Characters

Hello, Write Owls! Welcome to Day 7 of Storytelling 101. Today we’re talking about characters. I’m doing several lessons on characters, and we’re starting with the basics.

Characters are probably the most important part of your story. When you think about your favorite books, movies, and TV shows, what comes to mind? What are your favorite parts of those stories? I’m guessing the characters, or at least one character, is high up on your list. Some people say stories are either character-driven or plot-driven; but in reality, all stories are character-driven. There may be some people who write experimental fiction who would argue otherwise; but for simplicity’s sake, we’re talking about standard stories.

Characters can be humans, animals, aliens, even inanimate objects (e.g. Pixar’s Toy Story). We’re going to talk about the different types of characters and character arcs today. We’re going to use characters from Disney’s Beauty and the Beast (1991) as examples since that’s a well-known movie.

One spectrum of character type is Round vs. Flat. Flat characters aren’t well developed. You don’t know much about them. For example, Monsieur d’Arque (the man who runs the insane asylum) is a flat character. Do we know anything about this character? No. We don’t even learn his name in the movie. Round characters are multi-faceted and well developed. Belle is a round character. We know she wants a life with more adventure to it. We know she cares about her father. We know she doesn’t want to marry Gaston and/or live the life of a typical peasant housewife. She’s smart and brave and loves to read. Typically, your main characters are round, and your unimportant side characters are flat.

Another spectrum of character type is Static vs. Dynamic. Static characters stay the same over the course of the story. For example, Gaston is the same in the beginning of the movie as he is at the end. He doesn’t change as a person. Dynamic characters change. Prince Adam, a.k.a. the Beast, is a dynamic character. At the beginning of the movie, he’s mean. Over the course of the story, he softens and learns to love; so at the end, he’s no longer the cruel beast he once was. Most of your characters will be static, but your protagonist is typically dynamic. Sometimes other main characters will be dynamic as well.

If a character is dynamic, they have a well-developed character arc. A character arc is the inner journey a character experiences over the course of the story. They can be positive or negative based on whether they improve/grow or decline. The Beast has a strong character arc because he changes significantly as a character.

A better example for character arcs would be some of the characters in The Lord of the Rings. Aragorn goes from being a ranger to a powerful leader, the King of Gondor. He experiences a lot of inner growth over the course of the trilogy. Merry and Pippin also have strong character arcs because their strength and confidence grow.

Characterization is represented by physical descriptions of the character, dialogue, the character’s thoughts, the character’s actions, and other characters’ reactions to them.

These are some basic elements of characters. If you have any questions about this topic, please leave them in the comments; and I’ll try to answer them either as a reply or in my Q&A on Saturday.

Discussion Questions:

Feel free to answer these in the comments if you want to chime in!

1) Who’s one of your favorite dynamic characters?

2) Have you come up with any of your own characters yet?

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