What is a Dynamic Character?

Let’s say you have your main character, and you want them to be dynamic. What do you do?

A dynamic character is great for readers, and can be some of the most memorable literary elements in a story.

But what is a dynamic character, and how can you get one?

In this article, you will learn:
  1. What a dynamic character is
  2. Why they are important
  3. How dynamic characters relate to a real person
  4. Some examples of dynamic characters in literature and film
  5. How you can create a complex personality with a dynamic character

What is a Dynamic Character?

A dynamic character is a character who changes over the course of the story.

This change can be huge, it can be positive, it can be negative. In fact, there are a lot of different ways this change can go.

For the majority of stories out there, a dynamic character has what’s called a “positive arc,” where they improve in some way during the plot.

However, it’s possible for characters to have a negative arc, where they end up worse off than when they started. These are more rare, but can be extremely powerful.

There are even more rare instances when a character arc might seem flat, but is actually dynamic. Take Katniss Everdeen from the The Hunger Games for example. Her moral positions and her skill remain mostly the same throughout. But her commitment to her morals, and the amount of trying situations she’s been through have increased. So Katniss is still a dynamic character.

Pro Tip: You can have dynamic characters as many different types of characters, including protagonists, antagonists, and secondary characters. For now, we’ll mostly talk about protagonists, but understand that everything we say can apply to virtually any character type, including a minor character.

Dynamic Characters in Action

Here are some easy ways to know if your character is dynamic.

  1. At the end of a story, do they feel different about something or someone? Generally, a dynamic character changes internally, a shift in moral values, in confidence, or other psychological ways.
  2. Do others see them differently? One way to spot a good dynamic character is that people will often view them differently. This isn’t always the case (a static character can often be viewed in many ways from observing characters), but it’s a good clue.
  3. During the story, do the situations force the character to adapt? A character will not change on a whim. There has to be a reason, situations that force the change to happen.
  4. Does the primary conflict of the story have any impact? Every story should have conflict. Does that conflict have any major effect on the protagonist? Does it cause them to change or view the world in a different way?
  5. What about external changes? Another good clue that a character is dynamic, is whether or not they have external changes in addition to internal ones. An external conflict could lead to an improvement in skills, but it could also be more literal, such as their style, appearance, the loss of a limb (especially if you’re a Star Wars character), etc.

Why Are Dynamic Characters Important?

We, as humans, love to see growth in a character, because that is what we all aspire for ourselves, improvement. Even when a character undergoes a negative character arc, we still look at that as a sort of warning for our own lives.

Dynamic Characters are important for primarily the following reasons:

  1. Just as we seek for growth in our own lives, we love to see it in others. A dynamic character gives audiences that search for improvement.
  2. In real life, people don’t stay the same, so a dynamic character arc gives realism to your character.
  3. A dynamic character can really create movement in the plot. By changing, their actions have different consequences, and therefore new things can happen in the story.

Not all stories need a dynamic character, per se. Characters like Sherlock and James Bond have done well without any for some time. But that said, imagine how boring Star Wars would be if Luke never learned to use the Force, never wanted to go on an adventure, and just stayed and farmed for the rest of his life.

We seek after dynamic characters. Even Sherlock and James Bond have seen more recent stories with character arcs in them (with BBC’s Sherlock and Casino Royale, respectively), and they are widely regarded as some of the best stories with those characters.

In other words, it’s important to learn how to develop a dynamic character.

Dynamic Character vs. Round Character

A dynamic character is a character that changes.

A round character is a character that is well-developed. They are fleshed out with a complete backstory, motivations, flaws, etc.

These are not necessarily the same thing. You can have a dynamic character who changes and is not very round (maybe Anakin Skywalker?), and you can likewise have a round character who is not very dynamic (Atticus Finch, for example).

That said, most well-written dynamic characters are also round characters, and vice versa. But they are not the same thing, nor does a character have to be both.

Dynamic Character vs. Static Character

As the name suggests, a static character (sometimes called a flat character) does not change during the story. They retain the same level of competence, the same values, the same personalities, etc.

Static characters are not necessarily a bad thing. They can often act as springboards for the characters around them to interact with.

For example, in To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is a static character that facilitates the dynamic character development of his daughter, Scout. She is the dynamic character here, and Finch’s static position gives her something to observe and reach for.

Likewise, static characters can be introduced for comedic effect, or to throw a wrench in the plot, such as Mr. Collins in Pride and Prejudice. Some protagonists are static characters, changing the world around them, rather than being changed by it, but this is more rare.

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Examples of Dynamic Characters

There are literally millions of dynamic characters in storytelling. You could pick up almost any story, and you’d find it there. However, there are a few that really stand out, so here are some of our favorites.

Positive Character Arcs

  • Ebenezer Scrooge, in A Christmas Carol (the classic example)
  • Simba, in The Lion King
  • Scout, in To Kill a Mockingbird
  • The Beast, in Beauty and the Beast
  • Han Solo, in Star Wars: A New Hope

Negative Character Arcs

  • Hamlet, in Hamlet
  • Macbeth, in Macbeth
  • Anakin Skywalker in Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
  • Walter White, in Breaking Bad

Side note: If you ever want a challenge in writing, try working on a negative character arc. They can be absolutely phenomenal when done right.

How to Write a Dynamic Character

Okay so we know what a dynamic character is, why they’re important. So how do I get one in my story?

Here is our step-by-step process to create a dynamic character.

Step 1: Create a Character Profile

In order to have a dynamic character, you need to get to know them. You can do this by creating a character profile, which lists all of the major character details, psychology, backstory, and more.

A profile can be as simple as a few paragraphs explaining your character’s history, or it can be a multi-page 10K dossier that chronicles everything about your character’s life.

See our article about creating a character profile.

Step 2: Interview Your Character

Different from a character profile, you can also conduct an “interview” with your character.

This is a process where you write down a conversation, as if you were sitting in a room with your character and asking them questions.

You can ask as many questions as you want, and it’s handy to assume the character knows what you’re talking about, and will not get offended at anything you say (otherwise, this mock interview can escalate real fast, depending on the character).

This is a fantastic exercise to discover your character. It also gives you practice at writing dialogue in their voice.

Step 3: Give Them strong Motivations

A good motivation is one of the strongest driving forces for a character. If they aren’t motivated, they won’t do anything.

Motivation is also a catalyst for change. If a character wants something enough, they will do whatever is necessary to get it, including changing themselves.

That said, a character can often be motivated for the wrong thing, which can lead to a negative character arc in some cases, but can also lead to more positive change when your character realizes that what they thought they wanted wasn’t what they truly needed, aka a dynamic character arc.

Step 4: Give Them a Character Flaw

If your character is a Superman, there is no real reason for them to change. They are already perfect in every respect.

So give your character a flaw, something that they can overcome by the end of the novel.

This can be anything from a nervous tick, to a crushing disability. But usually it’s an internal flaw, a way of thinking that gets the character into trouble, and that they will have to confront as they encounter the plot’s conflict.

Step 5: Make Them Likeable

To balance the previous step, make sure that your character is also likeable, in addition to having a flaw.

Having too big of a flaw, or too many flaws, can make your readers lose interest in the character. You still want the character to root for them, so make sure that there’s enough redeeming qualities about your character so that readers will ignore their failings.

A great way to do this is the use the “Save the Cat” method, made famous by Blake Snyder. The idea behind this method is to show your character doing something good at the beginning of your story.

If you want your readers to like a character, show them petting some puppies.

If you want your readers to hate a character, show them kicking some puppies.

This is a simple analogy, but it gets across the basic idea. Have your character do something likeable, and your readers will likewise grow fond of the character.

Step 6: Give Them Internal Conflict

A fantastic way to create a dynamic character is to give them internal conflict.

The best way to do this is to leverage your character’s motivations, fears, and flaws, and have them interact.

For example, your character could have two strong motivations. They could be scared of fire, but also love their baby sister more than anything.

Then you’ll want to find a way for these two motivations to conflict, like have his baby sister trapped in a burning building.

By doing this, your character will have to get over certain flaws or fears in order to save the day, creating change.

So, ask yourself how your characters flaws will keep them from their goals. Then use that to your advantage to instigate inner change.

Step 7: Incorporate Try/Fail Cycles

A try/fail cycle is where the character tries to overcome the conflict, but fails.

They must then try again, but as Albert Einstein said, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”

So if a character fails the first time, they must try again and do something different. This is the foundation of change.

Perhaps the character will have to try harder, gain more allies, try a different technique, overcome a personal obstacle, etc.

Doing any of these and having your character try again will generate change in that character.

We recommend using a try/fail cycle at least three times throughout your story.

Step 8: Escalate

As the story progresses, it should get bigger and bigger, with the conflict becoming more and more formidable.

There are two ways to do this:

  1. Deepen the conflict: make it more personal to the character.
  2. Widening the conflict: make the conflict even bigger.

When the conflict grows, so too must your character in order to keep up. The aforementioned try/fail cycles are great opportunities to escalate the conflict, and demonstrate your character’s growth as a result.

Dynamic Characters: Conclusion

If you, the writer, want one of the best results for your character, find a way to create major change.

While not all characters are dynamic, or need to be, it almost always helps. Each personality trait can be exploited to generate a satisfying conclusion, particularly when propelled by the plot conflict.

Once you understand these principles, you’ll have no problem getting a reader invested in your narrative.

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