Friday, August 28, 2015

Viewpoint: Static vs Dynamic Characters and Twilight

Confession: I'm really, really behind the times when it comes to some trends.

Like, for instance, the Twilight saga by Stephenie Meyer.

I haven't actually read the books. (There's a disclaimer for you.) It's possible, therefore, that everything in this post will be rendered not applicable because I only have the movies to critique, so just be prepared for that.

That said, I first saw the movies in a two-day marathon earlier this month. I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. Some people absolutely adore the Twilight saga, the books, the movies, the characters, the town of Forks, and everything affiliated. Some people can't stand any of the above, for a number of reasons.

Here's what I discovered ...

Characters in Fiction

Fictional characters can be classified in many different and equally valid ways.

You might have the protagonist, the antagonist, the mentor, and the foil. Or the hero, the love interest, the sidekick, and the villain.

You might classify characters according to genre requirements: human beings, paranormal characters, supernatural characters, fairy tale creatures, or aliens.

You might decide to sort the characters according to personality type in your novel or short story. Perhaps there's a choleric and a sanguine, not getting along. Or an ISTP and an ENFP (see the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) trapped in an elevator or on a boat or on an island or in a penthouse suite.

One of the most important ways, however, to categorize your characters gives you two options. Your character can be dynamic or static.

Dynamic Characters

Dynamic characters are those who change, grow, and evolve throughout a story, novel, or series. These characters tend to be the protagonists, the main characters, the ones we want to read about because things happen to them and they change as a result.

Think Ebenezer Scrooge in Dickens' A Christmas Carol. In the beginning of the story, Scrooge is a greedy, clutching, irascible, unreasonable, demanding, impatient, unkind old miser. Frankly, by the end of the novel, if he were still all of that, we'd probably have slammed the book closed long since.

But in the end of the story, because of what he's shown in his interactions with the ghosts of his past, present, and future, he's a changed man: generous, thoughtful, loving, contented. And the result is a wholly satisfying story.

Or what about Elizabeth Swann (no relation to Bella in the Twilight series) in the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy movies? She starts out as a well-to-do, relatively well-behaved, sheltered, courteous, conscientious young lady of society in the first movie, and by the third movie, she's been transformed by all her experiences into the King of the Brethren Court by the Pirate Lords, a swashbuckling buccaneer in her own right.

That's a dynamic character.

Static Characters

Static characters, on the other hand, are just the opposite: those who don't change, grow, or evolve as the story progresses. Their characteristics at the beginning of the story are basically the same characteristics they possess at the end.

Often, supporting (secondary) characters are static: the ones with whom the protagonist interacts on his or her dynamic journey, but who don't necessarily change, themselves. That isn't always the case, though. An excellent example of a static character is the protagonist Sherlock Holmes, whose mental prowess, wit, ingenuity, habits, and interests remain essentially unchanged throughout all of his adventures.

Static characters are less interesting to read about. If we wanted to read about people who stay the same, stuck in the same routines and patterns, doing the same things, and never maturing or evolving or learning, we wouldn't read fiction. We couldn't even read most nonfiction.

The best stories are about things that happen to characters and who the characters become as a result.

Which brings me back around to Twilight.

Bella Swan, Protagonist

I have to call Bella Swan the protagonist in the Twilight saga. She's the character around whom everything else centers, the one everyone is usually fighting to protect and/or rescue, the one with whom others (Edward and Jacob) fall in love, the catalyst of many of the plot points that take place throughout the novels.

But here's my contention. I suggest that she's not a dynamic character. She's a static character.

Which is probably precisely why I was so bored throughout my self-imposed movie marathon.

Consider. Bella never seems to evolve emotionally or psychologically. She doesn't get stronger or more capable. She starts out as kind of a colorless, dull, listless high school student with no friends, no hobbies, and no interests ... and she ends the series the same way (except that she's less colorless, thanks to having been turned into a vampire).

Things happen to Bella. She doesn't make things happen. She doesn't work to change things. She has no life goal or motivation or agenda apart from sleeping with and marrying Edward and being changed into a vampire ... all of which leave her wholly dependent on someone else's participation (Edward's, mostly) to make happen.

She doesn't invite change. She doesn't really learn or mature as the series goes on. Even having been transformed into a vampire in the last, she's still the one everyone works to protect, and she still has no interests of her own.

The words that come to mind to describe her are flat, two-dimensional, and, to put not to fine a point on it, boring.

Who wants to cheer for a character who is completely uninteresting and never gets any more interesting as time passes?

Give me a protagonist, a heroine, with panache, with drive, with something for which to live. I'd even rather have a character who starts out moral and ethical and then devolves into something hideously evil at the end --- still a dynamic process! --- than a lukewarm one who stays the same.

How about you?

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