writing character development tips

Static Characters vs. Dynamic Characters: Definitions and Examples

You can categorize the people that populate your stories as static and dynamic characters. These categories correspond to character development: if they’re a changed person by the end of the story, they’re a dynamic character; if they haven’t changed at all, they’re a static character.

There are many other ways to categorize characters—flat and round, protagonist and antagonist, secondary or tertiary, foils, etc. However, “static vs. dynamic characters” centers the question of character development, which is essential for telling powerful stories.

Does every person that populates your story have to be a dynamic character? Certainly not. In this article, we’ll look at examples of static and dynamic characters, including their functions in the story and how to write each effectively. Let’s first take a look at dynamic characters, then we’ll look at static characters before comparing each of them in literature.

What is a Dynamic Character? Definition

A dynamic character refers to any character who changes as a result of the story’s conflicts and plot.

Dynamic character definition: a character who changes as a result of the story’s conflicts and plot.

Characters can “change” in a variety of ways. They might change their outlook on life, adopt different personality traits, develop new ethical beliefs, or simply come to terms with something difficult.

A dynamic character can also end on a worse note: they might become evil, twisted, unkind, or careless. You either die a hero, or live long enough to become the villain.

Whatever the change, this character must be affected by the events of the story. Their change must be significant, too: they can’t just adopt a new personality for arbitrary reasons. Dynamic characters react to their situations and journeys, no matter their significance or insignificance to the plot at large.

Check Out Our Online Writing Courses!

winter writing circle course

Simple Winter Sanity-Saving Writing Circles

with Susan Vespoli

November 30th, 2022

Write your way to the finish line of 2022: let go of and say goodbye to a momentous year, honor the changes in yourself and the world, and set your intentions for a new chapter.

The Wandering Heart: Tales of Connection

with Giulietta Nardone

November 30th, 2022

Wander through the rooms of your own life to discover stories of deep connection, reconnection or loss of connection and fashion your findings into stories suitable for blog posts, essays, short memoirs, short plays, scenes in screenplays, or chapters of novels.

Wikimedia-festival_colours_2013

Accessing Your Writer’s Voice

with Gloria Kempton

November 30th, 2022

Voice: What is it and how do you find yours? Instructor Gloria Kempton offers feedback on assignments in this 3-week online class.

How to Firm Up the “Mushy Middle” of Any Story

How to Firm Up the “Mushy Middle” of Any Story

with Jeff Lyons

November 30th, 2022

Ensure a strong middle throughline for any story. Say goodbye to the "mushy middle," and hello to stories that work.

poetry writing course

Poetry Workshop: Bring Your Poems to Life

with Rosemary Tantra Bensko

November 30th, 2022

Join us for this workshop on creating powerful poems—poems that are clear and organized, fresh and moving, full of life.

Usually, the protagonist of a story is a dynamic character. That said, there are plenty of exceptions.

Most stories involve some level of character development. Learn more about character development in our article on the topic.

Character Development Definition: A Look at 40 Character Traits

Dynamic Character Examples

Because dynamic characters are shaped by their reactions to the story’s conflicts and events, we’ve included X dynamic character examples whose developments are clearly related to their respective plots.

Dynamic Character Example: Theo in The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Story Summary

After his mother is killed in a terrorist attack, Theodore Decker’s life is colored by grief. As he grows older, Theo learns to cope, but never to heal. The only thing that inspires him to stay alive is a painting he’s not supposed to have: The Goldfinch, painted by Carel Fabritius.

Character Traits at the Beginning

Theo’s story begins at the age of 13. He is, like many boys his age, quiet and shy and somewhat naive. Nonetheless, he has faith in the stability of his world, he loves his mother, and he has adopted his mother’s appreciation for art and beauty.

Character Traits at the End

After his mother’s death, Theo’s life is a series of traumas and instabilities. He never has a home he can stay in for long, and while he loves the people in his life, he generally grows more estranged from them, whether by hiding his emotions or self-medicating his grief.

At the end, Theo has lost his shyness and naivete. He has also lost his faith in the world. What remains is his faith in beauty, as he trusts, despite all of life’s past and future hardships, that a dedication to art and a love of beautiful things is enough to find meaning and redemption in the world.

What Makes Theo a Dynamic Character

Theo’s journey is characterized by his search for meaning in life. The Goldfinch asks the question “Is art enough to sustain us?” And Theo’s story is an 800 page response to that question. As Theo ages, he loses his belief in life’s meaning, often reacting to things with cynicism, anger, or drugs. But, wherever Theo goes, his belief in art and beauty follows. It is enough to sustain him, if only barely, on a fragile and perhaps meaningless Earth.

Dynamic Character Example: Jack in Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Story Summary

Lord of the Flies is about a group of British schoolchildren who are abandoned on a Pacific island and must establish their own society. Two factions quickly develop among the boys: Ralph’s (civilized) group, which focuses on surviving and evacuating the island, and Jack’s (uncivilized) group, which believes they must protect themselves from the island’s strange and possible terrors.

Character Traits at the Beginning

Jack is never a docile character, but he does submit to the will of the people at first. He’s willing to be one of three leaders of the entire group, and though he is headstrong and stubborn about his interpretation of events, he allows for ideals like democracy and discussion.

Character Traits at the End

Jack’s character arc follows him devolving into a fearmonger who weaponizes the boys’ anxieties to create his own faction. Perhaps he has always been a scheming and manipulative person, but driven by the fear which catapults him into power, Jack becomes bloodthirsty and terrifying, which contributes to the novel’s themes of power and corruption.

(Spoiler) But, at the very end of the novel, the boys are rescued by a passing British cruiser. All of the boys, including Jack, act their own age and become inconsolable, crying over the loss of their innocence and childhood, and the many deaths they caused. So, while Jack’s arc ends as a brutish fearmonger, it also ends as a child dismayed at his own evil.

What Makes Jack a Dynamic Character

Jack develops as a character by giving in to his own manipulative instincts. His choice to pursue mayhem and fearmongering pushes him down a rabbithole of power and corruption, forever inventing social ills to keep his faction allegiant to him. While Jack maintains a tight grip on the boys dedicated to him, he also becomes responsible for the novel’s bloodshed, which the Jack of the novel’s beginning likely did not intend.

Dynamic Character Example: Prince Hamlet in Hamlet by Shakespeare

Story Summary

Hamlet is, in short, a play about revenge and obsession. The titular Prince Hamlet is visited by the ghost of his dead father, who tells Hamlet that he was murdered by the prince’s uncle, Claudius. Hamlet’s story follows Hamlet trying to avenge his dead father, but becoming more indecisive and unstable as each opportunity presents itself.

Character Traits at the Beginning

The play first finds Hamlet depressed and mourning the death of his father. He also grieves for the sudden change of throne, and for his mother’s hasty remarriage to Claudius. After he visits the ghost of his dead father, he promises to avenge his father’s death, and also plans to act as though he has gone mad as a ruse for the murder he’s planning. Nonetheless, Hamlet begins the play indecisive and unsure of anything, including the reliability of his own dead father.

Character Traits at the End

At the end of the play (and before Hamlet’s death), Hamlet has settled into the role of the madman. His dialogue and actions have become increasingly unpredictable to other characters, but he is nonetheless plagued by the indecision which killed Polonius, a counselor of the king, rather than Claudius.

What Makes Hamlet a Dynamic Character

Hamlet is an example of a character who does not embrace his necessary journey. Hamlet doesn’t change his indecisiveness or come to terms with the revenge he’s agreed to take part in. Rather, he stews and stews in his own moral turmoil, causing additional deaths (including his own) before finally killing Claudius. What does change about Hamlet is the intensity of his feelings, and his own descent into a madness which may or may not be contrived. Is Hamlet really mad? Does he become consumed by the act of madness? Or is he aware, the entire time, of his own staged insanity? Such questions are never resolved, but do add a dimension of change to his own dynamic character.

Dynamic Character Example: Arthur Burton in The Gadfly by Ethel Voynich

Story Summary

The Gadfly is a novel about Italian resistance movements during the time it was occupied by Austria in the 19th century. Specifically, the novel is about Arthur Burton, an English Catholic who studies to be a priest in Italy, only to be swept up in a resistance movement against Austrian occupation. This results in his imprisonment and self-exile, which catalyzes the events of the novel.

Character Traits at the Beginning

Arthur begins The Gadfly as the picture of naivete. He looks fragile yet beautiful, and has a generally trusting and generous demeanor. Although his family is unkind and elitist, he has a special relationship with Padre Montanelli, the priest whom he studies under. Idealistic and curious, Arthur believes fervently in the goodness of the world.

Character Traits at the End

When Arthur is betrayed by the revolutionary group he starts participating in, he decides he has no choice but to self-exile. His ten years of starvation and survival in South America radically alters his personality. By the time he returns to Italy, he becomes cynical, self-righteous, satirical, and provocative. He also develops several disabilities, which become sources of great shame for him. Finally, he becomes fervently atheist, renouncing God, the church, and the structures of religious society. However, Arthur is never able to abandon his belief in the goodness of the world, which contributes to his many layers of cynicism.

What Makes Arthur a Dynamic Character

Most of Arthur’s personality changes with respect to the events of The Gadfly. Yet, he never loses his revolutionary zeal and his desire to make the world a better place, even if he becomes an aggravating and impossible person to work with. Arthur’s pursuit of justice and goodness evolves with his many misfortunes, and though his personality often works against him, he continues to evolve and reconcile his own twisted beliefs.

What is a Static Character? Definition

A static character refers to any character who does not change by the end of the story.

Static character definition: a character who does not change by the end of the story.

No matter the conflict, ethical dilemmas, or time elapsed, a static character will not change any of their characteristics.

From a characterization standpoint, this might seem counterintuitive. Don’t all people change in relation to their conflicts and surroundings? What could a static character contribute to the story if they don’t evolve?

Often, static characters serve a specific purpose to the story, advancing the plot without being a part of the plot itself. These characters are usually secondary or tertiary, though they aren’t necessarily stereotypes—their journeys just aren’t the focal points of the story.

A static character might:

  • Provide comic relief (especially in Shakespeare plays!)
  • Prompt the protagonist along their journey.
  • Stand as an obstacle.
  • Act as a foil to a dynamic character.
  • Sit as a placeholder, demonstrating the protagonist’s growth against the static character’s stasis.

Of course, there are plenty of examples of static characters that are essential to the plot, just as there are dynamic characters who have a marginal impact on the story.

Static Character Examples

Because static characters must advance the story in some way, let’s look at several static character examples and their roles in their stories.

Static Character Example: Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Story Summary

Things Fall Apart is a novel about Umuofia, a fictional clan in 1890s Nigeria. The novel’s anti hero protagonist, Okonkwo, is a rising leader in his clan, but he is exiled from his clan for 7 years after accidentally killing the son of a recently-deceased elder. During those 7 years, colonizers move into Umuofia, converting its people to Christianity and weakening Nigerian society.

Character Traits

Okonkwo is a proud, stubborn, and hyper-masculine person. He is saddled by his own rigid masculinity and refuses to show emotion, considering it a sign of weakness. He rarely feels apologetic; rather, he feels ashamed for any action that is less than perfect, and he directs that shame externally, beating and berating other people in his life.

Nonetheless, Okonkwo also finds pride in tradition, and though he never shows emotion, he does love his culture and people. Okonkwo is perhaps the angriest of Nigerians when the missionaries start to colonize Umuofia, and rightfully so.

Does the Character Need to Change?

Yes—the novel is certainly criticizing Okonkwo, as well as mourning him. Okonkwo faces several challenges, each of which requires him to confront his masculinity. When confronted with the grief of killing his adopted son, Okonkwo hardens his heart and refuses to show emotion; when he is exiled for seven years, he is supposed to reflect on his wrongdoings and seek forgiveness, but only mourns the loss of power he one held. Finally, when tasked with forcing out the colonizers, Okonkwo kills himself before he can be killed. Because of this, he isn’t even given a burial.

What Makes Okonkwo a Static Character

Okonkwo refuses to confront his masculinity, always choosing strength and control over kindness and community. His personality, his outlook on life, and his ethics never change. He even abandons his son when his son starts working for the missionaries, an act which surely confirms his son’s decisions.

Make no mistake: Okonkwo is not at fault for the cruelty of colonization, and there is perhaps nothing he could do to stop the swell of missionaries that flooded Nigeria. But, his masculinity is his downfall, as he chooses to take his own life and push away the people who love him, rather than forge the community necessary to, perhaps, survive the arrival of white men.

Static Character Example: Mercutio in Romeo & Juliet by Shakespeare

Story Summary

The famed Romeo & Juliet is a story about young lovers whose obsession quickly turns to tragedy, as the two are members of warring families who won’t approve of their love. Mercutio is a friend of Romeo’s, and he is known for his wit, his coarseness, and his knack for being the center of attention. When Mercutio is accidentally killed, the play suddenly turns from comedy to tragedy.

Character Traits

Mercutio is a comic relief character, which Shakespeare often employed in his plays to entertain both higher- and lower-class audience members. Mercutio frequently makes bawdy and sexual jokes. He is the life of the party, always commanding attention no matter what situation he enters. Nonetheless, he is a proud and impulsive person, as demonstrated by his insistence that Romeo should kill Tybalt, a member of Romeo’s opposing family.

Does the Character Need to Change?

No. Sure, Mercutio technically invites his own death by jesting with Tybalt (his killer), but Mercutio has a specific role to play. As comedic relief, his death is both a symbolic and literal end to the play’s comedy. Tybalt kills Mercutio, and Romeo kills Tybalt as a result, which get Romeo banned from Verona. This ban eventually leads to the deaths of both Romeo and Juliet. Without Mercutio’s death, the play remains a comedy, and Mercutio is not tasked with changing his personality or ethics in order to command the plot.

What Makes Mercutio a Static Character

The jokes don’t end with Mercutio, even when he’s dying. He often refers to his sword phallically, and when he’s dying on Tybalt’s sword, Mercutio makes the pun that “Ask for [him] tomorrow, and you shall find [him] a grave man.” Even in death, Mercutio knows how to entertain and be the center of attention—a fact which is reinforced by other characters in the play laughing at his jokes, not realizing he really is about to die.

Static Character Example: Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Story Summary

To Kill a Mockingbird is a story about race and justice in the American South, particularly about the false accusation of rape made against an African American man named Tom Robinson. Atticus Finch represents Tom Robinson, and as a white lawyer in the 1930s, he is a modern day role model for many lawyers who seek to build a more equitable justice system. Atticus must prove that Tom Robinson is falsely accused, despite a court and jury stacked against the interests of black men.

Character Traits

Atticus Finch is a paragon of honor. He prizes truth, justice, integrity, and equality above all else, and demonstrates deep empathy and awareness of society’s inequalities.

Does the Character Need to Change?

No. Atticus is faced with moral dilemmas, certainly, but he always makes the right decision. Even when his family is threatened by racist townsfolk, or even when those townsfolk threaten to lynch Atticus himself, he is unwaveringly honorable and committed to justice.

What Makes Atticus a Static Character

Atticus’ role in To Kill a Mockingbird is to be the image of honesty and honorability. This never changes, as although Atticus faces certain difficult decisions, his ethics and personality always lead him in the right direction.

Static Character Example: Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Story Summary

The Great Gatsby is a novel about the American Dream and its influences on mainstream society. Specifically, it’s about Jay Gatsby, an eccentric nouveau riche millionaire who uses his wealth to obtain the love of Daisy Fay, a married woman whom Gatsby met years ago.

Character Traits

Gatsby embodies the self-made man. He is proud of his success, somewhat ashamed of his humble origins, and highly obsessive. When Gatsby discovers that Daisy has married another man, it inspires him to accrue his wealth and prominence in society, and he throws lavish parties in the hopes that Daisy might one day attend. He embodies the American Dream by assuming that, if he works hard enough and finds enough success, he can achieve and possess anything he desires.

Does the Character Need to Change?

Well, that’s up for debate, as it isn’t clear whether the novel is criticizing or mourning Gatsby. But, his static character traits are certainly the cause of his death. Gatsby’s obsession with Daisy results in his own undoing: Daisy accidentally kills her husband’s mistress with Gatsby’s car, and the husband of that mistress blames and kills Gatsby.

This series of unfortunate events isn’t inherently Gatsby’s fault. However, the key players of this drama are all influenced by the American Dream. A byproduct of the Dream is an incessant desire to always want more and more, which is why Daisy’s husband has a mistress, and Gatsby lusts after a married woman.

How could Gatsby have changed? What could have made him realize his faulty beliefs? Perhaps nothing, which is why the American Dream is really an American Nightmare, unkind even to those who somehow find success.

What Makes Gatsby a Static Character

Gatsby’s motives never change, nor do his ethics and personality. He embodies the American Dream, which breeds static characters obsessed only with the wealth and possessions they don’t have and can’t obtain.

Static vs. Dynamic Characters

As you can see in the above static character and dynamic character examples, not all static characters are antagonists or secondary to the story, and not all dynamic characters are primary or protagonists. So, how do authors decide which characters to write?

Static vs. Dynamic Characters: Which to Write?

Virtually every story has a mix of both static and dynamic characters. And most of those characters are static. If a story has 20 characters, making each one dynamic would require writing a ton of character arcs, which would make the plot impossible to follow, and the reader would get lost in the details. It’s better for most characters to support the plot and advance it in certain ways, centering the story’s character development on key dynamic characters.

Virtually every story has a mix of both static and dynamic characters, and most of those characters are static.

Some reasons to make a character dynamic include:

  • Centering the story around a protagonist’s personal growth, which is a facet of most literary fiction.
  • Prolonging the story’s conflict, as the protagonist might have to keep adapting to new problems as they arise.
  • Creating new challenges, especially if an antagonist becomes more evil, or if the protagonist shrinks instead of grows.
  • Providing a foil, which is a character designed to contrast another character’s traits for emphasis.

Meanwhile, some reasons to make a character static include:

  • Keeping the story’s focus on the main characters’ dynamic growth.
  • Crafting an antagonist who exists specifically as an obstacle for the protagonist.
  • Highlighting a fatal flaw in the protagonist, who refuses to change despite their circumstances.
  • Offering the reader comic relief.

Static vs. Dynamic Characters Venn Diagram

On the topic of static vs. dynamic characters, this Venn diagram highlights the main differences between the two.

Static vs. Dynamic Characters Venn Diagram

Master Static and Dynamic Characters at Writers.com

Want to craft characters with depth and personality? The courses at Writers.com can help! Take a look at our upcoming fiction classes, where you’ll receive feedback on all aspects of your stories, including the characters that populate them.

1 Comment

  1. Luis on November 30, 2021 at 11:09 am

    I would say that mythological imagery seems to me very inspiring. Someone told me that child should be taught the legends and myths of our ancient civilisations.
    Egyptian or Greek mythology are the feedstock and the roots of our customs and beliefs.

Leave a Comment