Character and Characterization Characterization ranks among the most powerful elements of literature. Characters attract us; we can identify with characters in a story. Conversely, character can repel us; we can dislike a character so much that we still feel a magnetism to what the character experiences. Characters and characterization compel us to turn the pages of a story and discover what happens. Characters, particularly the protagonist drive the plot. Think about your favorite stories and how you reacted to the characters. During the last several years, Harry Potter and his friends, teachers, other good characters and bad characters attracted innumerable readers. Frodo and the fellowship of the ring have attracted readers for more than half a century, and the recent Lord of the Rings films continued to attract people. Characters, the persons in a story, poem, or play, and the characterization created by an author drive us to read about their lives and connect, evaluate, and judge them. Characterization is the process of creating a character. The author reveals the character to us through characterization, including the character’s physical appearance and personality. When the writer does the job well, we can see and hear the character, and at least in our imagination the character becomes real. Generally there are six ways an author reveals a character to the reader. These six ways are subject to two processes: indirect and direct characterization. Direct characterization occurs when a writer directly tells a reader directly about a character’s appearance or personality. The writer tells us directly what kind of person the character is in the story. Indirect characterization often leaves the impression and judgment of a character to the reader and his imagination. The writer gives us information about a character, but we must put the clues together and form our own opinions. Generally, there are five ways for a writer to provide indirect characterization. 1. The writer lets us hear the character speak. From the speech pattern and delivery (dialogue) of the character we can learn much characterization. Think about the words the character uses in dialogue and how the dialogue is delivered. 2. The writer can describe how the character looks and dresses. Although the writer is giving this information, we must still take the information and decide for ourselves what it tells us about the character. We create the character in our imagination. 3. The writer may reveal characterization by letting the reader listen to the character’s inner thoughts and feelings; sometimes this is accomplished with interior monologue. This method can reveal much about a character because we are basically hearing/seeing how (and what) he thinks and feels. The writer provides us with a look at the inner person. 4. The writer often provides characterization by revealing what other people in the story think or say about the character. We can form impressions, opinions, and judgments about a character by watching the interaction between the character and other persons in the story. 5. The writer can also show what the character does – how the character acts. How a character acts can reveal much about his disposition and helps us understand what motivates his behavior. In a well-written short story, novella, or novel, a writer will use many, if not all, of the above methods of indirect characterization. When reading a story, remain aware of the characters and their characterization. What is the writer telling us about the characters and the human condition? Among the most important aspects of knowing a character is to understand the motivations of a character – the psychological, intellectual, and physical motivations. Why does a character say what he says? Why does a character make the choices he makes and how does he react with the consequences of his decisions? Is the motivation rational or irrational? Does the character use reason or emotion when making decisions? Are both, reason and emotion used? Often motivations of characters involve their fears and conflicts. How does a character face fear? How does a character confront and resolve conflict? Is the character’s conflict always resolved? Additional terms used with characterization include dynamic, static, round, and flat. A dynamic character changes during the story. We can feel and understand the changes as they occur. A dynamic character usually confronts conflicts – internal or external – forcing changes in the characterization. A static character does not change or changes insignificantly. Generally, a flat character has only one or two traits and can be described in few words. A flat character has no depth and is difficult for us to react with or against. He just seems to be there. Conversely, a round character has several traits or dimensions to his personality and characterization. Much like a real person, the traits of a round character can contradict one another. In other words, we feel and come to know the character as a real person, with all of the complexities that we see in our family and friends. The following table helps to illustrate the above concepts of characterization Character Dynamic Static Development is considered well-done. Often Considered the best type of character Round found in protagonists in books for younger development. Usually the protagonist. children. Characters cannot be dynamic and flat, In very simple books, or in fairy tales, the because in a flat character we do not know protagonist may be flat and static. Also Flat enough about them for them to recognize a appropriate for minor characters in other change. If a flat character seems to change, it books. is usually due to poor writing. Two important terms to understand with literature and characterization are protagonist and antagonist. The protagonist is the central character (person, animal, or personified object) in the plot's conflict; the protagonist is the character who drives the plot – makes the plot happen. An important way the protagonist drives the plot is through conflict, usually supplied by the antagonist. The antagonist is the force in conflict with the protagonist. It may be society, nature, or fate, as well as another person. It can also be the protagonist's own self, if he or she has an internal conflict. Too often readers think of the protagonist as the “good guy” and the antagonist becomes the “bad guy.” This is not necessarily true with fiction or drama. A classic example of the protagonist not being a “good guy” is Poe’s short story, The Cask of Amontillado. When you read for school or for your own enjoyment, think about the characters in the story. What are they about? How would you describe their personality? Why do they do what they do? What does it mean for you and how you look at life? In the best literature and drama, the characters make it work and make it worth your time to read.
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