In fiction, a character (sometimes known as a fictional character) is a person or other being in a narrative (such as a novel, play, television series, film, or video game).The character may be entirely fictional or based on a real-life person, in which case the distinction of a "fictional" versus "real" character may be made. Derived from the ancient Greek word χαρακτήρ, the English word dates from the Restoration, although it became widely used after its appearance in Tom Jones in 1749. From this, the sense of "a part played by an actor" developed. (Before this development, the term dramatis personae , naturalized in English from Latin and meaning "masks of the drama," encapsulated the notion of characters from the literal aspect of masks.) Character, particularly when enacted by an actor in the theatre or cinema, involves "the illusion of being a human person". In literature, characters guide readers through their stories, helping them to understand plots and ponder themes. Since the end of the 18th century, the phrase "in character" has been used to describe an effective impersonation by an actor. Since the 19th century, the art of creating characters, as practiced by actors or writers, has been called characterisation.
A character who stands as a representative of a particular class or group of people is known as a type.Types include both stock characters and those that are more fully individualised. The characters in Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler (1891) and August Strindberg's Miss Julie (1888), for example, are representative of specific positions in the social relations of class and gender, such that the conflicts between the characters reveal ideological conflicts.
The study of a character requires an analysis of its relations with all of the other characters in the work.The individual status of a character is defined through the network of oppositions (proairetic, pragmatic, linguistic, proxemic) that it forms with the other characters. The relation between characters and the action of the story shifts historically, often miming shifts in society and its ideas about human individuality, self-determination, and the social order.
In fiction writing, authors create dynamic characters using various methods. Sometimes characters are conjured up from imagination; in other instances, they are created by amplifying the character trait of a real person into a new fictional creation.
An author or creator basing a character on a real person can use a person they know, a historical figure, a current figure who they have not met, or on themselves, with the latter being either an author-surrogate or an example of self-insertion. The use of a famous person easily identifiable with certain character traits as the base for a principal character is a feature of allegorical works, such as Animal Farm , which portrays Soviet revolutionaries as pigs. Other authors, especially for historical fiction, make use of real people and create fictional stories revolving around their lives, as with The Paris Wife which revolves around Ernest Hemingway.
An author can create a character using the basic character archetypes which are common to many cultural traditions: the father figure, mother figure, hero, and so on. Some writers make use of archetypes as presented by Carl Jung as the basis for character traits.Generally, when an archetype from some system (such as Jung's) is used, elements of the story also follow the system's expectations in terms of storyline.
An author can also create a fictional character using generic stock characters, which are generally flat. They tend to be used for supporting or minor characters. However, some authors have used stock characters as the starting point for building richly detailed characters, such as Shakespeare's use of the boastful soldier character as the basis for Falstaff.
Some authors create charactonyms for their characters. A charactonym is a name that implies the psychological makeup of the person, makes an allegorical allusion, or makes reference to their appearance. For example, Shakespeare has an emotional young male character named Mercutio, Steinbeck has a kind, sweet character named Candy in Of Mice and Men , and Mervyn Peake has a Machiavellian, manipulative, and murderous villain in Gormenghast named Steerpike. The charactonym can also indicate appearance. For example, Rabelais gave the name Gargantuaor to a giant and the huge whale in Pinocchio is named Monstro.
In his book Aspects of the Novel, E. M. Forster defined two basic types of characters, their qualities, functions, and importance for the development of the novel: flat characters and round characters.Flat characters are two-dimensional, in that they are relatively uncomplicated. By contrast, round characters are complex figures with many different characteristics, that undergo development, sometimes sufficiently to surprise the reader.
In psychological terms, round or complex characters may be considered to have five personality dimensions under the Big Five model of personality.The five factors are:
Stock characters are usually one-dimensional and thin. Mary Sues are characters that usually appear in fan fiction which are virtually devoid of flaws,and are therefore considered flat characters.
Another type of flat character is a "walk-on," a term used by Seymour Chatman for characters that are not fully delineated and individualized; rather they are part of the background or the setting of the narrative.
Dynamic characters are those that change over the course of the story, while static characters remain the same throughout. An example of a popular dynamic character in literature is Ebenezer Scrooge, the protagonist of A Christmas Carol . At the start of the story, he is a bitter miser, but by the end of the tale, he transforms into a kind-hearted, generous man.
In television, a regular, main or ongoing character is a character who appears in all or a majority of episodes, or in a significant chain of episodes of the series.Regular characters may be both core and secondary ones.
A recurring character or supporting character often and frequently appears from time to time during the series' run.Recurring characters often play major roles in more than one episode, sometimes being the main focus.
A guest or minor character is one who acts only in a few episodes or scenes. Unlike regular characters, the guest ones do not need to be carefully incorporated into the storyline with all its ramifications: they create a piece of drama and then disappear without consequences to the narrative structure, unlike core characters, for which any significant conflict must be traced during a considerable time, which is often seen as an unjustified waste of resources.There may also be a continuing or recurring guest character. Sometimes a guest or minor character may gain unanticipated popularity and turn into a regular or main one; this is known as a breakout character.
In the earliest surviving work of dramatic theory, Poetics (c. 335 BCE), the Classical Greek philosopher Aristotle deduces that character ( ethos ) is one of six qualitative parts of Athenian tragedy and one of the three objects that it represents (1450a12).He understands character not to denote a fictional person, but the quality of the person acting in the story and reacting to its situations (1450a5). He defines character as "that which reveals decision, of whatever sort" (1450b8). It is possible, therefore, to have stories that do not contain "characters" in Aristotle's sense of the word, since character necessarily involves making the ethical dispositions of those performing the action clear. If, in speeches, the speaker "decides or avoids nothing at all", then those speeches "do not have character" (1450b9—11). Aristotle argues for the primacy of plot ( mythos ) over character ( ethos ). He writes:
But the most important of these is the structure of the incidents. For (i) tragedy is a representation not of human beings but of action and life. Happiness and unhappiness lie in action, and the end [of life] is a sort of action, not a quality; people are of a certain sort according to their characters, but happy or the opposite according to their actions. So [the actors] do not act in order to represent the characters, but they include the characters for the sake of their actions" (1450a15-23).
Aristotle suggests that works were distinguished in the first instance according to the nature of the person who created them: "the grander people represented fine actions, i.e. those of fine persons" by producing "hymns and praise-poems", while "ordinary people represented those of inferior ones" by "composing invectives" (1448b20—1449a5).On this basis, a distinction between the individuals represented in tragedy and in comedy arose: tragedy, along with epic poetry, is "a representation of serious people" (1449b9—10), while comedy is "a representation of people who are rather inferior" (1449a32—33).
In the Tractatus coislinianus (which may or may not be by Aristotle), Ancient Greek comedy is defined as involving three types of characters: the buffoon ( bômolochus ), the ironist ( eirôn ), and the imposter or boaster ( alazôn ).All three are central to Aristophanes' "old comedy".
By the time the Roman comic playwright Plautus wrote his plays two centuries later, the use of characters to define dramatic genres was well established.His Amphitryon begins with a prologue in which Mercury claims that since the play contains kings and gods, it cannot be a comedy and must be a tragicomedy.
[...] is first used in English to denote 'a personality in a novel or a play' in 1749 (The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, s.v.).
Its use as 'the sum of the qualities which constitute an individual' is a mC17 development. The modern literary and theatrical sense of 'an individual created in a fictitious work' is not attested in OED until mC18: 'Whatever characters any... have for the jestsake personated... are now thrown off' (1749, Fielding, Tom Jones).
Originally, the Arthur 'Fonzie' Fonzarelli character was to be a comic relief dropout type, put there for comic contrast to the whitebread Richie and his pals. He was a tall, lanky guy, but when Henry Winkler blew everybody away at his reading, they decided to cut Fonzie down to Henry's size. Ultimately, Winkler molded the character around himself and everybody, including Ron Howard, realized this would be the show's 'breakout' character.
Tragedy is a form of drama based on human suffering and, mainly, the terrible or sorrowful events that befall a main character. Traditionally, the intention of tragedy is to invoke an accompanying catharsis, or a "pain [that] awakens pleasure", for the audience. While many cultures have developed forms that provoke this paradoxical response, the term tragedy often refers to a specific tradition of drama that has played a unique and important role historically in the self-definition of Western civilization. That tradition has been multiple and discontinuous, yet the term has often been used to invoke a powerful effect of cultural identity and historical continuity—"the Greeks and the Elizabethans, in one cultural form; Hellenes and Christians, in a common activity," as Raymond Williams puts it.
In a literary work, film, story or other narrative, the plot is the sequence of events where each affects the next one through the principle of cause-and-effect. The causal events of a plot can be thought of as a series of events linked by the connector "and so". Plots can vary from the simple—such as in a traditional ballad—to forming complex interwoven structures, with each part sometimes referred to as a subplot or imbroglio. In common usage, however, it can mean a narrative summary or story synopsis, rather than a specific cause-and-effect sequence.
A stock character is a stereotypical fictional person or type of person in a work of art such as a novel, play, or a film whom audiences recognize from frequent recurrences in a particular literary tradition. There is a wide range of stock characters, covering men and women of various ages, social classes and demeanors. They are archetypal characters distinguished by their simplification and flatness. As a result, they tend to be easy targets for parody and to be criticized as clichés. The presence of a particular array of stock characters is a key component of many genres, and they often help to identify a genre or subgenre. For example, a story with a knight-errant and a witch is probably a fairy tale or fantasy.
Tragicomedy is a literary genre that blends aspects of both tragic and comic forms. Most often seen in dramatic literature, the term can describe either a tragic play which contains enough comic elements to lighten the overall mood or a serious play with a happy ending. Tragicomedy, as its name implies, invokes the intended response of both the tragedy and the comedy in the audience, the former being a genre based on human suffering that invokes an accompanying catharsis and the latter being a genre intended to be humorous or amusing by inducing laughter.
A backstory, background story, back-story, or background is a set of events invented for a plot, presented as preceding and leading up to that plot. It is a literary device of a narrative history all chronologically earlier than the narrative of primary interest.
Deus ex machina is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly and abruptly resolved by an unexpected and unlikely occurrence. Its function is generally to resolve an otherwise irresolvable plot situation, to surprise the audience, to bring the tale to a happy ending, or act as a comedic device.
Mimesis is a term used in literary criticism and philosophy that carries a wide range of meanings, including imitatio, imitation, nonsensuous similarity, receptivity, representation, mimicry, the act of expression, the act of resembling, and the presentation of the self.
Diegesis is a style of fiction storytelling that presents an interior view of a world in which:
Aristotle's Poetics is the earliest surviving work of dramatic theory and first extant philosophical treatise to focus on literary theory. In this text Aristotle offers an account of ποιητική, which refers to poetry or more literally "the poetic art," deriving from the term for "poet; author; maker," ποιητής. Aristotle divides the art of poetry into verse drama, lyric poetry, and epic. The genres all share the function of mimesis, or imitation of life, but differ in three ways that Aristotle describes:
A literary genre is a category of literary composition. Genres may be determined by literary technique, tone, content, or even length. They generally move from more abstract, encompassing classes, which are then further sub-divided into more concrete distinctions. The distinctions between genres and categories are flexible and loosely defined, and even the rules designating genres change over time and are fairly unstable.
The dithyramb was an ancient Greek hymn sung and danced in honour of Dionysus, the god of wine and fertility; the term was also used as an epithet of the god: Plato, in The Laws, while discussing various kinds of music mentions "the birth of Dionysos, called, I think, the dithyramb." Plato also remarks in the Republic that dithyrambs are the clearest example of poetry in which the poet is the only speaker.
Greek tragedy is a form of theatre from Ancient Greece and Anatolia. It reached its most significant form in Athens in the 5th century BC, the works of which are sometimes called Attic tragedy.
Dramatic structure is the structure of a dramatic work such as a play or film. Many scholars have analyzed dramatic structure, beginning with Aristotle in his Poetics. This article looks at Aristotle's analysis of the Greek tragedy and on Gustav Freytag's analysis of ancient Greek and Shakespearean drama. Northrop Frye also offers a dramatic structure for the analysis of narratives: an inverted U-shaped plot structure for tragedies and a U-shaped plot structure for comedies.
A plot twist is a literary technique that introduces a radical change in the direction or expected outcome of the plot in a work of fiction. When it happens near the end of a story, it is known as a twist or surprise ending. It may change the audience's perception of the preceding events, or introduce a new conflict that places it in a different context. A plot twist may be foreshadowed, to prepare the audience to accept it. There are a variety of methods used to execute a plot twist, such as withholding information from the audience or misleading it with ambiguous or false information.
This glossary of literary terms is a list of definitions of terms and concepts used in the discussion, classification, analysis, and criticism of all types of literature, such as poetry, novels, and picture books, as well as of grammar, syntax, and language techniques. For a more complete glossary of terms relating to poetry in particular, see Glossary of poetry terms.
Alazṓn is one of three stock characters in comedy of the theatre of ancient Greece. He is the opponent of the eirôn. The alazṓn is an impostor that sees himself as greater than he actually is. The senex iratus and the miles gloriosus are two types of alazṓn.
In literature and other artistic media, a mode is an unspecific critical term usually designating a broad but identifiable kind of literary method, mood, or manner that is not tied exclusively to a particular form or genre. Examples are the satiric mode, the ironic, the comic, the pastoral, and the didactic.
Characterization or characterisation is the representation of persons in narrative and dramatic works. The term character development is sometimes used as a synonym. This representation may include direct methods like the attribution of qualities in description or commentary, and indirect methods inviting readers to infer qualities from characters' actions, dialogue, or appearance. Such a personage is called a character. Character is a literary element.
Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of performing art that uses live performers, usually actors or actresses, to present the experience of a real or imagined event before a live audience in a specific place, often a stage. The performers may communicate this experience to the audience through combinations of gesture, speech, song, music, and dance. Elements of art, such as painted scenery and stagecraft such as lighting are used to enhance the physicality, presence and immediacy of the experience. The specific place of the performance is also named by the word "theatre" as derived from the Ancient Greek θέατρον, itself from θεάομαι.
In film and television, drama is a category of narrative fiction intended to be more serious than humorous in tone. Drama of this kind is usually qualified with additional terms that specify its particular super-genre, macro-genre, or micro-genre, such as soap opera, police crime drama, political drama, legal drama, historical drama, domestic drama, teen drama, and comedy-drama (dramedy). These terms tend to indicate a particular setting or subject-matter, or else they qualify the otherwise serious tone of a drama with elements that encourage a broader range of moods.