Writing

Dynamic Characters vs. Static Characters: Definition, Examples, and Differences in Character Types

Written by MasterClass

Aug 1, 2019 • 6 min read

Characters are a central part of any short story, novel, screenplay, or stage play—they drive the conflict and provide the point of view for the story. Two essential types of characters to understand when writing an interesting story are dynamic characters and static characters. The principles of dynamic and static characters are essential to understand in order to bring your literary characters to life.

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What Is a Dynamic Character?

A dynamic character is a character who undergoes significant internal change throughout the course of a story. The development of a dynamic character is often subtle and unstated and is not due to a change in the character’s circumstances. A dynamic character is one who learns a lesson or changes as a person (either for better or for worse). Most main characters and major characters in stories are dynamic.

Dynamic characters are the opposite of static characters; while dynamic characters change throughout a story, static characters stay the same.

The term “dynamic character” is often confused with “round character,” and while they often overlap, they are not the same. A dynamic character is one who changes significantly throughout the story, whereas a round character is simply one who is interesting and layered. A character can be round without ever undergoing any changes throughout a story, so characters can be round without being dynamic.

4 Examples of Dynamic Characters

While dynamic characters are often protagonists of stories, any characters—from minor characters to antagonists—can be dynamic. Here are a few well-known dynamic character examples in movies and literature:

  • Scout Finch. Scout, the protagonist of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, undergoes significant emotional maturation during the story. She starts as a self-focused, young girl with little empathy, as evidenced in her treatment of Boo Radley as an oddity, and she grows to become more empathetic and understanding of the people around her, shown later in the story in her ability to imagine life through Boo Radley’s eyes.
  • Ebenezer Scrooge. In Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge begins as a cruel, miserly man, turning away family members and refusing to donate to the poor. By the end of the story, he has faced significant internal conflict and has grown into a giving person, sending a turkey to his employee and dining with his nephew’s family.
  • Neville Longbottom. In the Harry Potter series, Neville begins as a frightened, awkward student. As he is shaped by conflicts with his friends and with the antagonists during the plot, his character changes into a brave young man, willing to fight for what he believes is right at the end of the series.
  • Anakin Skywalker. Anakin’s journey in Star Wars is full of significant internal changes, both good and bad. His transformation from Jedi knight to Sith lord is a great example of a dynamic character undergoing inner change that is negative—during his progression, he loses his “good guy” qualities and becomes an antagonist.

How to Write Dynamic Characters

Dynamic characters are considered a mark of a good story, because they are interesting to watch progress and help audiences become invested in the character’s journey. Here are some tips and tricks for writing dynamic characters:

  • List your character’s traits. Make a list of your character’s personality traits at the beginning of the story. Are they shy or overconfident, rude or kind, enthusiastic or bored, innocent or experienced? By listing out their traits, you can start to identify which traits might change over the course of the story.
  • Make your character responsible for the conflict. While it’s easier to write a character who is the victim of cruel circumstances outside their control, characters who have in some way caused the conflict are much more likely to learn lessons and change because of it.
  • Heighten the conflict. If you have a character who refuses to change, it might be time to strengthen the conflict. Stronger conflict can help bring characters to their breaking points, which will help them discover something new about themselves or realize how their behavior needs to change.

What Is a Static Character?

A static character is a type of character who remains largely the same throughout the course of the storyline. Their environment may change, but they retain the same personality and outlook as they had at the beginning of the story. It’s common for secondary characters in stories to be static.

Static characters are the opposite of dynamic characters; while static characters stay the same throughout a story, dynamic characters undergo significant internal change.

The term “static character” is often confused with “flat character,” and while they do overlap, they are not the same. A static character is one who doesn’t undergo any significant change in a story, whereas a flat character is a one-dimensional character who isn’t layered or deep—rather, a flat character just has one or two traits that make up their whole personality. Flat characters are almost exclusively static characters, but not all static characters are flat—many static characters can be interesting and round.

3 Examples of Static Characters

While static characters are often antagonists of stories, any characters—from side characters to protagonists—can be static. Here are a few well-known static characters in movies and literature:

  1. Captain Hook. The main antagonist of Peter Pan, Captain Hook is a cruel and buffoonish pirate captain who remains cruel and buffoonish throughout the story, ultimately being bested by Peter Pan. He never significantly changes or learns any lessons.
  2. Sherlock Holmes. The famous detective undergoes no significant internal changes throughout any of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories—Holmes continuously regards the world with the same witty, confident attitude, even after encountering serious conflicts.
  3. Captain America. While there are a lot of different versions of the Captain America story with varying levels of staticism, overall the character remains the same: he begins and ends the story as a moral person who wants to help others and serve his country. Even though he undergoes significant external changes, his internal traits remain the same.

How to Write Static Characters

While it may be easier to write a static character than a dynamic one, static characters have a hard time keeping audience members’ attention, because there’s no character arc for the audience to be invested in. Since the character isn’t going to undergo any changes or learn any lessons, the character must be round in order to keep the audience’s attention. To write an interesting static character:

  • Focus on motivation. If the character is not going to change throughout the story, they need a good reason for it—are they too stubborn, too shy, or maybe too cruel? Coming up with a strong motivation for the character will help audiences believe that the character has a reason for being static.
  • Think about backstory. A character’s backstory is a great opportunity to make them interesting. Did they grow up on a farm, in the circus, or near a junkyard? How does this influence the way they look at the world?
  • Play with personality. A unique personality is a great way to keep audiences engaged in static characters. For instance, Sherlock Holmes is a famously well-loved static character, especially compelling because of his quirky, surprising personality.

What Is the Difference Between Dynamic and Static Characters?

Dynamic characters and static characters are opposites. While dynamic characters undergo significant internal change throughout a story, static characters stay the same.

They tend to differ in two other key areas, as well:

  • Role in the story. Overall, the protagonists in stories tend to be dynamic characters (like Ebenezer Scrooge), while the antagonists tend to be static characters (like Captain Hook). However, this isn’t always the case—Darth Vader is a famously dynamic antagonist, while Sherlock Holmes is a famously static protagonist.
  • Audience interest. In general, audiences are much more invested in dynamic characters, because the audience can engage with the character’s arc and root for them to change. Static characters need to have very interesting personalities and a significant amount of character depth in order to hold audience members’ attention in the same way.

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