Story Elements: Characterization

Characters fall into one of two categories: static or dynamic.

A static character does not change. They exhibit the same traits and way of thinking throughout a story. A dynamic character is one who changes. The journey of the narrative is in some way transformative for them.

In real life, we talk of constancy, reliability, and tenacity as good qualities. In some way, these all reflect being static or unchanging. Alternately, we mock politicians who ‘flip flop’ and describe someone of ever-changing moods as a ‘flake’. To be dynamic, or able to be changed, is seen as a bad thing.

So, generally you want your protagonist to be likable, endearing, or someone to whom the reader might relate or even aspire. The tricky part is that despite our societal bias, the general rule is you want your protagonist or hero to be a dynamic character, leaving the villain and maybe some supporting characters to be static.
Wow, I really don’t think I’m making a very good case for this dynamic character thing. Perhaps if I put it another way: the greatest tales are inevitably about man’s struggle against himself. This is the dynamic character, the one who through the process of his or her travails, foibles, and successes grows in some meaningful way, defeating or overcoming his or her flaws and shortcomings.

The climax of ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ is not the escape from France but when the poor doppelganger realizes, “It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.” The point of ‘Crime and Punishment’ is neither the crime nor the punishment but Raskolnikov’s personal realization of guilt and hope for redemption. ‘The Lord of the Flies’ is not about camping or entomology. ‘The Sound and the Fury’…well, nobody’s quite sure what that one is about except something to do with time.

As you dress your story up with amusing side character, daring deeds, and exotic locales perhaps take a moment to address what is going on within your protagonist. What change is being wrought? What might you draw from the experiences you’re putting them through? In all of this, what message do you want the reader to glean from the narrative? For those of you doing NaNoWriMo, how many extra words and pages can you eke out of some introspection and eventually resolved self-doubt?

7 comments Posted 2010-11-19 Author: THX 0477


  • H.S. Wift

    Now you’ve ruined the ending to ‘A tale of two cities’ for me. I hope you’re happy.

    But I think that, as a society, we don’t always see dynamic characters in a bad light. I mean there’s all that christian hogwash about seeing the light, redemption and all those other ways of biblical evolution. I don’t support christianity in any way, but I still think it makes an argument for a more appealing dynamic-ity.

  • The Electric Hillbilly

    Tale of Two Cities….possibly the best opening line ever, but, maybe I’m just an uneducated hillbilly, but the rest of the story put me to sleep! Your point and example in this context is spot on, however. Nice work!

  • Tad Winslow

    Woah, duuuuude, this is an incredible in depth examination that rings so so true. Your best post thus far. Thanks for helping us Ficlyers along with your insights into the world of written creation. Awesome.

  • THX 0477

    I honestly can’t tell if Tad is being sarcastic. It’s such high praise, I’m just going to blithely assume it’s sincere and have a nice day.

  • Tad Winslow

    Oh yes! It was sincere as sincerely possible :) It rocks, and really turned my inspired dials, my man, haha. Have an excellent day.

  • THX 0477

    Sorry to have doubted, Tad. I must have been having an extreme self deprication sort of moment there. The day shall now be excellent!

  • Tad Winslow

    eh, we all have them (doubts), especially us sensitive writers.