All prose texts contain characters. A character refers to the person, animal or an object that the writer of a story or a play uses to advance the plot or theme. He/she is a fictional human being, animal or thing in a story. The character is any person, animal, or figure represented in a literary work. Characters are central figures on which the action of the plot happens.
Authors use different types of characters to tell stories. Some of them are:
Main/major/central characters: They are the leading characters in the story. This means that they play a big role in the story. They form the core of the story and the theme is based on them. Most of the actions in the story happen around these characters. They are central figures in the story and the plot and resolution of the conflict revolve around them.
Protagonist: A protagonist is a main character who is faced with problem/conflict he/she must resolve. All action revolves around him/her and he/she is the one that resolves the conflict or problem in the story. The protagonist is also a main character who has good behaviours. He/she is considered as a hero.
Antagonist: An antagonist is a main character who usually challenges, opposes or tests the protagonist. He/she is a main character who has bad behaviours. He/she is also considered as a villain.
Minor characters: They are characters that do not play a big role in the story. They are characters that support/help or serve to complement the main ones and help move the plot events forward.
Characters can also be categorized as:
→Positive characters: They are characters that show positive /good qualities or behaviours. They can be brave, hardworking, caring, humble, peaceful, …
→Negative characters: They are characters that show negative/bad qualities/behaviours. They can be wicked, cruel, brutal, lazy, revengeful….
→ Dynamic character is a character who changes over time. He/she portrays different emotions and traits. He/she/it grows or changes his/her/its personality, attitudes, behaviours as the story continues. He/she/it changes according to circumstances; and these changes in character are permanent.
→ Static character is a character that remains the same throughout the story. He/she doesn’t show changes in the story. The events in the story do not change his/her outlook, perceptions, habits, personality, or motivations.
→ Round/complex character is a character that has a complex personality. He /she is the one that has a mixture of traits (good and bad) that come from both nature and experience. This character is fully developed and described than a flat one. He/she is viewed as a conflicted and a contradictory character. A round character is a major character in a story and we may relate to this kind of character as a human being since we come to know so much about him or her.
→ Flat/simple character is a character that shows one or two main personality traits in a story. He/she can’t be a main character. That character is neither conflicted nor contradictory. He/she doesn’t change and the story doesn’t reveal much about him.
→ Stock characters is a type of flat character that appears so often in fiction and is recognized by more readers. This one doesn’t undergo any development in the story; and he/she represents specific stereotypes. He/she is the type and not individual.
Characterization refers to the author’s representation and development of characters in the story. It is also the act of creating and describing characters in literature. It includes descriptions of a character’s physical attributes, personality, actions and thoughts.
How to identify characters and explain their behaviours
In studying a short story, novel or novella, we need to identify and know the characters very well. In order to identify them we look at:
- The physical description of a character in terms of size, colour, and general appearance.
- What the character says about him/herself and about other issues affecting the society.
- The character’s actions in his/her interactions with other characters in the society.
- What other characters in the story say about him/her.
- The character’s thoughts, desires, dreams and wishes.
In order to describe characters, we use adjectives. A character may be described in many ways such as: Intelligent, loving, naïve, courageous, hardworking, lazy, humorous, good, bad, funny, ugly, rude, polite, beautiful, kind, careless, honest, humble, brave, serious, stubborn, loyal, gullible, selfish, generous, self-confident, cruel, respectful, brilliant, considerate, mischievous, daring, patriotic, successful, mysterious, hopeful, lucky, ambitious, curious, witty, determined, calm, foolish, miserable, wise, timid, faithful,…
The author creates different characters and has to show what makes a character behave the way he/she does or why he/she behaves in that way and how his/her behaviours affect others.