fiction Fiction is any creative work A creative work is a manifestation of creativity, creative effort including Work of art, fine artwork (sculpture, paintings, drawing, Sketch (drawing), sketching, performance art), dance, writing (literature), filmm ...

, a character is a
person A person (plural people or persons) is a being that has certain capacities or attributes such as reason Reason is the capacity of consciously applying logic Logic is an interdisciplinary field which studies truth and reasoning Reason is ...

or other being in a
narrative A narrative, story or tale is any account of a series of related events or experiences, whether nonfiction Nonfiction (also spelled non-fiction) is any document A document is a written Writing is a medium of human communication Comm ...

(such as a
novel A novel is a relatively long work of narrative A narrative, story or tale is any account of a series of related events or experiences, whether nonfiction Nonfiction (also spelled non-fiction) is any document A document is a written ...

play Play most commonly refers to: * Play (activity) Play is a range of Motivation#Incentive theories: intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, intrinsically motivated activities done for recreational pleasure and enjoyment. Play is commonly associated w ...
television series A television show – or simply TV show – is any content produced for viewing on a television set A television set or television receiver, more commonly called the television, TV, TV set, tube, telly, or tele, is a device that combines a ...
film A film, also called a movie, motion picture or moving picture, is a work of visual art The visual arts are art forms such as painting Painting is the practice of applying paint Paint is any pigmented liquid, liquefiable, ...

, or
video game#REDIRECT Video game A video game is an electronic game that involves interaction with a user interface or input device such as a joystick, game controller, controller, computer keyboard, keyboard, or motion sensing device to generate visual f ...
). 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 Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language Greek ( el, label=Modern Greek Modern Greek (, , or , ''Kiní Neoellinikí Glóssa''), generally referred to by speakers simply as Greek (, ), refers collectively to the diale ...
word χαρακτήρ, the English word dates from the
Restoration Restoration is the act of restoring something to its original state and may refer to: * Conservation and restoration of cultural heritage * Restoration style Film and television * The Restoration (1909 film), ''The Restoration'' (1909 film), a ...
, 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.Harrison (1998, 51-2) quotation: (Before this development, the term ''
dramatis personae Dramatis personae (Latin Latin (, or , ) is a classical language belonging to the Italic languages, Italic branch of the Indo-European languages. Latin was originally spoken in the area around Rome, known as Latium. Through the power of ...
'', naturalized in English from Latin and meaning "masks of the drama," encapsulated the notion of characters from the literal aspect of
mask A mask is an object normally worn on the face The face is the front of an animal's head that features the eyes Eyes are organs An organ is a group of tissues with similar functions. Plant life and animal life rely on many organ ...

s.) Character, particularly when enacted by an actor in the
theatre Theatre or theater is a collaborative form of performing art that uses live performers, usually actor, 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 p ...

cinema Cinema may refer to: Film * Cinematography Cinematography (from ancient Greek Ancient Greek includes the forms of the Greek language used in ancient Greece and the classical antiquity, ancient world from around 1500 BC to 300 BC. It ...

, 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 An impersonator is someone who imitates or copies the behavior or actions of another. There are many reasons for impersonating someone: *Entertainment: An entertainer impersonates a celebrity, generally for entertainment, and makes fun of t ...
by an actor. Since the 19th century, the
art Art is a diverse range of (products of) human activities Humans (''Homo sapiens'') are the most populous and widespread species of primates, characterized by bipedality, opposable thumbs, hairlessness, and intelligence allowing the use ...
of creating characters, as practiced by actors or writers, has been called
characterisation Characterization or characterisation is the representation of persons (or other beings or creatures) in narrative A narrative, story or tale is any account of a series of related events or experiences, whether nonfiction Nonfiction (also spell ...
. A character who stands as a representative of a particular Social class, class or group of people is known as a type.Baldick (2001, 265). 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 Conflict (narrative), conflicts between the characters reveal Ideology, 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, Pragmatism, pragmatic, Linguistics, linguistic, Proxemics, proxemic) that it forms with the other characters. The relation between characters and the action of the story shifts historically, often Mimesis, 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.

Real people, in part or in full

An author or creator basing a character on a real person can use a person they know, a historical figure, a current figure whom they have not met, or 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 Allegory, 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.

Archetypes and stock characters

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 Jungian archetypes, 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 Plot (narrative), 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 Gargantuar to a giant and the huge whale in ''Pinocchio'' is named Monstro.


Round vs. flat

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 personality traits, Big Five model of personality. The five factors are: * Extraversion and introversion, extraversion (outgoing/energetic vs. solitary/reserved) * agreeableness (friendly/compassionate vs. critical/rational) * openness to experience (inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious) * conscientiousness (efficient/organized vs. extravagant/careless) * neuroticism (sensitive/nervous vs. resilient/confident) 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 vs. static

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.

Regular, recurring and guest characters

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 list of breakout characters, breakout character.

Classical analysis

In the earliest surviving work of dramatic theory, ''Poetics (Aristotle), Poetics'' (c. 335 BCE), the Greek philosophy, Classical Greek philosopher Aristotle deduces that character (''ethos'') is one of six qualitative parts of Classical Athens, Athenian tragedy and one of the three objects that it Mimesis, 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).Janko (1987, 9, 84). He defines character as "that which reveals Decision making, 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 Ethics, 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 (narrative), plot (''Mythos (Aristotle), mythos'') over character (''ethos''). He writes: 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 (drama), 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 Irony, ironist (''eirôn''), and the imposter or boaster (''alazôn''). All three are central to Aristophanes' "old comedy". By the time the Roman Empire, Roman comic playwright Plautus wrote his plays two centuries later, the use of characters to define dramatic genres was well established. His ''Amphitryon (Plautus play), Amphitryon'' begins with a prologue in which Mercury (mythology), Mercury claims that since the play contains kings and gods, it cannot be a comedy and must be a tragicomedy.''Amphritruo'', line 59.

See also



* Aston, Elaine, and George Savona. 1991. ''Theatre as Sign-System: A Semiotics of Text and Performance''. London and New York: Routledge. . * Baldick, Chris. 2001. ''The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms.'' 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford UP. . * Burke, Kenneth. 1945. ''A Grammar of Motives''. California edition. Berkeley: U of California P, 1969. . * Carlson, Marvin. 1993. ''Theories of the Theatre: A Historical and Critical Survey from the Greeks to the Present.'' Expanded ed. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. . * Childs, Peter, and Roger Fowler. 2006. ''The Routledge Dictionary of Literary Terms.'' London and New York: Routledge. . * Eco, Umberto. 2009
On the ontology of fictional characters: A semiotic approach.
''Sign Systems Studies'' 37(1/2): 82–98. * Elam, Keir. 2002. ''The Semiotics of Theatre and Drama''. 2nd edition. New Accents Ser. London and New York: Routledge. . Originally published in 1980. * Goring, Rosemary, ed. 1994. ''Larousse Dictionary of Literary Characters.'' Edinburgh and New York: Larousse. . * Harrison, Martin. 1998. ''The Language of Theatre''. London: Routledge. . * Hodgson, Terry. 1988. ''The Batsford Dictionary of Drama.'' London: Batsford. . * Janko, Richard, trans. 1987. ''Poetics with Tractatus Coislinianus, Reconstruction of Poetics II and the Fragments of the On Poets.'' By Aristotle. Cambridge: Hackett. . * McGovern, Una, ed. 2004. ''Dictionary of Literary Characters.'' Edinburgh: Chambers. . * Pavis, Patrice. 1998. ''Dictionary of the Theatre: Terms, Concepts, and Analysis.'' Trans. Christine Shantz. Toronto and Buffalo: U of Toronto P. . * Pringle, David. 1987. ''Imaginary People: A Who's Who of Modern Fictional Characters.'' London: Grafton. . * Rayner, Alice. 1994. ''To Act, To Do, To Perform: Drama and the Phenomenology of Action.'' Theater: Theory/Text/Performance Ser. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. . * Trumble, William R, and Angus Stevenson, ed. 2002. ''Shorter Oxford English Dictionary on Historical Principles.'' 5th ed. Oxford: Oxford UP. .. * {{Authority control Drama Narratology