The main source for this information is a blog titled "Protagonist, Deuteragonist, Tritagonist, Tetartagonist, Pentagonist, What Comes Next?" with additional information added from other sources.

It illustrates problems that result from attempting to rigidly define what level a character is.

Word chart

Level Words used to describe this level Words that try to match "secondary" and "tertiary"
1st Protagonist
2nd Deuteragonist, deughteragonist
3rd Tritagonist Thirdary
4th Quadragonist, teratagonist, tetratagonist, tetartagonist Fourthary, quadary, quaternary
5th Quintagonist, pentagonist Fifthary, quinary, pentary
6th Hexagonist, sentagonist Sixthary, sextuary
7th Heptagonist, serintagonist Seventhary, septuary
8th Octagonist Eightary
9th Nonagonist, nunagonist Ninthary
10th Decagonist, decetagonist
11th Endecagonist, undecetagonist
12th Dodecagonist, duodecetagonist
13th Tredecetagonist
14th Quattuordecetagonist
15th Quindecetagonist
16th Sexdecetagonist
17th Septendecetagonist
18th Octodecetagonist
19th Novemdecetagonist
20th Vigintagonist
21st Centetagonist

Many of these words are very cumbersome to say, with #14 being the most difficult ("quat-tu-or-de-ce-tagonist"). Words that are a number with "ary" tacked on the end (fourthary, eigthary) sound ridiculous. "Centetagonist" hints at "centennial", which would be a 100th-most level of importance

Tiered levels or equal levels?

The above list shows a tiered ranking of character levels, from most-important to 21st-most-important. However, sometimes these words are used to indicate equally-important characters. With this definition, they mean:

There is only one most-important character.
This is one of two equally-important main characters.
This is one of three equally-important main characters.
This is one of four equally-important main characters.

When the equally-important definition is used, the character labels are rarely updated to reflect it. For example, if Fred and Henry are equally as important, their descriptions should read as "Fred is one of the two deuteragonists" and "Henry is one of the two deuteragonists". Instead, they often read as "Fred is the protagonist" and "Henry is the deuteragonist", which leans back towards Henry being less important than Fred. This leads to confusion as to which definition is in effect.

Protagonists or antagonists?

With the exception of "Protagonist", many of these labels are used for both protagonists (in general, the good guys) and antagonists. To remove confusion, it would then be necessary to specify which it refers to. Examples: the quintagonist protagonist, the tritagonist antagonist.

This negates the usefulness of having dedicated words for each level. Using words like "secondary protagonist" and "tertiary antagonist" would suffice in these cases. In order to have dedicated words for each level of importance, the words used to describe the good guys must be different than those for the bad guys. They must also be standardized to reduce the number of words used for the same level and ensure consistent usage, such as the fourth level which has quadragonist, teratagonist, tetratagonist and tetartagonist.

Modifiers that lead to contradictions.

Regardless which definition is being used, there is the tendency to add a modifier onto the level. Example: tertiary quadragonist.

This leads to contradictions in both definitions. The definition of tertiary is "of third rank, importance, or value". A "tertiary quadragonist" then becomes:

  1. Definition 1, tiered importance: "This is a character who is fourth-most important, but they are a third rank amongst those fourth-most characters, so they are actually lower in rank than those others."
  2. Definition 2, equally-important: "This is one of four equally-important main characters, but they are in the third rank lower, so they are not equally as important with the other three any more."

Other modifiers can attempt to increase the importance of a character, with the same contradictions. Example: primary tritagonist.

  1. Definition 1: "This is a third-most important character, but they are at the top or above that level, so they are even more important than the other third-most important characters."
  2. Definition 2: "This is one of three equally-important main characters, but they are even more important than that."

In all four cases, the modifier needs to be removed and a new word chosen to label the character. In order presented, they would be:

  1. Definition 1: "tertiary quadragonist" becomes something like heptagonist, and all other characters labeled as a 5th-, 6th- or 7th-most important character need to have their rankings updated.
  2. Definition 2: "tertiary quadragonist" would be similar to the case above, but the three other characters that are also described as equally-important quadragonists need to be updated to say they are now tritagonists since there's no longer four members in this group.
  3. Definition 1: "primary tritagonist" becomes something like deuteragonist or protagonist, and all other characters labeled as most-important and second-most important need to have their ranking updated.
  4. Definition 2: "primary tritagonist" can only become "protagonist" to mean there is just one most-important character. All other protagonists and deuteragonists must then be downgraded to a lower level.
          A "primary tritagonist" cannot be called a "deuteragonist" because there are already two equally-important people in that group. Attempting to add a "primary tritagonist" to the deueragonist group brings it right back to a group of three equally-important characters, making the "primary" modifier null and void.

As shown, adding a modifier onto the character's label has a ripple effect that spreads beyond just that character. Making the effort to update the ranking of all other characters once a modifier has been added to one of them almost never happens. This is due to people focusing on trying to pinpoint a precise ranking of one specific character while ignoring all other characters, and more importantly, ignoring all other details about what makes the character a person and not a label. It also emphasizes contradictions inherent in trying to use modifiers.

Modifiers that have built-in doubt

This is a short list of modifiers that have been used to describe antagonists. An explanation has been included to show why they have built-in doubt and therefore should not be used whether for an antagonist or protagonist.

  • maybe-former: We're not really sure if this is a former antagonist or not.
  • probably former: Same as above.
  • (former) main, but semi: This character used to be a main antagonist but was a partial antagonist at the same time or has now become a partial antagonist.
          If the character was a main antagonist, they are not likely to only act that way part-time.

A particularly bad modifier was "the (probably-former) secondary antagonist who probably turned into the secondary tritagonist". This included two instances of doubt and a contradiction. It says that the person who wrote it wasn't sure if the character was a former secondary antagonist or not, and the person was also not sure if the character became a different type of label.

As describe above, "secondary tritagonist" is a contradiction that either means "this is a third-most important character but they are actually less important than that" or "this is one of three equally-important characters but they are really less important than those other two".

There can be only one

Many people who attempt to pinpoint exactly how much of an antagonist or protagonist a character is tend to view it as a ranking where only one character can have a specific level. If there are seven characters in the story, then there is only one most-important, only one second-most important, only one third-most important, all the way down to only one seventh-most important. The larger the number of characters, the longer the list of character ranking levels gets, leading things like the 21-level scale shown above.

Any kind of analysis or statistics that could support such level assignments is almost never given. For example, cricket and baseball use a batting average to calculate the performance of a player. Any justifications for the level a character was given are often opinions, leading to others having different opinions and changing the level to fit them. In some cases, the same person changes their mind and assigns a new level to the same character, either on the same wiki or on a different wiki.

Stories are seldom about the ranking of one character in comparison to other characters. There does not have to be only one character for a rank. It is permitted to say they are "one of the main characters" when there are two or more of that approximate level.

Simpler levels

The following character descriptions are now in effect.

  1. Main characters — Characters that are very important in the story.
  2. Secondary characters — Characters that are fairly prominent in the story but not as important as a main character.
  3. Minor characters — Any character that is less important than a secondary character.

Words like those in the chart above used to describe a character below the second level are not permitted. Phrases like "serves as the" are not permitted as they are also a way of trying to label a character.

Due to contradictions that occur when adding a modifier onto a character label, they are not permitted on this wiki.

The levels were chosen to avoid the following problems:

  • The confusion that comes from having words that are sometimes used to describe antagonists and sometimes used to describe protagonists.
  • The complications and contradictions that come with trying to rigidly define exactly what level a character is.
  • The edit wars and fighting that occur as people try to pinpoint an exact level for a character and other people assign different exact levels.
  • The contradictions that occur when modifiers are used, especially when all other characters affected by a modifier are not also updated.
  • The contradictions users create when they continually change what level they say a character is, be it on the same wiki or across wikis. Example: saying that Randall Boggs is the main antagonist on one wiki but saying he's the secondary antagonist on another wiki, or changing it to secondary antagonist on one wiki and then a few months later changing it on the same wiki to say main antagonist.

By using simpler character descriptions, time spent trying to rigidly define exactly what level a character is can instead be used to add details about the character itself. Instead of fighting over something that no one can agree on, information can be added to show how the character is a person instead of a label.

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