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A story normally consists of several characters (i.e. the protagonist, the antagonist, and so forth), but is there a good synonym for the word character? I've often used "people", but it seems overly general.

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  • It might help if we knew why character doesn’t work for you.
    – Jim
    Jul 6 '15 at 7:02
  • probably - role ?
    – alpa
    Jul 6 '15 at 13:02
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You can try 'personage', or 'figure'.

If you were to refer to the cast in general, maybe you could use 'dramatis personae', although that seems a bit grand / presumptuous.

For example, if you were writing a sordid piece of tabloid gossip, then 'dramatis personae' won't lend you a patina of respectability. Instead it looks overdone, like gaudy cheap jewelry. :D

On the other hand, if it was a review of a stage play or a novel, then dramatis personae is acceptable, though a bit heavy and somber (which may or may not be what you want).

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Most of the answers seem to refer to a play, rather than a book. I shall also, but I offer less formal alternatives:

  • players

    • major players
    • minor players
    • bit players

In addition you might, if appropriate, refer to a cameo appearance. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cameo_appearance

(by the way, the above work best for fiction; for non-fiction you might prefer figures, as was suggested earlier.)

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  • +1. I'm reminded of the opening credits from early silent movies.
    – Tushar Raj
    Jul 6 '15 at 11:52
  • I like players, it allows easy distinguishing of their impact on the story also
    – nickson104
    Jul 6 '15 at 13:22
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I can't think of a close synonym for character in this sense. To refer to all the characters collectively, you can use dramatis personæ

Dramatis personæ (Latin: "persons of the drama") is a phrase used to refer collectively, in the form of a list, to the main characters in a dramatic work. Such lists are commonly employed in various forms of theater, and also on screen. Typically, off-stage characters are not considered part of the dramatis personæ. It is said to have been recorded in English since 1730, and is also evident in international use. However, the term is closely associated with the works of William Shakespeare and appears in the original publication of the First Folio, published in 1623.

It is usually applicable to plays, but can be loosely used for other works.

Example sentences from Vocabulary.com:

  • The draw of “Scandal” has always been its schizophrenic pacing and the elaborate, interconnected backstories of its dramatis personae.

  • Perhaps the most fascinating of these dramatis personae is Zukor, nicknamed “Creepy” by his employees for his habit of speaking sparingly and softly.

The second sentence shows how you can use the term for a singular character by paraphrasing a little.

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I understand your hesitation with the terms protagonist, antagonist, character. The terms are Greek, mainly referring to drama and from an older time. Today when we talk about novels such terms look like anachronisms. I speak of central figure or central person of a novel. The term dramatis personae, Latin, refers only to a theater play and it is an old term as well.

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Although I support the usage of 'figure', I will propose an alternative other than those already suggested.

Although mainly used in plays or scripts, the term 'Actor' can be used in the same context. This can be seen in other usages such as video games where it is sometimes common practice to term all people in the game as 'actors'. I think it is applicable in this usage due to many games being broken into 'scenes' or levels.

I would hesitate to use this terminology in terms of books, but it is could be used in consideration to that parts the (character/figure/etc) has to play in the story. The 'actor' may play a very minor part, or a major part, but they still influence the experience in some way.

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