From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
"In Thérèse Raquin my aim has been to study temperaments and not characters … I have chosen people completely dominated by their nerves and blood, without free will."--Preface to the second edition of Thérèse Raquin
A character or fictional character is a person in a narrative work of arts (such as a novel, play, television show/series, or film). Derived from the ancient Greek word kharaktêr, the English word dates from the Restoration, although it became widely used after its appearance in Tom Jones in 1749.
Characters are widely considered an essential element of fictional works, especially novels and plays. Nevertheless, some works have attempted to portray a story without the use of characters (James Joyce's Finnegans Wake is one of the most famous examples). Even in works that do not expressly convey the existence of characters, such as in poetry, they are presumed in the form of a narrator or an imagined listener.
The process of creating and developing characters in a work of fiction is called characterization.
A non-fictional character is a character that actually exists or existed in history, though their exploits in the story may differ from their historical activities.
Classical analysis of character
In the earliest surviving work of dramatic theory, Poetics (c. 335 BCE), the Greek philosopher Aristotle deduces that character (ethos) is one of six qualitative parts of Athenian tragedy and one of the three objects that it represents (1450a12). He understands character not to denote a fictional person, but the quality of the person acting in the story and reacting to its situations (1450a5). He defines character as "that which reveals decision, of whatever sort" (1450b8). It is possible, therefore, to have tragedies that do not contain "characters" in Aristotle's sense of the word, since character makes the ethical dispositions of those performing the action of the story clear. Aristotle argues for the primacy of plot (mythos) over character (ethos). He writes:
- "But the most important of these is the structure of the incidents. For (i) tragedy is a representation not of human beings but of action and life. Happiness and unhappiness lie in action, and the end [of life] is a sort of action, not a quality; people are of a certain sort according to their characters, but happy or the opposite according to their actions. So [the actors] do not act in order to represent the characters, but they include the characters for the sake of their actions" (1450a15-23)."
In the Tractatus coislinianus (which may or may not be by Aristotle), comedy is defined as involving three types of characters: the buffoon (bômolochus), the ironist (eirôn) and the imposter or boaster (alazôn). All three are central to Aristophanes' "Old comedy."
By the time the Roman playwright Plautus wrote his plays, the use of characters to define dramatic genres was well-established. His Amphitryon begins with a prologue in which the speaker Mercury claims that since the play contains kings and gods, it cannot be a comedy and must be a tragicomedy. Like much Roman comedy, it is probably translated from an earlier Greek original, most commonly held to be Philemon's Long Night, or Rhinthon's Amphitryon, both now lost.
A stock character is a character that relies heavily on cultural types or stereotypes for his or her personality, manner of speech, and other characteristics. In their most general form, stock characters are related to literary archetypes, but they are often more narrowly defined. Stock characters are a key component of genre, providing relationships and interactions that people familiar with the work's genre will recognize immediately. Stock characters make easy targets for parody, and the parody will likely exaggerate any stereotypes associated with these characters.
Talking animals are a common theme in mythology and folk tales, as well as recent popular children's entertainment. Fictional talking animals often are anthropomorphic, possessing human-like qualities but appearing as another animal. The usage of talking animals enable storytellers to combine the basic characteristics of the animal with human behavior, to apply metaphor, and to entertain children.
Types of characters
Characters may be classified by various criteria:
Characterization is often listed as one of the fundamental elements of fiction. A character is a participant in the story, and is usually a person, but may be any personal identity, or entity whose existence originates from a fictional work or performance.
Characters may be of several types:
- Point-of-view character: The character from whose perspective (theme) the audience experiences the story. This is the character that represents the point of view the audience will empathise, or at the very least, sympathise with. Therefore this is the "Main" Character.
- Protagonist: The driver of the action of the story and therefore responsible for achieving the story's Objective Story Goal (the surface journey). In western storytelling tradition the Protagonist is usually the Main Character.
- Antagonist: The character that stands in opposition to the protagonist.
- Static character: A character who does not significantly change during the course of a story.
- Dynamic character: A character who undergoes character development during the course of a story.
- Foil: The character that contrasts to the protagonist in a way that illuminates their personality or characteristic.
- Supporting character: A character that plays a part in the plot, but is not major
- Minor character: A character in a bit/cameo part.
Round vs. Flat
In his book Aspects of the novel, E. M. Forster defined two basic types of characters, their qualities, functions, and importance for the development of the novel: flat characters and round characters. Flat characters are two-dimensional in that they are relatively uncomplicated and often are have very little details or background information. By contrast, round characters are complex and often very detailed with lots of background information.
Dynamic vs. Static
Dynamic characters are ones that undergo a discernible and / or significant change throughout the narrative. Static characters are ones that have relatively little or no discernible change throughout the narrative.
It is possible to have Round Static Characters, Flat Static Characters, Round Dynamic Characters, and Flat Dynamic characters. Although the last example is most difficult to portray and achieve.
- Breaking character
- Character actor
- Character arc
- Character comedy
- Character flaw
- Character piece
- Character sketch
- Fictional fictional character
- Non-fictional character
- Recurring character
- Secret character
- Stock character
- Sympathetic character
- Unseen character