Characters: Static or Dynamic?

Photo credit: Tom Raftery on Flickr
Some of you may remember learning about static and dynamic characters in high school (or equivalent) English class. For those who don’t remember or otherwise could use a quick refresher, let’s take a quick look at the dictionary.com definitions for static and dynamic characters:
Static character: a literary or dramatic character who undergoes little or no inner change; a character who does not grow or develop. Examples: President Snow, Voldemort, James Bond and Sherlock Holmes.
Dynamic character: a literary or dramatic character who undergoes an important inner change, as a change in personality or attitude. Examples: Beatrice “Tris” Prior, Frodo Baggins, Ebenezer Scrooge and Anakin Skywalker.
While it isn’t necessary for all of your characters to be dynamic, nor is it a requirement for your protagonist to be dynamic, it is important to consider while writing whether or not you want your characters to undergo a change, and if so, make sure that the change is relevant and clear. 

Sometimes a dynamic character's change manifests physically. An example of this is Divergent when, in Tris’ transformation from Beatrice to Tris, she cuts her hair and begins acting more like a member of the Dauntless faction. A number of superhero movies also use a physical change, such as when the hero dons a new uniform and attitude to boot. 

Other times the change is more subtle and gradual, such as Frodo’s metamorphosis from carefree, happy hobbit, to a scarred, somewhat distant individual. The change may be a choice, as was the case with Tris, or forced by circumstance as was Frodo’s case.

Now while it’s true that many protagonists fall in the “dynamic character” category, as I mentioned earlier, it's completely acceptable to have a static character as a protagonist as well. 

Static characters should not to be confused with flat or one-dimensional characters—as explained above, just because characters don’t change throughout the course of their story doesn't mean that they’re one-dimensional. Perfectly interesting characters can still be static characters, like Sherlock Holmes—he’s eccentric, completely ingenious and sometimes (oftentimes?) a jerk. He never changes and we love him all the more for it. Or at least I do.

There isn’t a right or wrong choice as far as static or dynamic characters go, and now I’m curious: taking a look at your latest WIP or book that you’ve read, were your favorite characters static or dynamic?

10 comments:

Sarah Anne Foster said...

Very insightful post! I feel like I'll be analyzing all the characters in the books I read now. I think my protagonist is a static character, which is interesting because it's kind of a coming-of-age story. It may seem like he's going to change but in the end he's still the same person as when the story began.

Ava Jae said...

Thanks, Sarah! It's not always easy to tell which of the two categories your characters fall into, but I think it can be an interesting aspect to look at. Thanks for sharing. :)

Robin Red said...

An interesting exercise. I kind of set my protagonist from the beginning to change, to be fixated on one idea, only to have it stripped away so she can see the world.

Margaret Alexander said...

It's weird when you know something but you don't really define it. I suck at definitions so my view of what something is kind of floats in my mind. I did tend to align static characters more as one-dimensional, I guess because it feels like change is important for a story. But, you're right, it doesn't mean they're not deep. Some people change because they choose to change, and others don't no matter what happens to them because that's not their choice. Great post, Ava!

Author Steven said...

I really enjoyed this post because it's something we authors should think about but don't always. It's also interesting that the stereotype of "static characters= a bad thing to avoid" is not true because there are a lot of great static characters, there is of course a balance. And it's also a bit distracting if EVERY character in a story is having major changes in their attitude or personality. This doesn't even happen in real life. Something to think about. :) Another misconception I was curious to hear your thoughts about is the technical detail of adverbs in writing. Some writers say that under no circumstances should you use adverbs, some say use them as you need. In my opinion the adverb is useful when the character of the adjective you are describing is not a usual or clear thing. Some of the definitions of "Purple Prose" is also a common problem I wonder about, a very common thing in fantasy novels. Some don't mind it, some loath it. Just my thoughts. :)

Ava Jae said...

I think in YA especially it's more common for protagonists to change as many YA novels are coming-of-age and about growth. Actually I just realized that I don't think you write YA. Or maybe you do? I don't remember but I suspect this whole comment is totally irrelevant. Hmm.

Ava Jae said...

Thank you, Margaret! It's not uncommon for people to associate static characters with one-dimensional characters--I imagine it has something to do with the associations we have with the word "static." But as you said, change is a choice, and it certainly isn't necessary for every character, interesting or not. :)

Robin Red said...

I do write YA, so it's relevant. No words wasted :)

Ava Jae said...

You do! Ok, good. Glad to hear my memory didn't betray me. :)

Ava Jae said...

Good point about how distracting it'd be if every characters was dynamic--you're absolutely right that it doesn't happen that way in real life and it's highly unlikely for it to happen on the page.


As for your question, as a once-culprit of purple prose in my writing, it's something I generally avoid. That doesn't mean that I NEVER use adverbs (in fact, I do use them as needed), but I think there's a difference between purple prose and using the occasional adverb. I might post about this in the future. Or something like that. Hmm.

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