Guest post by Savannah Cordova
One of the great things about storytelling is the ability to create brand-new characters, complete with their own fascinating traits and backstories! That said, no matter how unique your characters are, they’ll inevitably fall into certain categories.
A particularly common character type we see is the dynamic character. This is someone who learns some kind of lesson over the course of the story, changing in one way or another as a result. Main characters are usually well-rounded dynamic characters; their evolution is often what drives the story, and readers enjoy being along for the ride.
But what about those characters who don’t change? They don’t learn any lessons, they don’t fix any glaring flaws, and they presumably carry on — business as usual — after the story ends. Do static characters have any place in your book?
Dynamic characters go on a life-changing journey
We know that dynamic characters have to change somehow throughout the story, but what does that really mean? Well, a good dynamic character will often realize they want or need something that they don’t already have, and their journey to obtain it will move the story along.
Take the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, for example. He starts the fairytale very set in his ways, wanting only solitude in which to languish. He believes his appearance stops anyone from getting to know him, and he’s doomed to live out his days alone. Belle stumbles into his life by chance, and at first, his bitterness and temper prevent them from being anything but enemies.
But as the story progresses, Belle teaches him the joys of companionship and love, and the Beast gradually becomes less guarded. He learns to have fun and enjoy the company of another person — and to think of someone other than himself. By the end, he’s changed his mind on how the world works, and his faith in love has blossomed.
The Beast is a great example of a dynamic character because he slowly transitions throughout his story, piece by piece. Looking back, we’re almost shocked by the stark difference between the Beast we meet at the start and the one we see at the end (and not only in his appearance!).
In any story, a dynamic character is one who has an experience that teaches them something, and they act on that lesson — the action being the important part here. Indeed, if Belle had taught the Beast how to love but he forced his feelings down and kept to his lonely ways, we wouldn’t see much of a shift in him.
Readers want to see characters change (for better or worse)
You know the saying “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”? A dynamic character drinks. Without dynamic characters in a story, there simply wouldn’t be much to invest in. Readers want to see change in a narrative — and though the vast majority of protagonists experience positive growth, characters who change for the worse can be just as interesting.
Walter White of Breaking Bad is a great example of such a dynamic character. He starts out as a regular science teacher, but turns to the life of crime to pay for his lung cancer treatments. The novelty of this makes not only for a strong character arc, but for a fantastic story; after all, we probably all know a science teacher in real life, but we don’t all know a science teacher who started cooking meth to survive in a country without free healthcare.
Of course, the most intriguing part of Walter’s story is the moral shift that accompanies his transition from science teacher to meth dealer. While it might not be something your average reader would see in their own life, it’s easy to imagine how extreme circumstances could alter someone’s principles so drastically. Depicting this kind of change makes your characters feel much more realistic and engaging — even if the dynamic character ends up being pretty unlikable, as Walt does, it’s much better than if they’d never changed at all.
And remember that your protagonist doesn’t have to be the only dynamic character around! Giving your antagonist a shift in how they see the world adds a lot of depth to your story. Modern readers are looking for nuance in the books they pick up, so rather than sticking to a static villain in your next piece, play around with giving your antagonist a chance to change… again, whether for better or worse.
Static characters fill in the cast—and contrast with the hero
While our dynamic characters are out there changing their lives, our static characters show zero growth as the story progresses. They have a set of morals or beliefs that they don’t feel the need to change. A static character looks the same from page one to page one-hundred and beyond.
If we’ve already concluded that dynamic characters are the most interesting to read about, what’s the point of using static characters in a book? One reason is that stories need more characters than just the protagonist — and if every character underwent some big change, the story would lose focus. If a reader is presented with too many ongoing, life-changing story arcs, the story starts to muddy up.
Let’s look back at Beauty and the Beast. There are quite a few static characters in this tale. The blonde Bimbettes only want attention from Gaston, and Gaston is a player who wants what he can’t have. If we had to watch the Bimbettes learn a lesson about inner beauty and Gaston learn one about treating women with respect, we would care less about Belle and the Beast’s story.
Another reason to include static characters is for meaningful contrast with your main character(s) — in Beauty and the Beast, the static characters are also used as foils. The blonde trio of Belle’s provincial town demonstrate Belle’s well-roundedness, and how she wants more out of life than to marry Gaston.
Gaston, meanwhile, is handsome on the outside but ugly on the inside, superficial and misogynistic, and he stays that way — ultimately serving as the Beast’s polar opposite. Using static characters like this makes us like our dynamic characters even more!
Occasionally, “static” main characters represent strong ideals
There’s one more less-common reason to include a static character in your story: if you want an extremely dependable protagonist, often in the context of a chaotic or unjust world, a seemingly static character will do.
Take Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games for example. She starts the story strong-willed and set in her morals. She believes in the people, and she is loyal to her friends and family. By the end of her participation in the Hunger Games, these are still Katniss’s key traits. She doesn’t let the Games get the best of her and crack her morals — in fact, her beliefs only seem to strengthen as she’s put through the worst the dystopian world has to offer.
But while Katniss’s beliefs may not change, the amount she believes in them does. Her dynamism is in not how she views the world, but in how strong her views are. So while she might seem static on the surface, she’s actually a dynamic character in her own right — just in a subtler way than you’d see with most protagonists.
Overall, it’s important to take a look at your cast of characters and determine who the story is really about. Often, that will tell you who your dynamic characters are. How can your static characters support (or get in the way of) your dynamic characters? What is the relationship between these two character types? Having considered this, you’ll be well on your way to a perfectly balanced cast — and a story that readers won’t soon forget.