English 250 Fiction Unit:
Characterization 1 — Character Development

250FictionCharacterization 1 Lit Analysis

Character development

A well-developed character is one that has been thoroughly characterised, with many traits shown in the narrative. The better the audience knows the character, the better the character development. Thorough characterisation makes characters well-rounded and complex. This allows for a sense of realism. As an example, according to F.R. Leavis, Leo Tolstoy was the creator of some of the most complex and psychologically believable characters in fiction. In contrast, an underdeveloped character is considered flat or stereotypical.

Character development is very important in character-driven literature, where stories focus not on events, but on individual personalities. Classic examples include War and Peace or David Copperfield. In a tragedy, the central character generally remains fixed with whatever character flaw (hamartia) seals his fate; in a comedy the central characters typically undergo some kind of epiphany (sudden realization) whereupon they adjust their erratic beliefs and practices, and avert a tragic fate. Historically, stories and plays focusing on characters became common as part of the 19th century Romantic movement, and character-driven literature rapidly supplanted more plot-driven literature that typically utilizes easily identifiable archetypes rather than proper character development.

Direct vs. indirect characterisation

There are two ways an author can convey information about a character:

Direct or explicit characterisation:
The author literally tells the audience what a character is like. This may be done via the narrator, another character or by the character him- or herself.

Indirect or implicit characterisation:
The audience must deduce for themselves what the character is like through the character’s thoughts, actions, speech (choice of words, way of talking), looks and interaction with other characters, including other characters’ reactions to that particular person.

Characterisation in Drama

In performance an actor has less time to characterise and so can risk the character coming across as underdeveloped. The great realists of dramaturgy have relied heavily on implicit characterisation which occupy the main body of their character driven plays. Examples of these playwrights are Henrik Ibsen, August Strindberg and Anton Chekhov. Such psychological epics as The Seagull indirectly characterise the protagonists so that the audience is drawn into their inner turmoils as they are slowly revealed over the 3 hours of time spent with the characters. The actors taking on these roles must also characterise over a long period of time, to the point that there seems to be no direct statement of who the character is at any point, this realism in acting requires the actor to characterise from their own persona as a starting point. The audience therefore does not recognize a realistic characterisation immediately.

However the playwright and actor also have the choice of direct characterisation in a similar vein to the writer in literature. The presentation of a character for a sociological discussion only has to be as real as the discussion requires. In this way a character can be used as an iconic reference by a playwright to suggest location, an epoch in history, or even draw in a political debate. The inclusion of a stock character, or in literary terms an archetypal character, by a playwright can risk drawing overly simplistic pictures of people and smack of stereotyping however the degree of success in direct characterisation in order to swiftly get to the action varies from play to play and often according to the use the character is put to. In explicitly characterising a certain character the actor makes a similar gamble. The choice of what aspects of a character are demonstrated by the actor to directly characterise is a political choice and makes a statement as to the ethics and agenda of the actor and the play as a whole. Examples of direct characterisation are found in mime especially, and in Epic theater, yet also in the work of Steven Berkoff, The Wooster Group, and Complicite.

Both implicit and explicit characterisation in drama can result in a problematic, politically unstable character, even a stereotype. And conversely both direct and indirect characterisation can make complex and unique characters depending on the choices made by those doing the characterising.


[Adapted from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Characterization ]