A good story needs to be full of great characters.
Understanding your characters and their role in your novel can make all the difference. One of the things to consider is whether your characters should be dynamic or static.
In this article, I will be exploring the difference between a static character and a dynamic character, explaining how to use both in your story, and looking at some dynamic and static character examples.
Understanding Static And Dynamic Characters
A static character is one that doesn’t change throughout the telling of the story, whereas dynamic characters are the opposite – they undergo significant internal and/or external changes. By the end of the story, dynamic characters are very different from how they were at the start.
Another thing to remember about static and dynamic characters is that whichever one they are is no reflection on how well they are drawn on the page or their importance in the story.
Unlike ‘flat’ and ’rounded’ characters (ones that lack depth vs those that are better developed), static and dynamic characters should both be well developed in order to add balance and intrigue to your storytelling.
Character Or Plot?
Most books are either about normal people doing incredible things, or incredible people doing normal things. Very rarely will you find an engaging book that’s about a normal person doing normal things.
That’s boring. That’s the life we are all already living.
Why do I mention this? Because when it comes to deciding whether your character is going to be static or dynamic, you need to ask yourself whether THEY are the point of the story, or if the focus is on the adventure they are about to embark on.
Not every character, or protagonist, needs to change by the end of the story.
If your book is centred around the lessons your hero learns along the way, then that normal character becomes an interesting character and we are drawn in by both the plot (action) and the MC’s internal journey.
But often an author will write static characters that don’t change at all by the end. And that’s also okay because the story was never about them per se, but about the adventure they were on and the world they inhabited within that story.
Let’s take a look at static characters in more detail, along with some examples…
What Is A Static Character?
As I mentioned previously, a static character and their traits do not change throughout the story.
They don’t grow as a person (start off scared and get braver by the end), they don’t learn anything new (true love was right in front of them all along), and are not perceived differently by others (from a lowly no one to returning home a hero).
Listen, your hero can still have a rollickingly great time – it just doesn’t change them fundamentally in any great way.
Things to remember about static characters:
- Not all static characters are flat characters.
- Not all static characters are boring.
- Not all characters lack a personality.
Many static characters are well-developed, have a unique personality, add nuance to a story, provide a foil to the protagonist, and move the plot along… they just don’t change from the beginning to the end, retaining the same personality throughout the story.
Let’s take a look at a static character example (or five):
Examples Of Static Characters
Here are examples of static characters and how they can still be interesting…
Alice In Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland
When Alice falls down the rabbit hole, the reader’s focus is solely on the completely bonkers world she has stumbled upon and its equally bonkers characters.
Alice learns nothing about herself on her adventures, she is exactly the same girl at the end of the story as she was at the beginning, but the fun is had by joining her on the discovery of the crazy world she’s trying to escape.
When a character’s traits do not change from the beginning to the end of a story, they are a static character.
Now, no one would dare to call Bond static in any way – he is the very epitome of an action man. Yet his personality, the very essence of him, never ever changes throughout any of the books or movies.
He doesn’t start off a cold and sophisticated killer and womaniser and at the end of the story learn that, actually, he’d prefer to get a normal job and settle down with a couple of kids.
The joy of Bond is that, while he remains the same, his adventures do not. Same personality but a different setting, different baddie, different sexy woman. The formula doesn’t change.
Scar From The Lion King
The ultimate evil antagonist, Scar’s personality traits remain consistent to the very end. Based on Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet, Scar is the conniving uncle who kills the king and drives the prince (the true heir to the throne) away.
Much like Claudius in Hamlet, Scar never gets a redemption arc. He never learns his lesson, he is out and out evil throughout the story and at the end meets a gristly death at the hands of his nephew who returns to claim what is his.
Yet Scar is far from a flat character. In the Disney movie he is bad to the point of camp, he is funny and feisty and well-rounded in every way. He simply never reaches a point of introspection.
Much like James Bond, Sherlock Holmes does not change in any of Doyle’s four novels or 56 short stories. Holmes’ character remains extremely clever, obsessive, stubborn and perceptive.
Each mystery changes, but Holmes does not get a big character arc.
Other static characters include many of the older Disney princesses.
If you look at Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, and Cinderella they were very passive in their own stories. They started off pure and innocent, they were rescued by others, and they remained pure and innocent. No personal growth, sudden realisations, or change of personality occurs.
With time Disney has given its leading ladies a lot more agency, and the princesses in Beauty and The Beast, Brave and Tangled, for instance, develop and discover things about themselves throughout their stories.
What Is A Dynamic Character?
The main character of a story is often dynamic.
If the novel is centred around their journey, both literal and emotional, it stands to reason that the hero at the end of the story is going to be a very different person to the one at the beginning.
A dynamic character undertakes a significant change – this may be a literal one (they may go from rich to poor, from ugly to beautiful), or an internal change (they may learn something about themselves, or realise something important).
Dynamic Character Examples
Here are some characters who experience significant changes throughout their story…
Ebenezer Scrooge In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol
180 years after the first publication of Dickens’ didactic tale of greed and charity, the word Scrooge is still used to describe someone who is miserly and has little empathy for others.
In A Christmas Carol our antihero, Ebenezer, undergoes a large transformation. Thanks to the visit of three ghosts on Christmas Eve showing him the error of his ways, this dynamic character goes from being a mean-spirited boss and uncle to poor Fred, to becoming a more giving person infused with generous Christmas spirit.
Juliet In Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet
There are many static characters in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (Juliet’s nurse, Friar Laurence, Paris) but our hapless heroes are far from static – Juliet being the one who undergoes the largest change and the most dynamic of the story.
At the beginning of the play, we see our leading lady being an obedient, good girl for her nurse and mother. Juliet cares deeply for her family and will do anything for them. Then along comes the irresistible catalyst, Romeo, the only boy she can’t fall for as he’s from the same family her own has been feuding with forever.
By the end of the play we see Juliet rebel against her family, run away with the boy, secretly marry him, and even end up dying for him!
John McClane In Die Hard
Another example of a man who changes throughout a story is the protagonist of Die Hard – tough guy, John McClane.
New York City policeman John McClane is visiting his estranged wife and two daughters on Christmas Eve (clearly a great time in stories for self-actualisation). A man who has always put his career before his family.
His marriage is on the rocks, his wife has lost all respect for him, and his children hardly see him. But when he saves his wife from an attack by a terrorist at her Christmas office party he goes from bad guy to hero.
By the end of the movie, the family are reunited and he realises what is really important.
Katniss Everdeen In The Hunger Games
In the same way Juliet changes from meek to rebellious, Katniss Everdeen goes from being a poor girl who volunteers to take part in a deathly survival game to save her sister – to becoming a rich and powerful hero who, during the course of the games, discovers her own strengths.
At first, Katniss doubts her abilities and is used as a pawn in the Capitol’s game, but as soon as she realises this she rises to become the leader of a rebellion that brings the Capitol to its knees. Dynamic indeed!
Do We Need Both Dynamic And Static Characters In A Story?
In short, you can’t have every single character in your novel growing and changing – that would take away from the action and themes of your book.
When deciding which character should be dynamic and which should be static, you must ask yourself what the role of each character in your story is.
Minor characters don’t have to be too rounded and definitely don’t need a character arc (Katniss’ mother and sister stay static in the story) but those who play a bigger role (such as the hero herself, or her love interests) do need to grow and develop as the story progresses.
Often a static character can be a great foil for a dynamic character. While the hero is developing and learning, their companion can remain steadfast and static.
Often you can have a protagonist and deuteragonist that are both static, and that works very well too. Look at Jaskier and The Witcher. Although foils (one is fun and jaunty, the other tough and serious) neither of them change character throughout the story yet remain compelling and interesting.
Likewise, you can have a cast full of dynamic characters, such as those in The Little Mermaid. Ariel, her father and her love interest, Eric, all learn a big lesson by the end of their journey (although, as usual, Ursula, the antagonist, does not).
Importance Of Character Development
There are no hard and fast rules as to whether your hero needs to be static or dynamic – just ensure whatever you choose works within your story.
If your hero is going to be dynamic, then think about their character arc.
Major characters often undergo a large transformation, so ensure you give them a backstory, a starting point, then ask yourself how the adventure/problem they must overcome is going to change them.
Secondary characters are also important. Whether they are your hero’s friends, companions, enemies, family or colleagues, it’s not enough to have flat characters there simply to move the plot along.
Ensure every character remains true to themselves and that they feel rounded and real.
How To Write Interesting Characters
What should you bear in mind when creating your hero? And how can you ensure they are interesting, whether static or dynamic?
Make Them Rounded
Even if your hero doesn’t undergo any major changes, ensure that they have a personality. Give them a backstory, a reason for being how they are, and ensure that they remain true to themselves throughout.
Give Them A Foil
If your hero is serious, give them a fun sidekick. If your hero is erratic, give them a partner who is sensible. This not only helps highlight the hero’s flaws or positive attributes, but also keeps the story fresh and entertaining.
Focus On The Adventure
If your hero is static (think Bond or Holmes) then ensure that their adventure is what the reader focuses on. Whether it’s action-filled or fantastical, if the character remains static then the plot should carry all the intrigue. This works really well with a series.
Give Them A Problem To Solve
Dynamic characters need to change, and for that to happen they need a problem or dilemma to overcome. Ensure that before the inciting incident your hero demonstrates the traits or flaws that they need to change by the end of the story (via them solving/overcoming the problem)…
Make It Difficult For Them
…and don’t make it easy for them. Like the characters in the Harry Potter series, each one of your dynamic characters should have a succinct personality that either helps or hinders their goal. And by the end of the book, they should have battled with them and developed beyond who they once were.
Every one of your main characters (whether static or dynamic) should be a rounded character.
Whether you are writing a series or a short story, ensure both main and side characters are interesting, relevant and original in some way. Give them unique quirks, tics, and tells that differentiate them from one another.
Frequently Asked Questions
What Is A Static Character?
A static character is one that doesn’t change from the start of the story through to the end. Although they may go on a fantastic adventure, their personality, situation and physical appearance will remain the same.
What Is A Dynamic Character?
A dynamic character is one who changes and evolves throughout the story. Often the protagonists of the novel, dynamic characters end the story as different people than they were at its beginning.
What Are The 7 Types Of Characters?
Protagonist – the main character of a story. The hero.
Antagonist – the hero’s rival.
Love interest – the one the hero falls in love with.
Confidant – the character that the hero confides in or is guided by.
Deuteragonists -the character second in importance to the hero (ie Watson to Holmes, Robin to Batman).
Tertiary characters – minor characters in a story who either help move the plot along, set a scene, or interact with the hero in some way.
Foil – the opposite of the hero (often used to highlight the hero’s specific character traits). For instance, this works well if the hero is dynamic and the sidekick is not.
Get Into Character
And that brings us to the end of my guide to static vs dynamic characters.
As you begin writing your next story, have a think about whether your characters need to remain static or dynamic. Think about their arc, the plot, what you are trying to achieve and what is important to your story.
And remember… whatever you choose to do, make sure your characters are rounded and engaging!
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