I. What is Character?
A character is a person, animal, being, creature, or thing in a story. Writers use characters to perform the actions and speak dialogue, moving the story along a plot line. A story can have only one character (protagonist) and still be a complete story. This character’s conflict may be an inner one (within him/herself), or a conflict with something natural, such as climbing a mountain. Most stories have multiple characters interacting, with one of them as the antagonist, causing a conflict for the protagonist.
II. Examples of Character
A popular television series that just ended is the show “Glee.” Each season had popular characters who had to learn to work together to create a good musical production. Various characters underwent a change, making them a dynamic character, such as Noah Puckerman. He appears to carry out the stereotype of a jock (strong but not so smart), but his character changes as it’s revealed that he can be hard working and intelligent.
A movie that features one character throughout most of it is “Castaway” with Tom Hanks. His character is on board a shipping plane when it crashes. He’s the only survivor, trapped on an island for four years. This movie focuses on his psychological (mental) and physical condition as he slowly adapts to a life of isolation, living alone on an island that is off all regular sea and airplane routes. It’s a great example of how a story can work with only one character, although many minor characters appear in the beginning and end.
III. Types of Character
a. Major characters
These are the most important characters in the story. There are two types, of which there may be a couple for each.
- Protagonist – This is the main character, around which the whole story revolves. The decisions made by this character will be affected by a conflict from within, or externally through another character, nature, technology, society, or the fates/God.
- Antagonist – This character, or group of characters, causes the conflict for the protagonist. However, the antagonist could be the protagonist, who is torn by a problem within. Most times, something external is causing the problem. A group of people causing the conflict would be considered society, perhaps the members of a team, community, or institution. Additionally, the antagonist could be a part of nature, such as an animal, the weather, a mountain or lake. A different kind of antagonist would be an item such as a pen, car, phone, carpet, etc. These are all considered technology, since they are instruments or tools to complete a job. Finally, if the conflict comes from something out of the character’s control, the antagonist is fate or God.
b. Minor characters
These are the other characters in a story. They are not as important as the major characters, but still play a large part in the story. Their actions help drive the story forward. They may impact the decisions the protagonist or antagonist make, either helping or interfering with the conflict.
Characters can have different traits. Major characters will usually be more dynamic, changing and growing through the story while minor characters may be more static.
- Foil – A foil is a character that has opposite character traits from another, meant to help highlight or bring out another’s positive or negative side. Many times, the antagonist is the foil for the protagonist.
- Static – Characters who are static do not change throughout the story. Their use may simply be to create or relieve tension, or they were not meant to change. A major character can remain static through the whole story.
- Dynamic – Dynamic characters change throughout the story. They may learn a lesson, become bad, or change in complex ways.
- Flat – A flat character has one or two main traits, usually only all positive or negative. They are the opposite of a round character. The flaw or strength has its use in the story.
- Round – These are the opposite of the flat character. These characters have many different traits, good and bad, making them more interesting.
- Stock – These are the stereotypical characters, such as the boy genius, ambitious career person, faithful sidekick, mad scientist, etc.
IV. The Importance of Character
Characters are what make stories. Without a character, there is no story to tell, only a lot of scenery. Many characters in literature, television series, and movies have a huge impact on people. Some people like to live their lives through these characters, who appear to have more exciting lives. Also, these characters may seem so real and inspirational, that people forget they are fictional.
Characters become so important to the audience, that cities across the country hold conventions in which people pay a lot of money to dress and act as their favorite characters from multiple types of shows, particularly of the comic magazine genre (type of literature).
V. Examples of Character in Pop Culture
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have been keeping the city safe since the 1980s, but are still just as popular today. They each have their own special fighting method as well as personality. Originally simple, small turtles, they became super human, err turtle, after an accident in which the fish bowl of water they were in got knocked out of their owner’s hands and fell down a sewer grate, along with a canister of radioactive material. The rest is history. Nickelodeon has brought the characters back to fame, as can be seen on the channel and in the Nickelodeon Hotel in Orlando, Florida. The hotel features suites based on characters from the Nickelodeon shows for kids, and kids can interact with their favorite characters, including the Turtles, during breakfast and fun events. It’s clear that characters are an important part of our culture.
The characters are named after famous painters, and each turtle has his own personality to which different kids may relate. For example, Leonardo is the wise leader, the one who can keep the group focused. Raphael is the hothead. His temper wants to get the best of him, just as most of us would like to jump into things! Michaelangelo is the comedian. Like our class clowns in school, he’s the group clown. Finally, no group is complete without the geeky nerd. Donatello is always inventing things to help our turtle heroes in their adventures.
VI. Examples of Character in Literature
A book whose character was inspired by a real teenage girl is “The Fault in Our Stars” by John Green. The protagonist is 16-year-old Hazel, who meets Gus, a fellow 16-year-old cancer patient, at a camp. Their young romance is doomed as they are fighting a losing battle with cancer. Their strong spirits overcome their parents’ fears as the determined Hazel gets her wish to go overseas to meet an author she has long admired. The book has both characters undergoing change, very dynamic, as they struggle to adapt to their fate. The minor characters are impacted by the decisions Hazel and Gus make, giving depth to the story line. This book is an example of how authors take real life situations to create believable and interesting characters. Green’s inspiration for the story, Esther Earl, was a young fan with cancer who had wanted to meet him. He became friends with her and her family. She was diagnosed with cancer at 12 and died at 16.
VII. Related Terms
Archetype: A standard or stock type of character that appears in fiction, such as the villain, the hero, the damsel-in-distress, or the sidekick. Each archetype has more categories within, as well. For example, the villain could be a tyrant, devil, schemer, etc. The hero could be the warrior, proto-female, scapegoat, etc. These are especially common in fairy and folk tales.
Characters are the whole reason for any story. They can be used to help teach a lesson, to entertain, to educate, and even to persuade, depending on the author’s goal for the story line. Characters can be based on real people and events, or be totally unrealistic, such as space aliens. People become attached to characters as if they are real, may develop favorites, and relate to those that have faced similar situations.