Welcome back to our Creative Writing Elements series here on the PrintedFeet blog. We’re talking about characters today, and since this is such a complex subject, we’re going to split it into two posts. The next post will be on developing characters and is going to be posted later on this week.
To begin, let’s go over the main types of characters and what makes them so necessary to story building.
Basic Character Types
The Protagonist: The protagonist is the person at the center of the story. They’re “the one at the center of the character arc,” (Myers, 73). Often, these are characters who have some important obstacle they must overcome to complete the story. Surprisingly, the protagonist does not have to be the main or narrating character. Consider Gatsby from Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. He’s the protagonist, but Nick narrates the story.
The Antagonist: The antagonist is the character who opposes the protagonist and tries to keep them from accomplishing their goal. Sometimes they are flagrantly obvious (the scary dude who beats up the little guy). Other times they are less recognizable (the mastermind who frames the protagonist for a murder they didn’t commit). The antagonist does not have to be a person – it could be a force such as a hurricane or an idea such as unregulated medical testing. However, the antagonist does have to oppose the protagonist.
The Foil Character(s): The foil character is a lesser-known idea. To be concise, “a foil is a character who is usually paired with the protagonist to illustrate [the] contrast,” (Myers, 74). For instance, Dr. Watson is a foil of Sherlock Holmes, Gale is a foil for Peeta in The Hunger Games and Teresa is a foil of Brenda in the Scorch Trials. A foil sets up a contrast between the protagonists to help us gain a greater depth of insight into the protagonists’ persona.
Undefined or Stock Characters: Simply put, stock characters are extra characters that fill in the gaps. They tap into stereotypes and hold up the corners of your story. According to Lesha Myers, “Stock characters…tap into people’s preconceived ideas, background knowledge, and stereotypes,” (Myers, 74). This allows readers to flesh them out in their own minds without you having to develop them to a large extent.
Static vs. Dynamic Characters
Next, we need to discuss Static and Dynamic characters. Static characters do not change during the course of your story. They do not learn to empathize, or gain wisdom, knowledge or insight. Nothing changes on their character arc.
In contrast, dynamic characters gain new experiences and their outlook and attitudes change in some way throughout the story, usually in a positive way – though not necessarily. Dynamic characters achieve a goal, surmount an obstacle or defy an inevitable fate. Something happens to them in their character arc that causes a change, and these characters don’t drop the momentum. They pick it up, run with it and grow.
Flat vs. Round Characters
Similarly, there are Flat and Round characters. Round characters are fully ‘fleshed out’, meaning that they are well developed and conducive to the story line. Flat characters, on the other hand, are usually stock characters. They are one or two-dimensional characters with little to no development beyond stereotypes or stock ideas. Protagonists and antagonists are usually round characters while filler characters remain flat. Oftentimes it’s nice to make your foil character round as well to give more juxtaposition to your MC (main character).
Think of it like life. There are some really good, amazing people in your life that you know very well and have been with through great amounts of change. These people could be considered dynamic, round protagonists in the story of your life. Conversely, there are also very difficult or negative individuals that you either know/knew well or were never more than acquainted with. Perhaps, for example, they did not change, but rather remained the same. These would be the flat, static antagonists. Sometimes in life, however, it’s not so clear. You may have a round character that starts off antagonistic, but develops over time into a dynamic protagonist after experiencing healing from various issues. Possibly there are people believed to be protagonists, but who are really static antagonists undercover. Hopefully you know some really amazing people who are completely protagonist, round, welcoming individuals and families that change dynamically for the better over time. Find these people. These are the characters that shape your story and written stories alike, characters that motivate you and motivate readers. Write like life: real, passionate and possible.
These are also the people that help you grow and become the best version of yourself possible. If you don’t know these helpful people yet, pray for them and ask for discernment to see them when they’re there. Some people are put in our lives for a reason to help us get to where we need to go. It may be that they’re an anchor in dangerous waters or the cloud over land on the high seas. Go where God leads you and all the best to you on your way!
Until next time,
Source: Myers, Lesha. Windows to the World: An Introduction to Literary Analysis. Locust Grove: Institute for Excellence in Writing, 2008. Print