Character in Literature: Definition, Types & Development

What do Cinderella’s stepsisters, Jeannine Matthews, and Neville Longbottom have in common? They are all characters in literature. This lesson focuses on what a character is by using specific examples to illustrate various types of characters.
Definition of Character in Literature
All stories must have certain characteristics or elements. Without these elements, any piece of literature would cease to make sense or serve a purpose. For example, stories must have a plot, or events that take place. Another essential story element is the character. Character can be defined as any person, animal, or figure represented in a literary work. There are many types of characters that exist in literature, each with its own development and function.
Character Development & Character Types
Character development refers to how developed and complex a character is. Some characters start out as highly developed. For example, if we know something about how a character walks and talks, what she thinks, who she associates with, and what kind of secrets she has, she is naturally more complex and developed.
Other characters develop over the course of a story, starting out one way and ending up different, becoming changed by what happens to them. Or you might only see one side of the character for a while but at some point, another side is revealed, proving the character to be more complex.
The general purpose of characters is to extend the plot. Many stories employ multiple types of characters. Every story must have main characters. These are the characters that will have the greatest effect on the plot or are the most affected by what happens in the story. There are many ways to categorize main characters: protagonist or antagonist, dynamic or static character, and round or flat characters. A character can also often fit into more than one category or move through categories.
Protagonist vs. Antagonist Characters
Nearly every story has at least one protagonist. A protagonist is a main character who generates the action of a story and engages the reader’s interest and empathy. The protagonist is often the hero or heroine. For example, in the popular Divergent trilogy, the protagonist is Tris. The story is told from her point of view, and she is central to all the action in the plot. The protagonist is usually a well-developed character; in this way, she is more relatable.
The opposite of the protagonist is the antagonist. An antagonist is a character who opposes the protagonist. In that same book series, Tris is opposed both by Eric, a sadistic trainer, and Jeanine Matthews, a cold-hearted, prejudiced scientist. Together, the protagonist or protagonists and antagonist or antagonists move the plot along, create the action, and draw the reader’s interest.
Jeanine Matthews in Divergent
Dynamic vs. Static Characters
The concept of dynamic and static characters is closely tied to character development. A dynamic character is one who goes through some sort of change; they show character development. A protagonist is usually a dynamic character. In the Divergent series, Tris is a dynamic character because she changes from a shy, weak girl into a strong, confident woman. Tobias, who later becomes Tris’ boyfriend, is also a dynamic character. He changes from a hard, cold, and distant person to someone who has weaknesses, shows great love, and ends up fighting for the greater good alongside Tris.
Static characters, on the other hand, are those who do not change throughout the course of the story. They serve to show contrast to dynamic ones, refusing to grow and remaining in one place or mentality. In Divergent, the two antagonists, Eric and Jeannine, remain mean and sadistic throughout the series.
Round vs. Flat Characters
The concept of round and flat characters is also closely tied to character development. Round characters are fully-developed figures in the story. They are more realistic and complex and show a true depth of personality. They require more attention by the reader; they can make surprise decisions or puzzling ones. Many factors can affect round characters, and they react to those factors realistically. In Divergent, Tobias proves himself to be a round character. As his past abuse by his father and his ostracism and loneliness from being divergent are revealed, we begin to see a much deeper side to him.
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