Throughout my life, I’ve been told two things about character: a) it’s whatever good you’re willing to do, and b) it’s best when there are flaws.
These are obviously two different personal definitions. Character is either the quality of a trait or an actual person. A good character has flaws, a bad character doesn’t. And yet you have bad character when you act poorly. It all makes for a wonderful contradiction when you think about it, one of those words that are just ripe for wordplay. And I like wordplay–it makes for good fun.
If you’re having trouble imagining it, just count the characters: I like this character because he has poor character and so is a good character.
Just look at it–in one sentence, there are four different definitions of the word “character,” two of which may be interpreted in more than one way. You can’t do that with every word that comes around.
Now, back to the business at hand. Characters–the people, this time–evolve. It’s important to remember that. A main character needs to be dynamic; if it isn’t dynamic, then it isn’t the main character. That means the narrator can be a secondary or even tertiary character (more on my perceived character levels later). For example, take Death in Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief. For those who haven’t read the book, what’s important here is that he’s an omniscient narrator, and a very good one at that.
If I were to read the book over, I could probably go through and find some minute changes in Death. But that’s the whole point of a story, right? That everyone changes? We could argue all day that Nick in The Great Gatsby changes, if only minutely.
But that’s not the point of a main character. The main character doesn’t change minutely; it evolves.
Death is not the main character of The Book Thief. Liesel is, just as Gatsby is in The Great Gatsby. Why? Because the main character evolves. And it’s not always something so significant as “he’s alive in the beginning and dead at the end.” If that were the case, all characters would be the main character.
All ranting aside, though, this isn’t the point. Oh, sure, main characters evolve during the actual story. But they also evolve during the process of creating a story. From an idea, or even just a notion, to a full-fledged character. Some characters start out as characters, and might change very little between the starting point and ending point. Others only begin as a hunch, or as thought-experiments, nothing but vaguely swirling images.
That’s all for now. This could get lengthy, so I should stop here. Up next: Character creation at its most basic (A.K.A. mostly my observations of how others create characters, because it’s different for everyone).