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Developing Fictional Characters

by Ron Kurtus (14 August 2007)

Characters are the people (or even animals) in your story. You need to be able to describe them and to show their personalities in order for them to have an effective role in the story.

Interesting characters can compensate for a weak plot. The major characters are the protagonist and antagonist. Important characters are complex and well described, while minor characters may be considered flat and even one-dimensional.

You describe your characters through the process of characterization. The different personalities often result in conflicts between the protagonist and antagonist.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.



Protagonist and antagonist

The major characters in a story are the protagonist and antagonist. The protagonist is the central character in the plot of a story. The antagonist is the character or force in conflict with the protagonist.

Usually, the protagonist is a single person or hero of the story. Typically, the protagonist is likeable and someone with whom the reader can relate and root for.

The antagonist may be another person (villain), group of people, or even some elements like the weather. In the Stephen King story Cujo, the antagonist was a vicious dog. In Jack London’s To Build a Fire, the frigid weather in Alaska is the antagonist.

Characterization

Characterization is the process by which you present and develop your fictional characters.

Level of development

The main or important characters in a story—including the protagonist and antagonist—are usually fully developed. They have complex and distinct personalities. Complex characters are also prone to change. A major fictional character has details provided by the author to create a believable representation of a person. The reader may find out such things as hopes or fears, skills, personal habits, favorite activities, clothing preferences and relationships.

Minor characters may only have a minimum description with such basic attributes as gender, age and role. Minor characters may be flat or one-dimensional. The reader may learn little about their personality or back-story, since they are typically not central to the story.

Methods

A common method achieve characterization is to use the narrative voice to describe the character. The narrative voice is the "person" who is providing the descriptions and narration in the story.

Another method is to show the actions of the character and of those reacting to those actions. Also, you can reveal the thoughts or dialogue of the character or include the thoughts and dialogue of others in relation to the character.

Conflicts

Major characters—such as the protagonist and antagonist—will have different personalities and desires that can put them into conflict. Characteristics can result in other conflicts or problems. For example, the protagonist may fear public speaking and have to talk to a group as part of his job.

Conflicts often stem from characterizations.

Summary

The major characters in a story are the protagonist and antagonist. There also may be a number of minor characters. You need to be able to describe them and to show their personalities in order for them to have an effective role in the story. You describe your characters through the process of characterization, which includes their personalities and how they deal with conflicts.

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Good characters have character


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