From protagonists to side characters and from heroes to villains, we often think of our characters in terms of the roles they play in the story. There is much terminology used for various roles, often with overlapping meanings, and this might seem daunting to a new student of literature or an aspiring author. An example of this would be the aforementioned protagonist and hero, which on the surface seem synonymous, but are actually denoting two very unique roles in a story that—while they often are merged—are not mutually inclusive.
In this article, we will first explore the historical origins of some familiar and some less common terms from the traditions of Greek drama, then move on to comparing them to modern cinematic and literary terminology. After this, we will explore the different roles characters play in storytelling apart from their prominence in the story. While many of the terms we will be addressing draw from stage and screen, they apply equally to literary theory.