Every character lives their own story, but within a story not all characters are equal.
Minor & Placeholder Characters
These are the characters that make up most of the people in the world of the story. A minor character performs one or two significant actions, and then fades away. They don’t change or evolve, they simply exist. They are often eccentric or exaggerated, but they lack the complexity of a main or major character. The audience is entertained, but doesn’t miss a minor character when they leave.
Placeholders are bland, often boring. They are the nameless faceless strangers going about their lives. Placeholders are not interesting. If they say or do anything it’s the obvious action, more akin to a generic example or member of a crowd. They exist to provide a background for the primary characters, the main and major characters.
At the top of the hierarchy are the protagonists. This is who the story is about, the characters most affected by the conflict. Over the course of the narrative the main characters are influenced by the story conflict. The events of the story help to reveal and/or change who the character is.
Next are the major characters, characters with a strong relationship with the main characters, either supporting or opposing the protagonist(s). Major characters often advance the plot; taking action, providing information, and generally setting the stage for a main character. Consider the Genie, Abu, or Carpet, from the film Aladdin. These characters often encourage or confront Aladdin, bringing up issues which become the heart of a conflict later in the story.
Together protagonists and major characters make up the primary cast. If the story is a novel major characters may be introduced and removed throughout, and the story may alternate between protagonists, but once an essential character is introduced, their presence in the story is maintained throughout, unless they have been removed permanently, or their reappearance is intended as a surprise.
Consider Two Towers, a book featuring 3 separate storylines. The characters are separated by great distance, but every so often the story makes an allusion or reference to the others, making sure the audience doesn’t forget about them.
Consider the primary villain, Sauron. He never appears directly. Instead he is a voice, a set of instructions, but his presence and his reputation dominate the story. Every choice he makes has powerful ramifications for the rest of the cast.
Relationships & Recollections