Understanding Static Characters
Most of this month has been focused on character development. One of the greatest forms of character development is a lack of any development at all: The static character.
This is not a flat character, a character which lacks interesting traits and therefore remains the same. This is a character that, when given the chance to change, does not.
Take the simple protagonist formula. You have a character with a flaw. That flaw is what he is trying to overcome, and if he can overcome it he will win. An example would be we have a student who has a C. He wants to get a B overall in class, but he struggles to study due to the distractions of the world. Through the story, he begins to study and is able to tune out other activities. He gets his B.
However, what if the siren’s call of video games, sports, and girls is just too much for this poor student to handle? We watch him fail time and time again, where he goes straight to the TV, though we know he has homework to complete.
Take Sun Wukong, the Monkey King from Journey to the West. Wukong is always playing pranks, to the point the gods come down to deal with him. They offer him a position in heaven, hoping responsibility will calm him. Bold move, Jade Emperor.
Wukong isn’t given glamorous jobs, but he’s given a rank and a place to live. Pride, the same pride that made him unruly on earth, caused him to scoff at his lower rank and a lack of invitation to a party. There is no humility, there is only the belief he must be the best and treated as such, so he gets drunk, gorges himself, then goes back to his kingdom and prepares for war. He crushes the heavenly forces.
Eventually Buddha makes a bet against Wukong. All Wukong needs to say is he’s out. He needs to eat his pride, put on the armor of humility, and walk away. However, he thought he was better than Buddha and ended up trapped under a mountain for five centuries. His inability to change meant in the final conflict of his personal story he failed, despite how powerful he was. Continuing on he does make slight changes, but a head splitting headband helps his progression.
(caption: An image of Sun Wukong from Paragon. He’s not thinking philosophy. He’s pondering how to give a massive wedgy.)
Sometimes the static character is a constant in a world of change. Sherlock Holmes is who he is. He solves crimes, does drugs, and strives to perfect his detective abilities at the cost of knowledge outside his expertise and a social life.
Holmes is obsessed with solving cases. He is so obsessed with the mental stimulation that he turns to drugs when he is not on the job. The man is an addict, and he does not care one bit to change that.
Then there is Watson. The two live together for a time. Holmes, ever the bachelor married only to his work, watches as Watson gets married and starts a family of his own.
Holmes also fends off the future. Watson goes to Holmes in an earlier story with information about the solar system. Holmes replies he will immediately forget the information as it does not pertain to detective work.
The antagonist will not win due to Holmes’ unwillingness to change. He will continue to save the day and stop the bad guys. The world around him, always moving forward, is simply a contrast to this man’s inability to strive into the future and break his static bindings.
Sun Wukong and Sherlock Holmes are both immensely interesting characters. They have rich lives, they endure harrowing trials, and we like them, in their way. I mean, Wukong pees into some jars and convinces some monks to drink it. What’s not to like? But in the end, neither character will change their ways. They will always succumb to their vices and addictions. They will always extol their virtues. In the face of adversity and progress, the static character stands their ground and refuses to move.
[Tweet theme=”tweet-string”]the static character stands their ground and refuses to move. @ourwriteside #writingtips #amwriting[/Tweet]