Dynamic characters can bring a plot to life, stay in the mind of readers for years to come, and inspire change. However, there is a myriad of ways to create a dynamic character, and the term itself can be misleading. A dynamic character is not always outgoing, as the term may imply. In fact, some of the most dynamic characters can be reserved and collected. Whatever personality your novel’s protagonist or the focal character of your nonfiction takes, making him or her dynamic can be integral to creating a great story.
That said, there are a few questions to get out of the way before diving into the creation of dynamic characters. The more you understand at the forefront, the simpler it will be to create a character that brings life to your story.
In this guide to the dynamic character concept we discuss:
- What Is A Dynamic Character
- When To Write A Dynamic Character
- How To Write A Dynamic Character
- What are Examples Of Dynamic Characters
- Drafting Considerations
The deeper understanding you have, the better you will be able to wield the tools that create a dynamic character. So let’s start with the definition.
What Is A Dynamic Character
According to Dictionary.com, a dynamic character is, “A literary or dramatic character who undergoes an important inner change, as a change in personality or attitude.”
Consider the protagonist in Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebeneezer Scrooge. Even in his 1843 novella, Dickens understood the importance of a dynamic character. More on him later.
Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, the protagonist of your story should have some type of character arc by the last page. Character arc is crucial because without it, there is little journey to take your readers on. Some of the most loved stories are made up of dynamic characters going through difficult circumstances and reaching the last page changed.
Dynamic characters are the power behind story. They take the plot from passive to active and tie plot points together. Whether you’re writing fiction with a traditional protagonist, or nonfiction where the protagonist is yourself or perhaps even your reader, it’s imperative to take your readers on a transforming journey.
When considering how to write a dynamic character, it’s essential to first define the difference between static characters and dynamic characters. Artist and stage designer Es Devin says, “You need to start without light to find it.”
There must be a polar opposite to find the other. In the same way, it’s crucial to understand what a static character is in order to understand what a dynamic character is.
Static Characters Versus Dynamic Characters
According to Dictionary.com, static characters are, “A literary or dramatic character who undergoes little or no inner change; a character who does not grow or develop.”
Just as darkness is important for light, static characters are important for dynamic characters. Sometimes the most impactful way to show the dynamic change of a character is to mirror them with a static character.
If a book was made up of only dynamic characters (fictional characters transforming their worlds or nonfiction protagonists all creating great change), it would likely fail to bring the ring of truth. The world, and therefore our readers’ world, is made up of both active and passive people, static and dynamic individuals. As you choose how to best portray the individuals or characters in your book, keep the above in mind.
When To Write Dynamic Characters
When to write a dynamic character depends on the goal of your story. There are great stories of characters who entered a difficult situation and overcome the situation without losing the core of who they are. While these can be inspiring stories, there is also a time and place to combine this strength with dynamic growth.
For instance, for nonfiction, if you’re writing a memoir and want to communicate how you overcame difficulties without losing the core of who you are, you may need to leave the dynamic character writing for your next novel. However, if your memoir is about how you overcame a difficult situation without losing your morals, while also growing and changing, writing yourself as a dynamic protagonist is an honest way to communicate your story.
For fiction, dynamic characters can go a long way in making your book both memorable and impactful. Watching a character transform from insecure to bold and daring, or from hurt and wounded to strong and empathetic can be an inspiration to readers. We often love to read stories about characters we want to be like. As humans, we grow and change. Whether learning how to execute a task better at our job or interpersonally as we learn to relate with others at a deeper level, we are growing.
As a writer, communicating this through a flawed and human, yet dynamic character, can be transformational for your readers. For a reader to close your book and think, if they could do it I can do it, is an honor. So practically, how do you write a dynamic character?
How To Write A Dynamic Character
The exact execution of how to write a dynamic character depends on many factors:
- The genre of your book
- The purpose of your book
- The other characters
- Your specific plot
- Your protagonist’s personality
If your protagonist is by nature extremely shy, introverted, or insecure, their dynamic shift will look different than an extroverted, confident, or bold character. Before beginning to write your dynamic character, take time to consider their personality in-depth. Consider asking yourself these questions:
- What is your protagonist’s backstory?
- His ideal way to spend free time?
- What must she overcome?
- Greatest desire?
- Greatest fear?
Next, consider how these questions would influence writing the following protagonists:
- Example 1: A single mother, afraid of ending up completely alone.
- Example 2: An introverted teenager whose parents adopt a special needs child.
- Example 3: A veteran with PTSD who wants to share his story for his grandchildren.
- Example 4: An insecure heir to the throne who could use his newfound power for his own good.
As you read these examples, take note of how their different desires and character weaknesses will influence their character arc in dynamic ways. The single mother may have to focus on her children for a season, rather than her personal dreams. The teenager may have to overcome her introversion to help her new sibling adjust, or she may become a recluse who never leaves the house for the rest of her life. The veteran may need to face his demons in order to share his story and leave his legacy for his grandchildren. The heir to the throne may need to overcome his insecurities in order to help his people, rather than use his power for his own gain.
When writing dynamic characters, often what differentiates a protagonist from an antagonist is how they overcome their weaknesses for the greater good.
With the example of the heir to the throne, if he lets his insecurity rule and uses his power for his own corrupted good, he is doing so at the expense of the kingdom (think Commodus in Gladiator, a static character, antagonist).
The single mother could let her fear of being alone rule her and completely ignore her children, to their detriment. She’d be working against the greater good and thus be an antagonist.
When you pair the fears or goals above with dynamic characters, instead of static characters, you’ll often produce more memorable protagonists.
What Are Examples Of Dynamic Characters?
Ebenezer Scrooge’s (Example 5) character arc is so dynamic he has gone down as a classic character and is still studied today. His last name, “Scrooge,” became modern vernacular for anyone who was stingy, cold, and selfish, especially around Christmas time. But if you’ve read the story, you know that’s not how he ends. He transforms into a giver.
While classic examples are helpful because they are commonly known and studied, some more current examples may inspire your own writing.
Let’s dive in. Spoilers ahead!*
- Example 6: In Andy Weir’s The Martian, botanist Mark Watney finds himself trapped in an environment he knows little about. He must change in order to learn to survive. Although his journey takes place alone, his character grows as he builds on the strengths he already possesses and strengthens them to the point where he can sustain life on Mars. While his personality may be more laid back, his character growth is dynamic in that it takes him from certain death to surviving on a planet far from earth.
- Example 7: If you’ve read (or watched) the Divergent series, you know Beatrice Prior, otherwise known as Tris, is the main protagonist throughout the books. When Divergent begins, Beatrice is a shy girl nervous to take her aptitude test. By the time she realizes she is divergent, she’s fighting to keep her secret hidden and her family safe. This fight results in dramatic, dare I say dynamic, character growth that transforms her into a bold yet still caring individual.
- Example 8: Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games trilogy follows a similar character arc. She begins on page one wondering where her little sister is and soon after is immediately plunged into a life or death reality. Her initial goal is to save her sister from the deadly Hunger Games, but by the end of the third book, she has gone up against the villain himself, broken down his empire, and started a new life with her family.
- Example 9: Winston Graham’s Poldark portrays a dynamic character through one of his protagonists, Demelza. She begins her journey saved from a street brawl, dirty, and rejected by her family. Taken in as a maid, Demelza slowly learns a new way of life, while not putting off her old ways too quickly. She is still brash and daring, simply in a new context. As she grows, so do the dynamics of her character. She comes full-circle, being accepted into society on the very streets she once brawled in.
Characters are by nature both dynamic and static.
Whether they grow in one large area and remain unchanged in one small area, most human characters usually possess both dynamic and static traits. As you draft your dynamic character, remember to add human qualities. Humans usually have a little hero and a little villain, a little perfection and a little imperfection, inside. To be human is to be imperfect. A dynamic character grows through these imperfections and transforms through circumstance. Unless they’re an antihero.
Pair the appropriate context with the right character, create a dynamic arc, and then walk with your reader through every scene. Show the dynamics that are at play, the fight between apathy and passion, pursuit and abandon, stillness and resolve. A dynamic character grows, but it is not always a quick process.
Take your time, revisit your character, and add layers to every draft. To be a dynamic writer involves creating a dynamic story. Whether you write fiction or nonfiction, do your research on dynamic characters as well as static characters. Decide what is best for your story, and of course, your protagonist. Then sit in the chair, put your fingers to the keyboard or the pencil in your hand, and begin writing.
Incorporate those human character traits. Then let your imagination and research take over. Writing a great character is worth the effort, the time, and the persistence involved. You can do it!