway, as I was walking home from the workshop, I couldn’t stop thinking about this theory, and even came up with a new example. So I decided to share my thoughts here, to see if it sparks any recognition with anyone else.

Here are my ‘four characters’:

  • The central one
  • The angsty/lovelorn one
  • The one who’s a bit dim / away with the fairies
  • The loud, brash one

To illustrate this, here are a few examples that I’ve spotted (from TV, film, and theatre rather than literature, but I think the theory still holds):

Show Central Angsty Dim Brash
The Inbetweeners Will Simon Neil Jay
Ladies' Day Pearl Jan Linda Shelley
Neville's Island Neville Angus Roy Gordon
The Big Bang Theory Sheldon Leonard Raj Howard
Red Dwarf Lister Rimmer Kryten Cat
Blackadder IV Edmund Darling Baldrick George
The Wizard of Oz Dorothy Tin Man Scarecrow Lion

OK, so some of those are a stretch. The Scarecrow in The Wizard of Oz most definitely isn’t ‘dim’ – but he’s the one who feels he’s lacking brains. Likewise, Raj in The Big Bang Theory, with a PhD in Astrophysics, clearly isn’t dim either – but he’s certainly a little ‘away with the fairies’ at times!

I guess if you were mapping these types on to the earlier types, it would go something like this:

  • Central = top dog
  • Angsty = wants to be top dog
  • Dim = will never be top dog
  • Brash = doesn’t care

Or does the brash one want to be top dog? I reckon Gordon from Neville’s Island would fit that description. Maybe the angsty one is the one who doesn’t care? Jan in Ladies’ Day is nothing like Rimmer in Red Dwarf, so maybe that characterisation falls down completely?

What do you think? Is there something in this that rings bells with you, or have I pushed an occasional grouping of types too far?

Let me know in the comments below!