One of the great joys of writing is building a character. They can be based on someone you know or someone in the news, or just someone you thought up in the spur of the moment. But character development is at the heart of ideation.
We talk a lot about how you develop your protagonists and antagonists. But just as important are characters called "deuteragonists."
But what is a deuteragonist? And how do they factor into your storytelling? Also, what are some examples from literature, film, and television that might inspire us?
Today, we're going to define deuteragonist, check out examples, and have a lot of fun learning about new ways to introduce characters inside screenplays and other writing. Sound good? Let's dive in.
Captain Jack Sparrow from 'Pirates of the Caribbean'Credit: Disney
What is a deuteragonist? (Definition and examples)
There are lots of fancy words when it comes to writing. People are always trying to define and label different character archetypes and personalities. When we dig into these definitions, it's not so that you can answer jeopardy questions.
It's so you think about your story and character in new ways, fulfilling line items that may never have crossed your mind.
In literature, film, and television, the deuteragonist is the secondary main character. They are the next in line after the protagonist, and can act as a partner to the main character or be active in aiding the protagonist's cause.
'Lost in Translation'Credit: Criterion
Can a deuteragonist be the antagonist?
In short—yes. At the same time, the typical deuteragonist is a friend, sidekick, mentor, sibling, love interest, or tagalong (and more). They can also serve as the antagonist who opposes the main character.
Think about a movie with multiple points of view. Maybe take The Last Duel, which has two men as different antagonistic deuteragonists to the lead woman.
Or examine a book with a strong villain point of view, like we have in Misery. Paul is our protagonist. But Annie propels a lot of the story too.
'The Last Duel'Credit: Fox
Can there be more than one deuteragonist?
Yes. While the term refers to the person who is secondary to the main character, there are times when there is more than one character that fits this role.
Think about a series like Harry Potter.We have characters like Ron and Hermione who both play this role. The amount they are in each book fluctuates, but they are there to support the hero and help him on his journey.
Another name for a deuteragonist is a "window character" because they help us see the protagonist through them. They can ask them questions, reveal parts of their past, and even hold secrets.
That's why writers love these characters.
'Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone'Credit: Warner Bros.
Why do writers need to know the deuteragonist definition?
I think this one is a little obvious, but there are so many reasons you would want to know this term. First off, it is really smart to think about adding these characters to your work. Of course, every piece of literature or movie doesn't have one.
But if you have one, knowing the definition can help you support your protagonist.
The protagonist and deuteragonist work in tandem. They actually have their own sub-genre, the "two-hander," in which both can be considered protagonists. But they don't have to be. This helps you have an important character in a supporting role.
That's amazing for casting and helping you get through the beats of your story. They can drive change and drama. And they can pull interesting things out of the main character.
They can be the love interest or sidekick or play a major role in the way things pan out.
I think a few examples will help us sort out why they matter.
'Once Upon a Time in Hollywood'Credit: Sony
Deuteragonist examples in literature
Perhaps the most famous example is Dr. Watson, who is the deuteragonist to Sherlock Holmes. He plays an important role in unraveling every story. Plus, his interactions with Homes make us understand Holmes better. And they help get out exposition.
In something like Enola Holmes, Sherlock gets to play second-fiddle to his sister, Enola.
There are other examples of a deuteragonist in literature that are not sidekicks too. I think a lot about To Kill a Mockingbird, which places us in the lives of Scout and Jem Finch. The book is narrated by an older Scout, but her brother Jem is crucial to the beasts of the story.
Jem's the one who helps put Scout in situations to meet Boo Radley and who ultimately is with her at the end, as they take their longest walk together.
Obviously, these characters appear in movies and TV as well.
'Enola Holmes'Credit: Netflix
Deuteragonist examples in film and TV
In film and television, there are a plethora of characters who fit this bill. Think about people with important roles like Han Solo to Luke Skywalker, or Jack Sparrow to Will Turner.
In TV, I love what the Breaking Bad pilot does with Jesse and Walt, linking them together and thus, sending them on their path toward the end.
The TV show Gilmore Girls is unique because either Lorelai or Rory Gilmore could be the deuteragonist depending on the storyline.
I think a TV show like LOST solidified itself as a cultural phenomenon with several deuteragonist examples. We have a lot of different episodes from different points of view. But as the series went on, it really was a show about Jack, and then the secondary deuteragonist character of Locke. Their diverging philosophies are what drove the series forward.
Han Solo and Luke in 'Return of the Jedi'Credit: Disney
Summing up "What is a Deuteragonist? (Definition and Examples)"
Now that you know what a deuteragonist is, it's time to develop your own in a story. Make sure they play an important part in the story arc. These are not just secondary characters, but linchpins for the plot to unfold.
When you sit to write, make sure these people are at the top of your mind. Let your own relationships inspire you and help push your path to greatness.
Got a favorite one of these characters? Let us know in the comments.