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Static Characters

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Ophiucha, May 27, 2011.

  1. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

    I have a confession to make, one some might consider a sin against writing.

    I like static characters.

    Not one-dimensional, flat, background characters. Not archetypes and stereotypes who litter the party to accent the protagonist. I mean main characters - protagonist or antagonist - who do not change. And, to a lesser extent, the unchanging amongst change. To the former, I like to start out a story with a character who I want to watch from beginning to end. I want to learn more about him, why he does what he does and how he came to do it that way. And, sometimes, I even appreciate a story that just has a character who is as he is, and we don't need to know more. I like that. Love it, even. A story where we just have a character who we can enjoy following, and we don't necessarily need to see change. Because, honestly, 90% of the characters who I like from the start become unlikable by the end. I want to start out AND end off on good relations with this character. If they are still likable after (and before; another problem that some books suffer from) their character arc, that's fine, too, but honestly, maybe this is the Sherlock fan in me talking, I just kind of like static characters.

    To that latter point, I also like the idea that some things never change. A book can't introduce two party members who hate each other at the beginning who still do at the end. It just rarely happens. At best, they begrudgingly respect one another by the end, and at worst, they're married. Again, it works sometimes. A long enough series can do it well. But I like that familiarity, that dynamic between them, and I often find myself hating it when they change.

    Something in a story has to be dynamic, of course. Maybe it's a character, maybe it's the setting, maybe its a bit of both and more than one of each. But I never liked the assumption that the protagonist HAS to change, that they have to have the standard character arc. Some protagonists are set in their ways, some protagonists have a fair bit of control over the situation being played out and hence have no REASON to change, and some protagonists are frankly just fun enough to start out with that changing them is just outright character decay. There are many great character arcs out there, and many more to come - I'm sure, but I think we should be able to appreciate static characters a bit more.
  2. Derin

    Derin Troubadour

    While I think characters need to have their worldview affected by plot or it just seems pointless, I do think a lot of people go overboard. A lot of people give characters one or two crippling flaws that are beaten out of them by the conflict, and call this development. As you say, characters who hate each other will learn to respect or like each other. Characters with crippling, emotionally abusive pasts will get over them and learn to love again. Alcoholics will dramatically pour out their beer now that they've found something to live for, and never touch a drop again. I don't think this sort of blatant "Hey, check out how much the characters are developing!" route is always necessary. Sometimes people change little. Sometimes changes aren't noticeably good or bad. Forcing in huge flaws and having characters overcome them just for the sake of development turns characters into stereotypes and gives often unbelievable resolutions.
  3. Amanita

    Amanita Maester

    Maybe I'm just into cliches ;) but I really like stories where the outer plot matches some sort of inner journey of the characters. This may be the common "teenage character has to leave his small world, face new responsibilites and mature in the progress"-storyline or anything where the main character tackles some issue, finds peace about something that has happend to him in the past, or has to change his perspective on something.
    A writing tip I've read somewhere else said that the character who is most affected by the conflict should be the protagonist. This might not always apply but having characters to whom saving the world is just routine business not affecting them at all, doesn't really work for me. If there's so much at stake this should affect the characters, otherwise it's hard for me, to "feel" what's really going on.
    In other works, such as crime novels, I agree with Opiucha. There I don't want to see the police officers being severely affected by every case they have to deal with or be shown much of their private life. There might be fantasy works that work the same way, but for the kind of thing I think of first when I hear the term "fantasy", some character growth is necessary. Of course, like everything, this can be done well or badly.
  4. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

    Ah yes, I guess we read very different sorts of fantasy. I don't really dig 'save the world' schemes much or characters who are dragged about by the story and antagonist. I like a protagonist who has a bit of charge over the situation, maybe even instigated the conflict in the first place, and I think from that position, they have no obvious reason to change. I'm also just about done with protagonists under 20 for a long time (I've read enough to content me until I'm 30, at least), and, well, I think older characters tend to be a bit more set in their ways.
  5. Chilari

    Chilari Staff Moderator

    I agree that some change is necessary, even for older characters; you never stop growing, learning or changing. I find it unrealistic if a character doesn't change at all. From my own personal experiences just since I left home, there have been a number of events which have affected me considerably, made me think about things I wouldn't have otherwise thought about, or led me to change the direction I was going. The people I have met, the mistakes I have made, the attitudes I have expressed, the things I have learned (and I don't just mean from my studies), have made me a wholly different person today than the nervous, sheltered, naive girl I was four years ago when I first left home. And yes, you could say that's the standard person leaves home, gains independance, insight and knowledge thing, and you'd be right, but change doesn't just stop once a certain point has been reached, and events don't stop affecting people because they're adults now.

    As for older people being more set in their ways, I disagree. I think people who are "set in their ways" are as much that at 25 as they are at 55; it's an aspect of personality, not of age. Okay, it might be reinforced by having more time to become set in their ways, but it doesn't just come about when someone turns 30 or whatever. Some people have a particular world view and are offended when it is knocked; others absorb new knowledge and let it change them.
  6. Ophiucha

    Ophiucha Auror

    @Chilari, I don't think people necessarily ever stop changing, merely that they change less easily. Something more powerful would have to happen to change their views; falling in love, a close death, a dramatic outside change. Not all stories need to have this. Classic examples would be Sherlock Holmes and James Bond, but you can find this in many ways, and really, depending on how you think about it, many characters are static. Severus Snape is a good example, in the context of the Harry Potter books. He's HAD major character changes, of course, and we reveal more about him, learn more about him, as the books go on, but looking at it objectively as someone who knows his whole story, has he really changed much from book one to book seven? Not really. Maybe at the moment before his *OMGSPOILER {seriously, you should know this already}* death, but even that might be a stretch.

    I think an actual character change is just one way of character development. It's development that is important, but revelation is equally useful in developing a character without having to have them change over the course of the story. Not to mention any good tragic hero is basically built on his inability to change.
  7. M.A.N.

    M.A.N. Scribe

    WOT? He dies?
  8. Telcontar

    Telcontar Staff Moderator

    I can certainly see your point, and I agree. Static characters can be wonderful. I tend to think of them as the older, wiser, more worldly types, ones whom are basically fully developed. They don't change because their experience has already brought them to a sort of final state of their personality.

    They also work wonderfully as villains, or at least antagonists. C.S. Friedman's "Black Sun Rising" trilogy has a wonderful example of this. There is even one event where you think the 'static character' in question WILL change... but then he resolves the event with what he believed/has experienced already, and continues on.
  9. Heavy Thorn

    Heavy Thorn Dreamer

    It's a common misbelief that the hero must undergo a major change during the arc of the story. He doesn't have to change at all - our perception of him must.

    Example: Memento. Pearce's character never changes in the film, but by the end of it we see a side of him we knew nothing about in the beginning.

    Change is revelation by filtration. Even in real life, most people only change so much as they were capable of from the very beginning. It's just a matter of what side of you we've seen.

    (That's not to say that character arcs are inconsequential, merely not necessary for a good writer to engage an audience to his character.)
  10. TWErvin2

    TWErvin2 Auror

    Static characters can be fun to write and to read. How they respond and succeed (or fail) to situations and circumstances can be interesting to readers.

    It's easier to have secondary characters be the 'static' ones, especially in a longer work, but certainly not impossible to do otherwise.

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