We are now entering my favorite part of storytelling: Characterization! Looking back to my post entitled “Making a list and Checking it Twice”, I will now discuss the fifth fundamental element of story writing I had covered: Characters.
Back in the days where I used to draw on a daily basis, my favorite subject was creating new super powered characters! I loved inventing them and giving them background stories. Later on, I had fun filling out character sheets for “Pen and Paper” games with friends or creating avatars for online video games. Today, I contribute my experience and imagination to Missing Worlds Media as a Staff Writer, where I helped create dozens of NPCs (Non-Player-Characters) and background content for their game.
The Character is an essential element to storytelling. It can be defined as a person, animal, or figure represented in a literary work, whose main purpose is to extend the plot. Without them, no one would be present to perform actions or play a role in the story. The Character may also serve as the perspective or “point of view” of a story, allowing the reader to see the events unfold from their eyes.
There are many types of characters that exist in literature, each with its own purpose. These types fulfill their different functions in the narrative process, allowing the author creative liberties when telling a tale. Imagine Characters being the tools in a tool box; they serve the author the same way the tools serve the engineer. Here are some examples of Character types:
Main or Major: Every story must have a main character, as they play a pivotal role in the development of the story. In other words, these are the characters that will have the greatest effect on the plot and resolution of conflict. They are the key to what happens in the story.
Minor or Background: Characters whose purpose is to complement the main characters by helping them move the plot events forward. This is usually done by supplying the Main Character with key information or assistance. Their presence in the story is usually limited to one appearance.
Dynamic: A person who changes over the course of the story as a result of resolving a conflict. Because resolving conflict is the primary goal of a story, Main Characters are usually Dynamic characters.
Static: A person who does not change throughout the course of the story. These characters do not evolve and remain in the same state of mind. Static characters mostly serve to show contrast to dynamic ones.
Round: A character who is fully developed, has a more complex personality, and is often portrayed as a conflicted person. They show depth of personality and require more attention by the reader.
Flat: Flat Characters have no depth and do not change during the story. Their personality is notable for being one-dimensional, as the author will show only one side or aspect of them.
Stock: Characters who are seen as conventional or stereotypical through repeated use. These characters are instantly recognizable to readers (loyal sidekick, mad scientist, etc), and allow the author to write them into the story without having to give them too much detail, as the reader will fill in the blanks themselves.
Symbolic: Any character whose very existence represents an aspect of society or humanity. They may also embody the theme, moral or idea of the story.
- Foil: Usually the Antagonist (but can be any member of the cast), the Foil is a character whose qualities contrast with the protagonist, allowing the reader to learn more about the other character. The Foil may stand against the protagonist, attempt to manipulate them or try to convince the protagonist into joining them.
- Anthropomorphic: Characters who are animals, inanimate objects, or natural phenomena, but have human traits and/or personalities.
In addition to types, characters may also be categorized by roles. The Character Roles gives the audience an idea of how each character reacts in the story. They are similar to roles played by actors, but with less emphasis on how they behave as a person, and more on what they do for the story. Here are some examples of Character roles:
- Protagonist: Also known as the hero, the Protagonist is a central person in a story, whom the reader will usually wants/expects to win in the end. They are often (but not always) referred to as the story's main character, and are responsible for plot progression and resolving the main conflict.
- Antagonist: Also known as the villain, the Antagonist is the character(s) (or situation) who opposes the Protagonist and/or creates the conflict in the story. They represents the obstacle that the Protagonist must overcome in order to succeed.
- Ally: A character that will always stand by the Protagonist in the end. The Ally will assist the Protagonist, either with actions or information, in order to help the plot progress. They may also serve as a “point of view” character, asking the Protagonist questions to fill in the blanks for the reader.
- Henchman: The Henchman is the opposite of the Ally .They are affiliated with the Antagonist and will act against the Protagonist. They may also serve as a “point of view” character, asking questions to the Antagonist which will help reveal the plot to the reader.
- Guide: The Guide teaches or represents the lesson that the Protagonist must learn in order to achieve the goal. They may represent the Protagonist’s conscience, or the logic that guides them. Contrary to the Ally, the Protagonist will ask questions to the Guide in order to fill in the blanks for the reader.
- Anti-Hero: Usually the Protagonist (but can be any member of the supporting cast), this character can be manipulative, vulgar, self-centered and so on. Regardless of lacking the conventional nobility and values of society, they are still likable to the point where the reader wishes to see them overcome challenges and reach their goal.
- Rogue: The Rogue does not believe in the Protagonist’s goal, too busy pursuing their own path. Despite not having loyalties to any side, the Rogue may like the Protagonist and want the Protagonist to succeed, just not at the cost of their personal objectives. It is not uncommon to see them have a change of heart by the end of the story. However, it is also possible that the Rogue can turn on the Protagonist in order to achieve their own goals.
- Thinker: The Thinker can be either the Protagonist, the Antagonist or any other member of the cast. Always rational, they like to plans things out, find logical solutions and give reasonable answers to questions. Regardless of the side they are on, Thinkers can have great influence over the progression of the plot.
Some characters start out as highly developed, others develop over the course of the plot. Regardless of their type or role, all characters, even superhuman ones, must be relatable to the audience. This is done by giving them relationships, flaws, strengths, habits, allowing them to make mistakes and so on. This process of exploring the inner workings of a character is called characterization.
Characterization is an essential component when writing fiction, and understanding its role in storytelling is very important for any writer. Simply put, it helps the reader relate to the characters by making sense of their behavior, explaining their thoughts and exploring their origins.
Authors use two different approaches to characterization: direct presentation and indirect presentation. With direct presentation, the narrator directly informs the reader what they need to know about the character. With indirect presentation, the narrator refers to what the character says or does in order to have an understanding of their personality. The reader is then obliged to figure out what the character is like on their own. Additionally, there are five methods of characterization:
- Appearance: The author will describe the character's appearance, normally by using details such as their body type, physical traits or style of clothing.
- Actions: The author describes the character’s actions, which gives the audience an idea of the characters behavior and attitude.
- Reactions: The author describes the character's effect on others, therefore gaining information about said character through their relationships and interactions.
- Speech: The author describes how the character expresses themselves, providing insight into the character's personality to the reader.
- Inner thoughts: The author reveals what the character thinks, allowing the reader to understand the character's actions.
No matter their type or role, it is important that characters be made believable in order for the reader to be immersed in the story. Creating characters is most definitely my favorite part of writing, as I am sure it showed throughout this post! I hope that this lesson was of benefit to you all!
Until Next time!
(edited on 2015-12-10)