Do you ever wish you could change some aspect of your life? Anything at all, big or small?
As human beings, we’re always striving for something better. Good author’s know this, and they can hack into our desire and use it to enrich their stories. All with the simple power of dynamic characters!
What is a dynamic character?
The first component of a dynamic character is complexity. They should resemble real people in their personality, lifestyle, and personal history. This is because dynamic characters will normally fill the role of the protagonist. In longer works, requiring many subplots, prominent secondary characters will be dynamic as well.
Readers are going to spend a lot of time with a story’s hero and that hero’s friends. These characters need to be complex and believable for that story to work. That said, let’s look at the next key aspect of a dynamic character.
They need to change and in a fundamental way over time.
A dynamic character is a character who transforms over time. Usually, the catalyst for change is the major conflict of the story. This could mean they overcome a serious flaw in their personality. Like the arrogant hero who discovers humility through the trauma of loss or defeat. Characters like Thor from the Marvel franchise, or Captain Kirk in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.
Let’s look at the first example.
In his titular film, Thor begins the narrative as a brat. He’s the god of thunder, sure, but still a brat. He’s the kid at your high school who drove a $60,000 truck because his dad owned an Arby’s franchise. Conflict arrives when Odin strips Thor of his signature hammer and banishes him to Earth. Bummer. To prove his worth, Thor has to learn that a true king is one who serves.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, we find Kirk. By the time we catch up with the captain, he’s spent years at the helm of the Enterprise. He’s seen it all, and he’s never been beaten. As a result, he’s gotten a little cocky. He doesn’t believe in a no-win scenario. That’s until he loses his closest friend as a result of his own hubris. Kirk learns that there are problems that can’t be solved without great sacrifice.
Again, we see a character transformed through conflict.
It’s important to note that a dynamic character’s transformation does not have to change them for better. Dynamic character’s make great antagonists as well.
Also, change does not have to result from trauma. Change, for a character, can be a positive thing.
A dynamic character may discover something about themselves. Something they never knew before- a hidden ability or untapped confidence. This discovery will propel them through the climax of the story. These types of dynamic characters typically come from humble beginnings.
An example would be Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: A New Hope. A poor farmer’s boy who discovers his connection to a large and fantastic world.
The Purpose of a Dynamic Character
Dynamic characters make for great protagonists because they prove that change is possible. A dynamic character should be complex and relatable. They should resemble an actual human being so that the reader can identify with them. Their transformational arc will act as a driving force of the plot. And, their evolution can provide a payoff or closure when the conflict is resolved.
A dynamic character reinforces the universal desire for self-improvement. People want to believe in the power of change. Readers enjoy characters who overcome flaws and grow into better versions of themselves. When a character overcomes their weakness, the reader will experience this growth vicariously.
However, a dynamic villain will embrace their darkest impulses. This can be just as fulfilling to the reader. Showing how a character becomes a villain, through the plot, reinforces their motivation. The reader can better understand a dynamic villain and the rationale behind their evil acts.
In short, dynamic characters will bring your story to life. In reality, people are always changing for the better or worse. Why should fictional characters be any different?
Now, let’s look at how dynamic characters differ from the other main types of characters.
Comparing the Four Types of Characters
Dynamic Character vs Static Character
What sets a static character apart from a dynamic one is that they will not change over time. From the first page until the end, static characters remain consistent in their personality and worldview. But, this doesn’t mean they’re boring.
Like their dynamic counterparts, these characters can be very complex, and interesting. You’ll find notable static characters throughout literature. The heroes of many classic tales remain unchanged from one adventure to the next.
James Bond is a classic example of a protagonist who is also a static character. He’s charismatic, dangerous, and damn fun to watch, but his personality never changes. The only change we see is that of his setting and circumstances.
These characters are important in a larger series of books or movies. Intriguing static characters will act as a through-line from one adventure to the next.
However, unlike James Bond, some static characters are purposely written to be one-dimensional. And, believe it or not, there is a utility for that type of character. So, let’s talk about those flat characters.
Dynamic Character vs Flat Character
Flat characters are defined by one or two characteristics. An example of a flat character would be Uncle Owen from Star Wars: A New Hope. Owen is a simple moisture farmer from Tatooine. We never learn much else about him. Flat characters don’t undergo any change and have easily identified characteristics. They are sometimes even stereotypical.
Flat characters are the support struts in the structure of a plot. Their only purpose in a story is to support the arc of the protagonist. Uncle Owen guilts Luke into staying an additional season on the farm. This forces Luke to refuse Ben Kenobi’s call to action. However, Owen’s later death incites Luke to take action and strike out on his own adventure.
Flat characters are the supporting cast of any good story. Due to their simplicity, they are easy to spot when compared to dynamic characters. However, that’s not the case for our next type of character.
Dynamic Character vs Round Character
This is where things get sticky. Because round characters and dynamic characters have a lot in common.
Like dynamic characters, round characters should read like real people. They are complex and often hold contradictory views. You won’t be able to describe the personality of a round character with one or two adjectives. They’re much too complicated for that.
All the major players in a story will be round characters. They’re your hero, and their closest friends, colleagues, family, and rivals. Any character who plays a major role within the plot of the story.
A good example of a round character is Hermoine Granger from the Harry Potter series. She’s complex, thoughtful, clever, and serious. Yet, throughout the novel, we see her act impulsively, joining in on Harry’s dangerous antics. These seem like contradictory traits, and they are. But, this is what makes her human.
You’ll see competing definitions for round characters. Round characters are different from dynamic ones because they won’t change over time. However, round characters are described as characters with complex personalities. This is true of dynamic characters as well.
But enough with the vocab lesson. Let’s get into specifics with some…
Examples of Dynamic Characters
Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables
As an orphan, Anne arrives at her adopted home, Green Gables. She is a kind-hearted, imaginative, and precocious child. Her first conflict- the couple who adopted Anne requested a boy, but in error, were given Anne. She must win her new parents over!
Throughout the series we see Anne grow, go to college, get married, and become a writer. She becomes wiser with age but is still kind-hearted. If ever there was a dynamic character it’s Anne of Green Gables.
Harry Potter, The Philosopher’s Stone
At the start, Harry lives a sad little existence. Hated by his adoptive family, the Dursleys, he lives in a closet beneath the stairs. So, it’s a bit of a surprise to Harry when he receives an invitation to attend a mysterious school called Hogwarts.
Through the course of the novel, Harry learns that not only is a wizard, but he’s known as the chosen one. On top of all that, he’s rich! By the end of the novel, Harry has two best friends and a new sense of wonder for the wizarding world he’s discovered.
Tony Stark, Iron Man
When introduced, Tony is a carefree, billionaire bachelor. He’s made his fortune selling arms to the military. One journalist even refers to him as the merchant of death. This doesn’t seem to bother Tony until he’s captured by militants and held hostage for several months.
He emerges from his cave-prison clad in an iron suit and with a new worldview. After learning that his weapons have been used for evil (shocking!) he decides to right this wrong as the superhero Iron Man. With a new sense of morality and responsibility, Tony becomes a true hero.
Lisbeth Salander, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Lisbeth Salander begins the novel as a ward of the state. Every move she makes and every krona she spends must be approved by a man who is sexually abusing her. Eventually, she is forced to assault her guardian to escape his abuse.
Her skills as a hacker, though, lead her to a job as a research assistant for a journalist. Together they uncover the truth of a decades-old murder. They also uncover the crimes of a Swedish industrialist. By the end of the story, Salander has used her skills as a hacker to net millions from a secret bank account. She is free to live any way she chooses.
Ebenezer Scrooge, A Christmas Carol
Scrooge is a miser. Carolers are stifled in his presence. And good luck to any man who asks him for charity. His soul is weighed down by the chains of his own greed and self-interest. Until, one Christmas Eve, when he is visited by the ghost of his former business partner.
After a journey through time in which he’s shown a future where no one will mourn his death, he is transformed. He embraces a life of charity and love and promises to keep the spirit of Christmas alive all the days of his life.
Sansa Stark, Game of Thrones (Television Show)
When we first meet her, Sansa Stark is a vein and naive girl. Her only ambition in life is to marry the obnoxious prince Goffery so that she will one day be a queen. She’s not capable of taking care of herself. When her father is executed for treason, she learns too late that Goffery will not be a kind husband.
Sansa spends years as a captive and a political pawn. Through her suffering, she learns the true nature of her world. She returns home to take on the mantle of the Lady of Winterfell. Reunited with her sister, Arya, she executes the man who orchestrated her father’s death. Sansa is no longer a child but a true lady.
If you’re interested in learning more about the different types of characters check out these great resources: