The UVic Writer's Guide

Character and Characterization

Characters are the persons presented in works of narrative or drama who convey their personal qualities through dialogue and action by which the reader or audience understands their thoughts, feelings, intentions and motives. (See also Personsa .Characters either remain stable in their attitudes throughout a work (static characters) or undergo personal development and change, whether through a gradual process or a crisis (dynamic characters); but in any case they usually remain consistent in their basic nature.

A flat character (also known as a type, or a two-dimensional character) is defined by a single quality without much individualizing detail. A round character is a complex individual incapable of being easily defined. The degree to which characters are given roundness and individual complexity depends upon their function in the plot--some only need to be seen at a distance, like strangers or acquaintances, rather than known intimately. Even fully rounded characters can often be seen as developments of types, like Shakespeare's Falstaff, who derives in part from the Vice of the medieval morality play and in part from the miles gloriosus or boastful soldier of Roman comedy (see Stock Characters ). The distinction between flat and rounded characters, while useful, should not obscure the fact that there is a continuum of levels of character development; many characters will fall between the two poles, lightly sketched, or even caricatured.

Two methods of characterization often distinguished are those in which the author shows without comment a characters' words and actions, implying rather than describing their traits; or tells the reader directly about the characters--explicitly, even intrusively guiding the audience's understanding of characters through commentary and evaluation. Modern narrative tends to develop character indirectly, whereas many nineteenth century novelists chose to explain their characters directly--but there are brilliant exceptions in each period. (See also Point of View .)

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Copyright, The Department of English, University of Victoria, 1995
This page updated September 23, 1995