Two Surefire Signs of a Static Character

Two Surefire Symptoms of Static Characters

When you think of good characters, what words come to mind? How about dynamic? Dynamic characters are the stuff of literary legend. But at the other end of the spectrum, we have static characters.

Except in instances in which the author purposefully leaves the character unyielding and unchanged over the course of the book to prove a point—these are usually the most forgettable and boring characters of the lot. Fortunately, there are two surefire symptoms you can look for to diagnose whether or not your characters are falling prey to the static syndrome.

Static Character Symptom #1: Lack of Personal Connection to Plot

The first symptom of static characters is their lack of personal connection to the plot. If they can walk away from the conflict, at any point, without suffering significant ramifications, you can bet they don’t have enough at stake.

The whole story revolves around your protagonist. Without this character, there shouldn’t be a story. So if you find your main character isn’t embroiled deeply enough within the central conflict, you either need to up the stakes for this character personally—or find a different protagonist who already has plenty at stake. In short, the protagonist’s involvement in the plot must matter at very personal level, preferably on both a physical and spiritual level.

Static Character Symptom #2: Lack of Character Change

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The second symptom is the lack of change within your character over the course of a story. To be compelling, protagonists need to show a defined character arc. At the end of the story, they shouldn’t be the same people they were at the beginning.

Ask  yourself:

  • How is this story changing your protagonist?
  • What is your protagonist learning?
  • How is your protagonist growing?

If these questions don’t have solid answers that define your plot, your character is probably static—and, as a result, far less interesting or relatable than readers would like.

Keep your eyes open for these two symptoms, and stop static cling before it begins!

Wordplayers, tell me your opinions! Does your main character have any static tendencies? Tell me in the comments!

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.

Comments

  1. it’s like with any process, film or person, dynamics and change, are what ignites the interest. Life is a motion.

    Grigory

  2. Not really. However, their changes might not be as drastic as one might see, because they’ve got major issues to let go of and four books in which to let go. 😉

  3. @Grisha: Exactly. We’re not the same people today we were yesterday, and, the need for consistency aside, our characters shouldn’t be either.

    @Misha: Series characters can get away with a lot more “static-ness.” Just think about TV shows. Their characters change by infinitesimal degrees, if at all. Not that I recommend taking that radical approach; that’s one of the reasons I’m not a big fan of most TV shows.

  4. The one character in my book who is probably the most static, doesn’t seem so because he’s surrounded in mystery. When I think about what he does, and how he thinks, it’s not so much that it changes but the reader comes to understand him better. He’s an elderly character, so his period of rapid change is far behind him — unlike the protag, who is college-aged. So I think that because the elderly character changes in our eyes, even if not in the story per se, he reads like a dynamic character.

    Possibility?

  5. That works for me. The very fact that this character isn’t the protagonist gives you all kinds of leeway to let him be static. Readers will appreciate that their understanding of the character evolves, but since he’s a minor character, you likely could have gotten away with letting him be static. Although it’s great to have minor characters with character arcs, the only person in your story who can’t be static is your protagonist.

  6. K.M., I agree about the TV shows. Worst example of a static character is House M.D. I loved the detective in a hospital premise and the character was almost charming in his obnoxiousness. Until he wasn’t anymore. I can’t stand to watch the show anymore because while people changed around him, the main character wouldn’t budge.

    Another thing I think it’s easy to fall into as a writer is changing your character too fast. Like, if he’s a reluctant hero who is always tripping over his own feet, he can’t suddenly be super suave and determined to save the world. Every once in a while this spoils a book for me as a reader.

    As a writer, I’m still figuring this all out, so thank you for the insights and food for thought. 🙂

  7. That’s absolutely an important point. The change within the character has to be organic. It has to happen for good reason, and it has to paced so as to be realistic. The only thing worse than a static character is one who has an overnight transmogrification.

  8. A thought-provoking post! It made me look at all my characters in my second MG novel. Even the ones on the fringes of the action had too much invested to walk away. I never thought of this before so thanks for the eye-opener!

  9. This is a really useful post. I had applied the character arc test to my protagonists (not always with stellar results! : (, but your other criterion, lack of connection to the plot, is one I hadn’t thought of. Thanks so much!

  10. @Fiona: If your characters are invested, odds are your readers will be too. So good job!

    @Annie: Really, there’s so much to consider in crafting a story. It’s easy to lose track of a few necessities here and there. Glad the post was useful in that regard!

  11. This is great. Thanks for the reminders to keep our character from becoming static. I hate it when that happens. 🙂

  12. Static’s no fun whether it’s in our clothes or our characters – though between the two I’d rather it be in my clothes!

  13. I am told the only exception to the rule that the protagonist must change over the course of the story is James Bond. Mr. Bond is always the same at the end of the story as he was at the beginning. He never changes.

    I am lucky that the protagonist in my story is based upon me: full of flaws and weaknesses with a lot of room and need to change.

  14. I’m sure Bond isn’t the *only* exception, but he’s definitely a prominent one. He’s also a good example of how and why static characters have to be in the right type of story (in this case a plot where the action purposely takes all the precedence over the character development) to work.

  15. Such great reminders! It sounds weird, but as I’m plotting a story, I’ll re-read James Scott Bell’s “Plot & Structure.” This reminds me to deepen the character and amp up the stakes. Thanks so much!

  16. True. Remember, too, that a dynamic story makes for extra dynamic characters. Plot well and characters can’t help BUT be dynamic.

  17. @Julie: Doesn’t sound weird at all. When I’m in the midst of writing a first draft, I always making reading something short on the craft a part of my warm-up routine.

    @Lexus: I’ve read my share of great plots that suffered from flat characters, but a dynamic plot can never *hurt* the characters, that’s for sure.

  18. K.M Thank you. I am struggling with my protagonist, she doesn;t want to change. She is too afraid of all the ramifications or so I thought it was she who didn’t want to change, turns out it was me, wanting to keep her static.
    Strange, how much we protect our characters from harm, or maybe thats just me and my novel.

    And thanks for words like “transmogrification” Today I will use it in several sentences I LOVE it.

  19. Part of the problem is that we tend to identify with our characters so strongly that we don’t want to hurt them, lest we be hurt in turn. Really, the person we need to be identifying with is the bad guy – because we’re the ones who need to turn up the heat and start making things so uncomfortable for our protagonists that they have no choice but to change!

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