A compelling story is built on contrast. One way of setting up the pieces of your tale is through dynamic and static characters.
Dynamic and static characters show up in a huge range of fiction thanks to their tried-and-tested results. In fact, you’d be hard-pressed to find literature that doesn’t have these archetypes appearing in some fashion!
Creating a memorable narrative that engages your reader starts with traditional groundwork. We’re going to explain dynamic vs. static characters, the role each one fills in your story, and why they resonate deeply with readers regardless of genre, style, or plot.
What’s the difference between a static character and a dynamic character?
The difference between static and dynamic characters is that a static character remains unchanged in their personality, beliefs, and values from beginning to end, while a dynamic character undergoes a dramatic internal shift. A dynamic character will start off with one or more particular strengths, weaknesses, or perceptions that become inverted by the end of the story.
We’ll explore both of these character types in more detail down below.
What is a dynamic character?
Quick dynamic character definition: A dynamic character refers to a character that undergoes a deep, significant change over the course of the story. Most main characters will fall under this character type.
Growing and shifting, the dynamic character is a rewarding archetype that appears in most stories because we love to see characters grow. Think about the last time you read a book where the protagonist goes through heartwrenching trials and tribulations through the course of the plot. How satisfied were you when they emerged more confident and brave than they were at the beginning of the tale? What was the catharsis you felt when they overcame their internal conflict, gained a new power, or solved a mystery?
This is what you want your reader to be feeling when they read your book.
Popular dynamic characters in literature
Let’s get you started with a few dynamic character examples in beloved novels.
Boromir from The Lord Of The Rings
One part dynamic and two parts tragic, Boromir is an impressive showcase of how you can get the best of multiple worlds in one character.
Boromir starts out as the prideful son of a steward who’s in charge of guarding—but not ruling—the throne of Gondor. He’s resistant to the idea of the rightful heir, Aragorn, taking his place as king. His dynamic character arc involves warming up to the man, later sacrificing himself for the cause and considering him king in his last breaths.
“I would have followed you, my brother. My captain.”
White Fang from White Fang
A novel told from the perspective of a half-wolf, half-dog hybrid, White Fang is one of the best dynamic characters on both a structural and creative level. The title character goes through great inner change, shifting from a wild creature with a deep distrust for humanity into a loving member of a human family.
Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice
The book’s name alone shows the dynamism you’ll experience in the story’s primary cast. The story centers on a daughter of an elderly estate owner who finds herself in the difficult position of having to marry to secure her financial safety.
Our protagonist displays both pride and prejudice in her interactions with her love interest Darcy. This well developed character learns to look beyond the surface and not jump so quickly to conclusions.
Arya Stark from Game Of Thrones
Our last example is Arya Stark, a standout in among the major characters in the popular Game Of Thrones series. Her character starts off feisty and impulsive, later maturing over the story into a disciplined and ruthless fighter with her heart set on justice.
Popular dynamic characters in television and film
There are quite a few examples of well developed dynamic characters in television and film, too!
Prince Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender
A well-known example of a character that changes significantly from the throughout the story is Prince Zuko, a banished prince with his sights set on capturing the fabled Avatar.
His meaningful character arc shifts from an angry, emotionally isolated prince eager for his father’s twisted approval to a self-assured young man who’s learned how to choose his family.
Chihiro from Spirited Away
Spirited Away has won countless awards for its story, animation, and direction. It’s also brimming with dynamic characters, such as the well-written protagonist Chihiro.
This example goes from a moody and nervous kid to a confident and compassionate young woman by the end of the film. While she still has the same personality—her development isn’t a complete 180—her transformation is a satisfying portrayal of the archetype.
What is a static character?
The opposite of dynamic characters are static characters. The static character definition is someone who remains unchanged over the course of a story.
Contrary to popular belief, this archetype is not automatically inferior due to less character development. In fact, many static characters offer a fantastic contrast to the ever-evolving dynamic character (we’ll show you some examples of static characters below).
Since they stay relatively the same from the beginning to the very end, static characters serve to make the dynamic main character feel all the more profound. They’re are also a little easier to write thanks to having fewer changing character traits to keep up with.
Now, keep in mind that not all static characters are entirely unmoving. Their personality traits might change a little bit here and there, but won’t experience a dramatic shift in worldview. It’s best to think of static vs. dynamic as a spectrum instead of an either-or denominator.
Popular static characters in literature
Not sure how to spot or write static characters? Here are some examples of static characters to show you what they look like on the page.
Professor Lupin from the Harry Potter series
Professor Lupin is a character from the Harry Potter series beloved for his calm, collected demeanor, dispensing wisdom and dispelling tense situations alike.
While he doesn’t go through significant changes, this static character example resonates with readers as a classic mentor archetype.
Martin the Warrior from Redwall
A character that shows up throughout the Redwall series is Martin the Warrior, a skilled swordsmouse whose name is known in the Redwall abbey’s halls. He later gets his own novel to dive into how he earned his title.
While he does experience danger and grief, his character traits remain relatively consistent throughout the story.
Alice from Alice In Wonderland
Alice was intentionally crafted as a stable centerpiece to juxtapose the unpredictability of Wonderland. Her purpose isn’t to show major change, but to help the reader feel grounded in a fantastical setting.
Her character is enjoyable for her practical perspective and unerring politeness in the face of the delightfully rude world of Wonderland.
Popular static characters in television and film
Let’s take a look at a few more static character examples in other media.
Uncle Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender
Prince Zuko’s dynamism is a stellar contrast to Iroh’s more static nature. Iroh is Zuko’s uncle and a former war general who helps the prince in his attempt to restore his regal standing.
Iroh is a multifaceted character, simultaneously good-humored and playful as well as wise and ruthless. He also went through most of his character development before the events of the story. As such, he’s mostly the same character throughout the series, with the biggest exception being his developing relationship as Zuko’s replacement father-figure.
“Good times become good memories, but bad times become good lessons.”
Harley Quinn from Batman: The Animated Series
This is a great example of how a static character can grow to become dynamic later on. In her first appearance in Batman: The Animated Series, Harley Quinn was designed as a tragic and intentionally static character.
Harley Quinn is the sidekick of the infamous Joker, as well as a victim of domestic violence that struggles to see the reality of her situation. As such, this character remains depressingly similar throughout the course of the plot. It wasn’t until later that she grew into a character with her own arc and agency.
This true-to-life portrayal cements this anti-villain as one of the most clever and subtle uses of the static character archetype.
Is a static character the same a flat character?
Static characters are not the same as flat characters. A static character is simply a character that doesn’t change much in the story in terms of their beliefs, abilities, and/or goals. They can still have a unique personality that amplifies the story’s central themes.
Flat characters, by contrast, are one-note and lack interesting details. As a result, they stay the same way and come and go in stories with little impact. You may be tempted to think these characters are commonly delegated to the status of secondary characters or minor characters, but they can be protagonists or antagonists.
Just like a static character contrasts a dynamic character, the opposite of a flat character is called a round character. Your story should be full of “round characters,” even if they don’t all go through cataclysmic change.
How to recognize a static vs. dynamic character
If you’re not sure if your character is static or dynamic, ask yourself:
Which character seems unchanging and why?
Which character seems most complex and why?
Who changes the most by the end of the story? Likewise, who changed the least?
How does the character’s personality change or lack of change support the story’s themes or conflict?
Static and dynamic characters are a staple of powerful casts
Static and dynamic characters are a sturdy foundation of any good story. These protagonists and side characters echo the duality of life’s constancy and unpredictability in literary form. That’s why we love seeing them arise in our favorite books again and again.