Before you start writing your novel, take a second look at your planned characters. Characters—including your protagonist, antagonist, and minor characters—will greatly impact the success of your story. Without strong characters, the readers and publishers will lose interest in the story and disengage. In particular, you must carefully construct your protagonist and antagonist. Although minor characters may only appear for a scene, even these characters can aid or injure your narrative.
To successfully create and write characters, a writer needs a firm grasp of static versus dynamic characters. These different types of characters all play an important role in crafting a realistic world and engaging storyline.
Dynamic characters are characters who undergo change within the story. Most protagonists are dynamic characters, since readers typically do not want to read about a main character who remains stagnant. A dynamic protagonist will not be the same person from the start of the story to the end. Examples of dynamic characters include Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, Elizabeth Bennett, Tony Stark, Frodo, Mulan, etc.
One of my favorite examples of a dynamic characters is Tony Stark from the first Avengers movie. At the beginning of the movie, Tony seems self-absorbed, selfish, and fiercely independent. At the conclusion of the movie, Tony sacrifices himself to save earth from the invading aliens. Of course, Tony survives to appear in several other Marvel movies, but, in a way, the old Tony Stark died. While Tony still has his characteristic arrogance, he has undergone a transformation.
However, here are some words of caution for creating dynamic characters: a character cannot change all in one chapter. Dynamic characters are created gradually, page by page. For example, your career-driven, self-centered main character should not suddenly decide to give up his life-long dream of becoming partner of a law firm in order to take care of his sick grandmother; instead, your main character needs to take several small steps overtime, such as visiting his grandmother or feeling disengaged from his job. While a main character may occasionally act unexpectedly, for the most part changes should be small. If you want your readers to believe the character change, you must prove to your readers that the character is capable of that change.
The opposite of dynamic characters are static characters. Static characters experience minimal or zero change from start to finish of a story. This often includes villains (especially minor villains or henchmen) and minor characters. With minor characters, they may only feature in a story briefly so may not have the opportunity to change. Other times, static characters often refuse to change despite being given the opportunity. Examples include Atticus Finch, Cinderella’s evil stepmother, Minerva McGonagall, Captain America, Scar from the Lion King, etc. Notice that many of these characters are good and likable characters, whereas others are antagonists; static characters can be both good and bad, just as dynamic characters can be both good and bad.
The main problem with static characters is they can put readers to sleep. If you have too many static characters, the story loses an essential element. Stories are designed to show the progression of plot and characters. A good story arch will include conflict, change, and sacrifice. If you only use static characters, you then lose these important elements. In short, everything that makes your plot interesting will be missing.
That being said, your story can still feature a static main character or protagonist. In the last example, we looked at Tony Stark as a dynamic character. Also from Marvel, Captain America, aka Steve Rogers, is an example of a static character. Unlike Tony Stark, Captain America remains stagnant throughout the story. However, that’s the main point of his character: even when there is opposition and people try to move him from his core principles, Captain America refuses to change. Rather than eagerly watch his evolution, readers observe how Steve Rogers refuses to change, no matter the trials thrown his way. He is a great example of how you can use a static main character and still create an interesting story.
Should You Use a Dynamic or Static Protagonist?
As explained above, both dynamic and static characters can act as your main character. I have seen both types of protagonists in successful stories. So how can you decide which would work best for your story? Well, this depends mainly on what you decide to focus on as the writer.
A dynamic character will work best for your story if you want to emphasize how your character either transforms or crumbles under pressure. Typically, a dynamic character will begin the story with a few major weaknesses but will be generally likable. By the end of the story, the character emerges from trials and obstacles as an improved version of himself or herself. For example, Tris from Veronica Roth’s Divergent, Or, on the other hand, a protagonist may begin as righteous and pure and end the story as twisted and lacking morals, as shown in Oscar Wilde’s A Picture of Dorian Gray. Dynamic characters will show how life’s experiences and adversity create change.
Conversely, static characters show readers how a character can remain true to himself or herself regardless of circumstances. This may mean that the characters refuse to sacrifice their ideals and objectives. While the character may go through little change, remember that people around the main character will likely change, perhaps even because of your character’s inflexibility. Static protagonists can be used to emphasize the change in others around them. Returning to the example of Captain America and Tony Stark, Tony’s change becomes even more prominent when juxtapositioned with Steve Rogers. While early on in the Avengers movie these two main characters greatly contrast each other, Tony’s character change reduces this contrast. By the movie’s conclusion, these two characters, one dynamic and one static, relate more than contrast with each other.
Overall, both dynamic and static characters can help tell a powerful and meaningful story. Experiment with using both in your writing, and try to incorporate examples of both in your fiction writing. By doing so, your character development will be stronger, and your story will pack a much bigger punch.