Writing Dynamic Characters

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Dynamic characters change over the course of the book. They don’t stay static, or the same. Maybe they change their minds, learn new skills, or evolve in some way. Or, perhaps they change for the worse and go down a dark path. Either way, they are not the same at the end as they were at the beginning. Readers like to read about dynamic characters because they’re interesting, and the reader wants to know how they’ll react to new challenges. Read on to see if you’re writing dynamic characters, and if not, how to add in some dynamism.

What are dynamic characters?

Unlike a static character who doesn’t change his beliefs, worldview, or personality throughout a novel, a dynamic character isn’t the same person by the end of the book. A dynamic character changes; however, those changes don’t necessarily have to be for the good.

I often use Walter White from the hit show Breaking Bad as an example, and in this case, he’s a great sample of dynamism. Walt starts off the TV series as a mild-mannered high school science teacher/family man. He seems like a good guy, though he’s kind of kicked around—especially at work. Six seasons later, Walt is an international drug kingpin who is nobody’s idea of meek. Characters can change in negative ways or positive ones. This transformation was undeniable. In fact, one of the best parts of this show was watching Walt’s morals and character erode. It made the audience at once root for him to succeed and yet cringe at his failings.

Room for static characters?

If dynamic characters are so great, is there ever room for static characters? The answer is: of course! The key is to create them on purpose—not by accident. Sometimes characters are static to provide a foil for another. Think Disney villains. They start bad, and they end bad, but that consistency makes it easier for the hero to shine. Sometimes heroes are static—they start off as good-natured crusaders against evil and that’s where they stay. They are contrasts to the corruption surrounding them.

Another reason static characters exist is to poke fun at something or to be used in satire. Stephen Colbert’s character on The Colbert Report was a blowhard narcissist who believed his own hype. He never deviated from this portrayal because it was meant to be amusing that he never learned his lesson and never grew, despite the squandered opportunities to do so. The character of Ron Burgundy on Anchorman is very similar with the same effect. His purposeful doubling down on bad behavior despite changing times around him made the satire sharper.

How to create a dynamic character?

Now that we’ve discussed the reasons to write a dynamic character, let’s talk about how to do it. The first step is to create a well-rounded character. This means you want to know your protagonist’s fears, upbringing, strengths, weaknesses, desires, etc. Even your hero shouldn’t be perfect, and a big key to making them both well-rounded and dynamic is for them to have a deficiency. If they didn’t, how would they grow, right? Maybe they are wrong about something, and they’ll learn their lesson throughout the novel. Or, perhaps they want to do something for which they don’t yet have the skill set. Being wrong or having a weakness gives them room to improve, and yes, change. Here’s more on creating characters with depth and backstory: Breathing Life into Backstory.

Next, make sure your protagonist has a realistic motivation for going through the trouble of metamorphosis. Most of us crave inertia—and your main character probably does too. Why would they bother learning these new skills or deviating from the path they were on? Would Katniss Everdeen have volunteered for the hunger games if her sister wasn’t threatened? Make sure that this motivation isn’t easy—it should cause both internal and external conflict. After all, the only thing readers like to see more than dynamic characters is those beloved protagonists tangled up in page-turning conflicts.

In short, characterization will drive plot and vice versa. As your hero is confronted by more and greater challenges, he will be tested, and when that happens, he will learn and grow. Whether he meets the moment like Katniss or resolves to profit by any means necessary like Walt—only you can decide.

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About Author

Mary is a young adult writer and archaeologist. By day she teaches at a local college, and by night she writes about the adventures of adolescence.

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