archetype character traits hero/heroine poetic justice
caricature characterization hubris rationale
character direct characterization indirect characterization reason
character development dynamic character major character round character
character map (ppt) flat character minor character static character
  foil motivation villain

A character is a person or creature that interacts with others within a story

There are different kinds of characters in stories, and different ways to describe them.

Character traits - elements of a character's personality that define who the character is.  Shrek is grouchy and irritable, but kind-hearted; these are his character traits.  In the Spider-Man movies, Peter Parker's character traits are his intelligence, his shyness, and his cautiousness. You can map out a character's physical and mental traits.

Characterization – refers to a character’s personality or the method by which the writer reveals this personality

Direct characterization – when an author tells you directly about the character’s personality; “Dena was a kind, caring individual.”  The author tells us what the character is like.

Indirect characterization – when an author reveals a character’s personality through his or her actions or dialogue; “Dena felt so sad when she saw the hurt little chipmunk that she began to cry.  She immediately approached it to try and help it get better.”  The author shows us what the character is like.

Major character - the most important character in the story; the one the story is about; the protagonist - this character is often called the "main character".  There is usually one single major character, though it is possible for there to be multiple major characters (for example, in the TV series Friends, the six friends [Monica, Rachel, Phoebe, Chandler, Joey, Ross] are all major characters)

Minor character - person of less importance than the major character, but who is necessary for the story to develop.  Dorie from Finding Nemo is a minor character; she is important, but the story is not about her.

Foil – A character who serves to point out the strengths or weaknesses of the protagonist; usually, the foil has the opposite character traits of the protagonist, and often (but not always), is called an antagonistMost of the time, the foil is the antagonist (like Darth Vader in Star Wars: A New Hope [Vader wears black, Luke wears white; Vader is strong and powerful, Luke is weak; Vader is respected, Luke is not]), though the foil does not have to be the antagonist; some times, the "sidekick" or "friend" of the protagonist has traits that are opposite of the main character (like Donkey in Shrek; Donkey is small, cute, talkative, and nice, while Shrek is the opposite of these traits).

Hero/Heroine – a character whose actions are inspiring or noble (the term “hero” is now commonly used for both male and female characters).  In the movie I, Robot, Will Smith's character is inspirational; though no one believes him, he continues to do what he thinks is right. 

Villain – a character who is evil or capable of cruel or criminal actions; usually (but not always) an antagonist.  In the Harry Potter series, Voldemort is an evil wizard who wants to kill Harry; Voldemort is a classic villain, and is Harry's antagonist.  In the movie Catwoman, Catwoman is a villain who steals and breaks the law, even though she is the protagonist.

Hubris – When a character’s egotism leads to the character’s downfall.  Villains often are brought low by their hubris. A character was always going on about what a great quarterback he was, and how he was the greatest quarterback of all time.  A bomb is found ticking down to zero.  The quarterback figures he'll save everyone by throwing the bomb far enough away with his amazing quarterback abilities.  He doesn't know that the bomb has a motion trigger - when he throws it, BOOM!  That's hubris.  SEE ALSO "The Tortoise and the Hare".

Poetic justice - Usually refers to a situation in which a bad character "gets what he deserves" at the end of a story; although the villain may not be caught by the police, he (or she) loses something important to him/her, or possibly his/her life.  Frequently this involves irony of situation or hubris.

When you are writing a story, you should think carefully about your character development.  This means you need to consider your characters' motivation.

Rationale/motivation/reason – information that explains or justifies a condition, an action, or a decision; why a character does a certain action

Undeveloped characters are not interesting to read about; they are flat and static.  Realistic characters are round and dynamic.

Round character - a character with a complex and realistic personality; often called "three-dimensional" or "multifaceted" characters.  Generally, these are major characters; usually, they are round because they are dynamic (see below).  We understand the motivation of these characters (why they do things) and their personal perspective. In Finding Nemo, Marlin is a round character - he starts out very brave, but changes his perspective after an unfortunate incident; later, he changes his perspective again. 

Flat character - a character with a very simple personality; often called "one-" or "two-dimensional" characters.  Unimportant characters are often flat - the writer does not provide enough information for us to understand them; we only get to see one side of the character's personality.  In Finding Nemo, Bruce the shark is a flat character - he is not around very long, and we don't really understand why he does what he does.  His motivations are very simple - when he gets hungry, he tries to eat. 

Static character – a character who does not change throughout the course of the story; a character who does not “grow” emotionally, a character whose personality remains the same at the end of the story as it was at the beginning of the story.  These are usually minor, flat characters. 

Dynamic character – a character whose personality changes during the course of the story; a character who grows, emotionally, due to or learns from the actions or events in the story.  These are usually major, round characters. 

Caricature – the distortion or exaggeration of the peculiarities in a character’s personality, often done to comical effect

Archetype (pronounced arc-type) – A stereotype (personality type observed multiple times, especially an oversimplification of such a type) or an epitome (an typical example of  a personality type, especially an extreme version of such an example)