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Characterization: Character Roles & Dialogue in Fiction

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  • 0:01 Characters and More Characters
  • 0:56 Classifying Characters
  • 3:21 Characterization
  • 4:55 Listening to Characters
  • 6:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will talk about characters and characterization. We will explore the various types of characters, examine some methods of characterization, and pay special attention to the role of dialogue.

Characters and More Characters

Have you ever encountered a literary character who seems so real that he or she might just jump right off the page and into your living room? What made that character so special? Was it the details the author included about his or her personality and actions? Was it the words you 'heard' the character speak? In this lesson, we're going to focus on literary characters and learn how authors bring them to life.

First off, let's think about what characters are and the kinds of characters we encounter in fiction. Characters are the players in a story, the people (or animals or other creatures) who act and are acted upon. They drive the story's plot, but they also allow readers to meet and reflect on many different types of people with many different types of personalities and problems.

Classifying Characters

We can classify characters in several ways.

1. Major characters vs. minor characters. Major characters are central to a story; they take a leading role in the story's primary events. These characters are complex, and they develop throughout the story. Minor characters, on the other hand, support the major characters throughout the story's action, but they are not as highly developed. In J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series, for instance, Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley are major characters while Luna Lovegood, Neville Longbottom, and Seamus Finnigan are minor characters.

2. Protagonists vs. antagonists. A protagonist is a story's central character who faces a major conflict that must be solved before the story's end. An antagonist opposes the protagonist and serves as an obstacle that the protagonist must overcome to resolve the conflict. Harry Potter, for example, is a protagonist, while his archenemy, Voldemort, is an antagonist.

3. Dynamic vs. static. Dynamic characters grow and change as a story progresses. Static characters stay pretty much the same throughout the story. Harry Potter, for instance, grows and changes as he faces various challenges and learns about himself, his past, and his destiny. Seamus Finnigan, on the other hand, stays about the same throughout the series; his personality does not grow or develop.

4. Round vs. flat. Round characters are complex in personality and often conflicted as they try to solve difficult problems. In flat characters, authors typically emphasize one or two major characteristics or personality traits. Harry Potter, for example, is a round character. We see many sides of his personality and watch as he discovers who he is as person and tries to balance various aspects of his character. Luna Lovegood, on the other hand, is known mostly for her tendency to believe anything, the crazier the better, and also for her surprising wisdom.

Characterization

Authors describe and develop their characters through a process known as characterization. Characterization allows authors to provide all kinds of details about characters' physical traits, personalities, motivations, actions, and responses.

When describing their characters, authors can choose either direct or indirect characterization. In direct characterization, the author simply tells the reader about a character's traits. Indirect characterization, on the other hand, shows the characters in action and invites readers to discover their traits through their words and choices.

For example, direct characterization looks something like this: Sarah was always a nervous person. She tended to be anxious about the smallest things and was subject to constant worries.

Indirect characterization might look like this: Sarah fidgeted in her chair, gnawing on one of her fingernails as she glanced around the room, trying not to meet anyone's eye. Her thoughts jumped randomly from that strange noise her car made earlier to her upcoming house payment to a potentially unpleasant meeting two weeks from now.

Both samples characterize Sarah. In the first, the author tells readers directly what Sarah is like. In the second, the author shows Sarah in action and gives us a glimpse into her thoughts, leaving readers to draw the conclusion that Sarah is a nervous person.

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