How to Study Characters in Literature

As you study literature, one aspect you’ll want to learn is how to analyze the characters in that story or novel. This article will help you learn about the different types of characters in literature.

First, let’s review a few definitions.

Character: a person presented in a dramatic or narrative work

Characterization: the process by which a writer makes that character seem real to the reader

In a piece of literature, the main character of a narrative is the protagonist. This is the central character who engages the reader’s interest and empathy. For example, in the fairy tale, Cinderella, the young and beautiful Cinderella is clearly the protagonist. Not only is the whole story about her, but she is the character who we learn the most about.

The antagonist in literary works, on the other hand, is the character, force, or collection of forces that opposes the protagonist. The antagonist gives rise to the conflict of the story and is essential for creating conflict. In Cinderella, the antagonist is the wicked step-mother who keeps Cinderella from meeting her goals. Without this character, the story would not have as much suspense and interest.

There are other ways to discuss characterization, though, besides only looking at the protagonist and antagonist. There are also static, dynamic, flat, round, and stock characters.

A static character does not change throughout the story and the reader’s knowledge does not change about this character. In the above example, the step-sisters of Cinderella could be called static because they do not change or develop from the beginning of the tale to the end.

Dynamic characters are the opposite of static. They undergo some kind of change throughout the story, which is often related to the action in the plot. To determine if a character is dynamic, ask yourself if they have changed or developed in any way.

Flat characters are those individuals in a story who aren’t complex. They can be easily described by a few qualities. This might also describe those step-sisters in Cinderella. They are easily described and not full of the emotional complexity that most real people have. The opposite of flat would be round characters who are indeed complex, like real people. These are usually the more fully developed characters in a literary work.

You know you’ve encountered a round character when you gain access to their emotions, history, background, and sensibilities. These are the qualities that make a human unique and complex, right? It is our fears and struggles and unique collection of personal experiences that sometimes even result in contradictions-a real marker for a round or complex character.

Lastly, you might find stock characters in literature or even in films and television that you view. These are considered types of people or stereotypes rather than individuals. On a sitcom, for example, you might find the “funny one” and the “smart one.” There is sometimes a “pretty one” or a “crazy one.” These are stock characters and when we see these kinds of people, we have certain expectations for what they will be like.