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Chapter 4: Characters – The People in Fiction

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1 Chapter 4: Characters – The People in Fiction
ENG 404: AP English Literature and Composition Unit I: Genre Study - Fiction

2 Section 1: Characters and Characterization
Traits vs. Circumstances Characterization Dimensions of Character Verisimilitude

3 Characters in Fiction The presentation and understanding of character is a major aim of fiction (and literature generally). A character is a verbal representation of a person, portrayed through action, speech, description, and commentary. Each action or speech, no matter how small, is part of a total presentation of the complex combination of both the inner and the outer self that constitutes a human being.

4 Character Traits A trait is a quality of mind or habitual mode of behavior that is evident in both active and passive ways. A given trait may be minor, or it may be a person’s primary characteristic. By analyzing the thoughts, actions, and speeches of literary characters, you can draw conclusions about their nature and their qualities.

5 Character Traits vs. Circumstances
It is important to distinguish between a character’s traits and circumstances. Traits are internal and integral parts of the character. They may change over the course of a story, but only through character development (learning and reflection). Circumstances are external to the character. They may change due to the character’s actions or due to external forces (e.g. other characters, fate, etc.). Circumstances have value only if they demonstrate and/or impact a character’s traits.

6 How Authors Disclose Character
The actions of characters reveal their qualities. What characters do is our best clue to understanding what they are. Like real people, fictional characters do not necessarily understand how they may be changing or why they do the things they do. The author’s descriptions tell us about characters. Includes descriptions of appearance and environment Tells the reader about traits and well as circumstances

7 How Authors Disclose Character continued . . .
What characters say reveals what they are like. Characters’ speeches not only move the plot forward, they also provide material from which you may draw conclusions about the speaker, listener, and subject. Often, characters use speeches to obscure their motives. Be on the lookout for discrepancies between a character’s words and his/her actions, circumstances, traits, etc. Explore the implications of such discrepancies in terms of plot, characterization, meaning, etc.

8 How Authors Disclose Character continued . . .
What others say tells us about a character. By studying what characters say about each other, you can enhance your understanding of the character being discussed. Speeches often indicate something beyond (even other than) what the speakers intend, perhaps because of prejudice, stupidity, or foolishness.

9 How Authors Disclose Character continued . . .
The author, speaking as a storyteller or an observer, may present judgments about characters. What the author, speaking as a work’s authorial voice, says about a character is usually accurate, and the authorial voice can be accepted factually. When the authorial voice interprets actions and characteristics, the author himself/herself assumes the role of a reader or critic, whose opinions are therefore open to question.

10 Types of Characters: Round vs. Flat
The basic trait of round characters is that we are told enough about them to permit the conclusion that they are three-dimensional, rounded, authentic, memorable, original, and true to life. Depicted in a variety of settings and roles Characterized by both individuality and unpredictability Full development of character may be tied to unfolding of plot Multi-dimensionality allows for internal, as well as external, conflict

11 Types of Characters: Round vs. Flat
Flat characters are not complex, but are simple and one-dimensional. They may have no more than a single role to perform in a story, or they may be associated with no more than a single dominating idea. Stock characters are standard character types that appear in certain types of literature. Representative characters illustrate the major trait(s) of their class or group. Stereotype characters possess no traits or attitudes beyond those typically ascribed to their class or group.

12 Types of Characters: Dynamic vs. Static
Dynamic characters recognize, change with, or adjust to circumstances. Such changes may be shown in An action or actions; The realization of new strength and affirmation of previous decisions; The acceptance of new conditions and the need for making changes; The discovery of unrecognized truths; or The reconciliation of a character with adverse conditions.

13 Types of Characters: Dynamic vs. Static
Static characters, by contrast, end pretty much where they begin. Their absence of growth or development results from lack of knowledge or understanding, or even from stupidity or insensitivity.

14 Dimensions of Character
Round and Static Character Multiple dimensions of character portrayed Is unable or unwilling to change Refusal to change may be source of conflict in story May act as a foil for the more dynamic protagonist Round and Dynamic Character Usually the protagonist or other major character Response to the need to change may be source of conflict in story Change may be required in one key aspect of character or in character’s entire worldview Flat and Static Character Defined by only one character trait that does not change over time Usually play relatively minor roles May be used as plot device, symbol, cautionary figure, or comic relief May be stock, representative, or stereotype character Flat and Dynamic Character Defined by one trait, but able and willing to change May act as a foil for the more round and dynamic protagonist

15 Reality and Probability: Verisimilitude
Characters in fiction should be true to life. Therefore, their actions, statements, and thoughts must all be what human beings are likely to do, say, and think under the conditions presented in the literary work. Verisimilitude: the quality of being true to life Probability: the quality of being likely to happen Plausibility: the quality of being possible and/or conceivable You should distinguish between what characters may possibly do and what they most frequently or most usually do.

16 Reality and Probability: Verisimilitude
The donne of a work influences its standards of probability. Works that attempt to mirror life set up a pattern of ordinary, everyday probability. Less realistic conditions establish different frameworks of probability, in which characters are expected to be unusual. Even works containing supernatural figures may adhere to more traditional standards of probability.

17 Section 2: Writing about Characters
General Notes General Strategies Questions for Consideration Organizing Your Essay

18 Notes on Character A character is a verbal representation of a human being A character trait is a quality of mind or habitual mode of behavior and should not be confused with a character’s circumstances Authors use five ways to bring characters to life Actions by characters reveal their natures The author’s descriptions tell us about characters What characters say reveals what they are like We learn about characters from what other say about them The author, speaking as a storyteller or observer, may tell us about characters

19 Notes on Character continued
Characters may be dynamic or static Characters may be round (well-developed) or flat (one-dimensional) Characters should be true to life Characters’ actions should be in keeping with what the author has established as their traits and personalities (verisimilitude, probability, plausibility) Probability does not rule out surprise or even exaggeration

20 General Strategies Topic will usually be a main character, although you might decide to study one or more minor characters While re-reading the text, take notes on Character traits Methods of characterization If you discover unusual or well-emphasized traits, determine what they show about the character

21 Questions for Consideration
Who is the major character? What do you learn about this character from his/her own actions and speeches? From the various methods of characterization? How important is the character to the work’s principal action? Which characters oppose the major character? How do the major character and opposing character(s) interact? What effects do these interactions create? What actions bring out important traits of the main character? To what degree is the character creating or just responding to the events? Characterize the main character’s actions: Are they good or bad, smart or stupid, etc.? How do they help you understand the protagonist? Describe and explain the traits, both major and minor, of the character you plan to discuss. To what extent do the traits permit you to judge the character?

22 Questions continued In what ways is the character’s major trait a strength—or a weakness? As the story progresses, to what degree does the trait become more or less prominent? Is the character round and dynamic? How does the character recognize, change with, or adjust to circumstances? If the character is flat and/or static, what function does he/she perform in the story? If the character is a stereotype, to what type does he/she belong? To what degree does the character stay in the stereotypical role or rise above it? What does the storyteller or narrator say about this character? How valid are his/ her comments and insights? Is the character lifelike or unreal? Consistent or inconsistent? Believable or not believable?

23 Organizing Your Essay on Character
Develop a central trait or major characteristic Shows how the story embodies the trait Focus on the differing ways in which the author presents the character Explain a character’s growth or change Describe traits present at the beginning and then analyze changes or developments Stress actual alterations as they emerge without retelling the story Describe traits and analyze how they are brought out within the work (methods of characterization)

24 Organizing continued Organize your essay around a number of separate characteristics Most major characters are round, showing many different traits and qualities Allows for analysis of relationship between complementary traits or tension between contradictory ones Analysis of multiple character traits should clarify connections between them Organize your essay around central actions, objects, or quotations that reveal primary characteristics Show how such elements serve as signposts or guides to the character(s)

25 Organizing continued Develop qualities of a flat character or characters Develop topics such as Relative significance of the character The group the character represents The relationship of the flat character to the round ones The importance of this relationship Any additional qualities or traits Explain Circumstances or defects that keep the character from being round Importance of these shortcomings in the author’s presentation of the character

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