After reading â€œCharacterâ€ in the Week 4 lesson “Character Types” (Be sure to click on “Different Kinds of Characters” at the top of your screen), write several paragraphs on the different character typesâ€”flat, round, static, and dynamic. Then, using characters from this weekâ€™s stories, identify a dynamic character and a static character and explain your reasoning.
A. Note that “A & P” . Here is the link:
B. Here is a link to a PDF of “The Things They Carried.”
Characters and character development are the heart of good fiction. I can think of only a few stories that donâ€™t have well-developed, interesting characters. Although sometimes plot seems to push characters around at will, in many cases, the actions grow directly from characters, from their motivations, from their desires. Good characters can seem as real to us as our neighbors or our classmates.
It should go without saying that short-story writers have fewer words with which to create characters than do novelists; therefore, they must waste no words in character development. Often a character can be brought to life with a sentence or two. In a novel by Nanci Kincaid (who earned her MFA in creative writing at the University of Alabama and has been quite successful), she brings a villain to life with twelve words: â€œThe first time we ever saw Old Alfonso he was drowning dogs.â€ If we see a man in a story talking to a tree, we might reasonably infer that the man has psychological problems. If we see a housewife in a story pull a bottle of gin from its hiding place behind the dryer and take a furtive pull, we might safely assume that she has a drinking problem. Good writers show us who their characters are rather than tell us.
Be observant when you read a story: What do we learn about characters from even their most apparently insignificant actions or words? How are they like people we know? How are they different? What can they teach us about ourselves?
The Different Kinds of Characters
Characters, of course, play different roles within stories. We identify with some characters, while we see other characters as somehow in conflict with the character or character with whom we identify. Some characters are more fully developed than others. Some characters change during the course of their stories, while others do not. Some characters are realistic, while others are more symbolic. We use the following terms to categorize characters:
- Protagonist: The protagonist is usually the character with whom we most identify, or the central character. Often he or she may be considered the â€œheroâ€ of the story, but in some cases the protagonist is anything but a hero. In Brett Easton Ellisâ€™s American Psycho, the protagonist is just what the title says he is: a psychopath.
- Antagonist: The antagonist, if there is one, is in some way in opposition to the protagonist. Often the antagonist is a villain, but that is not always the case. In some storiesâ€”ones in which the writers attempt to show that things are not always black and white, for instanceâ€”it is difficult for the reader to determine who is the good guy and who is the bad guy. An excellent example of this can be found in Unforgiven, Clint Eastwoodâ€™s dark 1992 Western. The Eastwood and Gene Hackman characters are clearly in opposition to one another, although neither is wholly good or wholly evil. Occasionally, the antagonist isnâ€™t even a person: in Moby-Dick, the antagonist is a sperm whale; in The Perfect Storm the antagonist is nature, specifically the weather.
- Round Characters: Round characters are well developed. We learn much about them from their actions, from exposition, or from their thoughts and/or words. We learn about their worries, their desires, their fears, their drives. Of course, there are varying degrees of roundness. When you read a story, determine who is the central character and jot down notes about what you learn about the character.
- Flat Characters: We learn little about flat characters: they are often like cardboard cutouts. They do little more than fill out scenes, like extras in movies.
- Dynamic Characters: Dynamic characters undergo some significant change in the course of the story. The change can be subtle, or it can be drastic and profound. The change can be either positive or negative. Most often, the change is a direct result of the events of the story. A classic example of a dynamic character is Scrooge in A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. At the beginning of the story, Scrooge is a bitter, heartless miser, but by the end he has become generous, warm-hearted, and joyful. (I just thought of another dynamic Christmas story character: the Grinch.)
- Static Characters: Static characters remain essentially unchanged by the events of their stories. Often these are the peripheral characters, but sometimes the central character undergoes no lasting change. In â€œKubuku Rides (This is It),â€ by Larry Brown, the main character is an alcoholic who simply cannot change although her drinking is costing her everything that is important to her.
- Character Types: In some stories we find familiar characters common to much fiction: the hooker with the heart of gold; the hard-nosed, to-hell-with-the-regulations cop; the absent-minded professor. Good fiction usually avoids character types in favor of distinct, realistic characters; in some cases, however, characters in good fiction may be viewed as types or even as symbols. We have a fine example of this coming up in a few weeks, but I donâ€™t want to spoil your reading pleasure here. Character types are most often used in allegorical fiction (see page 30 in Readerâ€™s Guide). As you read the stories this week, make a list of significant characters and place them in the appropriate categories (remember: a character can be both round and static, or flat and staticâ€”try to determine whether a character fits into more than one category).