The Character Dictionary

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Hana

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[question=teal]What is a character?
A character is any person, animal, or figure - a sapient being with motivations - in any work of literature or narrative work of art such as a novel, play, television series, or film. The character may be entirely fictional or based on a real-life figure. In literature, a character guides the reader through the stories, helping understand their plots and their themes.[/question]

This is a resource on the different types of characters in works of literature and drama that writers may use to develop their characters and story.

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  • The counterpart of the protagonist, the antagonist is the character or situation that represents the main opposition that the protagonist must contend against, ultimately being an obstacle that the protagonist must overcome. It is common to refer to the antagonist as the "villain against whom a "hero" fights in order to relieve himself or others. In some cases, the antagonist may exist within the protagonist to cause an inner conflict or a moral conflict inside their mind. Generally, the antagonist appears as a foil to the main character, embodying qualities that are in contrast witht the qualities of the main character.

    Conflict is the basic formula of any plot, and basically what makes the story interesting. The presence of opposition against the protagonist is vital for the formula of the plot. The antagonist opposes the protagonist in his endeavors, and thus the conflict ensues, through which a resolution may only be achieved when the plot is taken to a climax that ends with the defeat of the antagonist. In tragedies, however, this ends with the downfall of the protagonist.

    In Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, Bob Ewell is the malicious antagonist contrasting the morally upright Atticus Finch and his children. Another example of an antagonist using a dramatic work is iago from Shakespeare's Othello. Iago stands as one of the most notorious villains of all time, plotting all time against Othello, the protagonist, and even convinces him to that his wife is unfaithful, eventually leading the protagonist to kill Desdemona.
  • The anti-hero is a character or literary device used by writers in a work of fiction such as a play or a book that has characteristics not seen in or unlikely to appear in that of a conventional hero. Instead of having the usual traits that mark a heroic character or protagonist, an anti-hero may have traits usually more associated with the villains or antagonists of stories. As a hero is usually admired for characteristics like bravery, strength, charm, ingenuity, and upright morality, an anti-hero is often depicted to err more on the side of caution or cowardice, dishonesty, and more unscrupulous traits, but at the same time still having some good qualities.

    An anti-hero is usually given the next most prominent role after the protagonist in a story, if they are not the protagonist themselves, and is presented as an amalgamation of both good and evil qualities. Instead of having two different people represent two extremes, an anti-hero combines both into one person, and in the process, shows what is considered 'real' or realistic human nature. This is the reason some people associate better with these characters in some stories compared to the normal heroes.

    Moreover, in the modern society, people often find a character that is presented to be overtly righteous and upright, to be too idealized, and not at all realistic. Readers might better relate to a character that has experienced both the good and bad in life, has suffered, and has done both good and bad, instead of just being a purely good person.
  • A dynamic character is a person who goes through some sort of change throughout the passage of time and events in the plot; they show continuous character development. A protagonist is usually a dynamic character, engaging the readers through the changes they undergo over time and through facing major conflicts and crises. Most dynamic characters are central rather than peripheral because they are usually tied to resolving the conflict as major characters.

    [warning=yellow]The Difference Between a Dynamic and a Round Character
    Both dynamic and flat characters undergo character development and exposition, yet there is a slight difference between the two. It is that a dynamic character does not tell about the traits of the character; rather, it refers to those traits that change or develop over time. A round character, on the other hand, defines the complex traits of the character. A round character can also be dynamic.[/warning]

    A famous contemporary example of a dynamic character would be Harry Potter, though most major protagonists in works of literature, as well as major supporting characters, would be considered dynamic. Shakespeare's dramatic work Hamlet showcases the titular Hamlet as a dynamic character. The greatest fear of Hamlet is the afterlife and death, which is quite understandable due to his father's ghost who came out of purgatory and told him of the horror awaiting it. However, later on, he undergoes events that lead him to a philosophical change in his perspective about death, letting him finally take his revenge on King Claudius.
  • A ficelle character (French for 'string') is a usually secondary or background character that exists simply to move the plot or drama from setting to setting. They can help other characters discover information or reveal information to anothers through dialogue or action and help fill the reader in. Ficelle characters are used best as characters that are introduced in a way where they can easily be brought back, instead of being used once and discarded once their job is done.

    In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Rosencranz and Guildenstern are ficelle characters who serve to help the reader and move the plot forward.
  • Opposite to the round character, a flat character does not change much in fiction throughout the start to the end. Their traits are often few or even singular, and are said to not have any emotional depths. In short, a flat character is just a character inserted into the story to be there or to move the plot along, but not sufficiently enough to have detailed qualities. The author will only provide limited information on these characters.

    The role of the flat character is to support the main character, and they do not go through substantial growth or exposition in the narrative. They often have recognizable characteristics that sum up their character, and little else. Usually referred to as one-dimensional or two-dimensional characters, they only provide one perspective or view about life or the events within the narrative.

    An example of a flat character from a dramatic work is Benvolio from Romeo and Juliet. He remains unchanged throughout the play, remaining temperate, solid, and loyal, the one who always tries to maintain peace between the two feuding families and whose role is to support Romeo to get married to Juliet. In another Shakespearean work, Queen Gertrude from Hamlet seems to be a caring mother to the titular character, but inwardly is a weak-willed lady who walks blindly through her life. She is not aware that Claudius had trapped her by murdering her husband, and that he has seized her husband's throne. She has no idea why her son is upset about her marriage, and throughout the play other characters use her for their own interests, never changing and remaining passive until she herself becomes a victim.
  • In literature, a foil character is a character who contradicts another, usually the protagonist, in order to highlight qualities in said character. Although sometimes they are antagonists, they can also be friends, allies and romantic interests. They often begin in the same position as the character they are a contast of, either physically or mentally or emotionally before diverging to accentuate their differences, this helps the protagonist learn lessons and morals. In fiction, a foil is important in the development of characters. The comparison of the contrasting traits of the characters helps the readers to not only understand their personalities but also to comprehend the importance of their roles in a work of literature.

    Milton's Paradise Lost takes these contrasts and comparison to the fore between God and Satan. Satan, throughout the entire work, acts as a foil to God. The negative and positive traits of these two characters are frequently compared, which not only serves to bring to surface the contrast, but also to 'justify' the ways of God.

    In another example, Draco Malfoy can be said to be a foil character of Harry Potter, as they are both very similar in position but vastly different in personality. Towards the end of the story, Harry Potter opposes Lord Voldemort, while Draco Malfoy sides with him.
  • A mentor character is someone who provides answers, training and assitance to the protagonist. This can be anyone from a antagonist to an ally, and they can help the main character through conflict or action, willingly or unwillingly. They often have a backstory of their own that leads them to becoming a mentor character. Although most mentors are helpful to the protagonists, there can be unhelpful mentors whose role in the story is to make the journey for the characters as difficult as possible, though in the end they learn from them.

    One such example of a helpful mentor would be Gandalf from Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, whose wise advice and guidance for the characters help them achieve success in their quest or purpose. Even when he is not around for the characters, his wisdom and lessons remain with them throughout the course of the story.
  • A minion character is a character that usually serves the antagonist, or works with them under a common goal. However, they can also be an enemy of the protagonist or may not share the same views/goals, but somehow their actions ends up working in the antagonist's favor unwillingly or willingly. Most of the time they have grey morals. They are normally a more disposable antagonist. Since they are more or less background characters and often have no name, or are a stock character, minions will have no examples listed.
  • The protagonist is the central figure or leading character in the narrative, novel, or story, and is referred to as the story's main character, sometimes referred to as "hero" by the readers. The protagonist is faced with a conflict or more that must be resolved.

    Despite the common perception that the protagonist must be a "hero", the protagonist may not always be heroic in nature. One such example of such a protagonist is the anti-hero. Nevertheless, a protagonist must command involvement in the plot for the reader, or better yet, empathy. As the central character of the story, the story revolving around them, there are a lot of responsibilities put on the protagonist. A well-constructed protagonist is one that connects emotionally with the audience and relates to them the feelings of the joys, hopes, fears, of the character in the story.

    Frodo Baggins from Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy stands out from the ensemble of significant characters because every other characters' destinies rest in his hands. His struggles and his triumphs drive the plot, and we see the most of his difficulties and his journey throughout the books.

    Protagonist examples in many stories are not depicted as flawless. They can generally undergo a change that causes a turn of events, which makes the story interesting and delivers a message or a lesson to the readers. Sometimes, a moral weakness is highlighted that causes the fall of the protagonist. One such example is the titular character in Hamlet who experiences terrible events because of his indecisiveness, which troubles him while murdering the antagonist.
  • Going according to the qualities of the character, a round character is a complex figure with many different characteristics and undergo development, showing qualities that may surprise the reader later on. A round character is more realistic and complex, showing a true depth of character and personality that requires the reader to pay more attention to cues, decisions, and surprises. What decisions they make throughout the plot may be surprising and puzzling at times.

    Gatsby from Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is a good example of a rounded, complex character. As a man of great mystery, no one really knows where he got his wealth and his origins. He also shows many different sides and traits to him throughout the novel, such as happy, serious, scared, angry, desperate, frustrated, and so many others. In an older work, Elizabeth Bennet from Austen's Pride and Prejudice is also a perfect example of a round character. Throughout the story and her experiences with Mr. Darcy, she slowly and gradually evolves and understands her true feelings.
  • Directly the opposite of the dynamic character, a static character does not change throughout the course of the story. This serves to contrast them against the dynamic ones, symbolically meaning a person who refuses to grow or mature, and remaining in one place or mentality.

    [warning=yellow]The Difference Between a Static and a Flat Character
    Static characters should not be mistaken for flat characters - one dimensional characters. Though both do not change throughout the story, if a character does not change, it does not mean that they are one-dimensional or flat. A static character can still be a complex and interesting character, such as Sherlock Holmes, who is presented as an eccentric, erratic, and sometimes jerky character that still proves to be engaging to read due to his genius. Thus a static character can become a protagonist too, and a flat character, on the other hand, should only play a side role in a story.[/warning]

    Taking another example from the Harry Potter series, the main antagonist Voldemort could be considered a static character throughout what we see of his development in the plot. His goal and his aim does not change from the beginning to the end. In a more classical work, Mr. Collins from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is a static character. While he does play a vital role in the novel by making efforts to get Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth together; and contributes comedy in the story, his character does not change.
  • In literature, a symbolic character is any major or minor character whose very existence and characteristics represent some major concept, idea, or aspect of society. For example, Piggy in Lord of the Flies is a symbol of both human rationality and the physical weakness of modern humans. Jack, on the other hand, symbolizes the violent tendencies that William Goulding believes is inherent to human nature.


Special thanks to @Sen who collaborated with me to write this resource, as well as @Turtle of the Tired for giving her input and advice.

The author of this resource hopes that the members of Iwaku may find this useful in their creative exploration. If you have any inquiries or questions, please feel free to post your feedback in this thread or you may PM Hana Hana privately.
 
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