Character Definition: Key Traits & Development Tips
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 9 min read


  1. What is character in literature?
  2. The role of character in storytelling
  3. Character types
  4. Character traits
  5. Character development
  6. How to create believable characters
  7. Character development examples
  8. Character writing tips

Every good story you've ever read, every movie you've ever watched, and every play you've ever seen has one thing in common: characters. And no, we're not just talking about the people who appear in the story. We're talking about the characters who drive the story forward, who make us laugh, cry, and root for them, who stay with us long after we've closed the book or walked out of the theater. But what exactly is a character? Let's dive into the definition of character, particularly in the context of literature.

What is character in literature?

In literature, a character is not just a person in the story. It's a complex concept that involves a lot more than just a name and a description. At its most basic, the definition of character in literature refers to the mental and moral qualities distinctive to an individual in a story. These characters can be people, animals, or even inanimate objects — as long as they have some sort of personality or disposition that sets them apart.

But there's more to a character than just their mental and moral qualities. A character is also defined by their role in the story, their development over time, and their relationship with other characters. These elements combine to create a character's identity, their distinctiveness, their uniqueness. Think of your favorite characters from literature. What makes them stand out? Is it their bravery, their humor, their kindness? These traits are part of their character.

But a character isn't just a list of traits. It's a living, breathing entity that evolves over the course of the story. This evolution, or character development, is an important part of the definition of character in literature. It's what makes a character feel real, believable, and relatable. And it's what makes us care about what happens to them.

So, when you're reading a book and you come across a character you love (or love to hate), remember: there's a lot more to that character than meets the eye. They're not just a person in the story. They're a complex blend of traits, relationships, and development that make them uniquely them. That's the definition of character in literature.

The role of character in storytelling

Now that we've dissected the definition of character, let's move on to their role in storytelling. You see, characters are not just set pieces in the narrative; they are the heart and soul of the story. They are the driving force that propels the plot forward, the lens through which the reader experiences the narrative, and the emotional anchor that keeps the reader engaged.

Firstly, characters are the agents of action in a story. They make decisions, take actions, face consequences, and through this process, the narrative unfolds. Whether it's Harry Potter deciding to go after the Philosopher's Stone or Katniss Everdeen volunteering as a tribute in the Hunger Games, it's the characters' actions that set the story in motion.

Secondly, characters serve as the reader's window into the story world. Through their thoughts, feelings, and perceptions, the reader gains insight into the world of the story and the events taking place. For example, through Scout's innocent and curious eyes, we see the injustices and complexities of society in "To Kill a Mockingbird".

Lastly, characters are the emotional heart of the story. They are the ones the readers empathize with, root for, and even grieve for. It's through our emotional connection with the characters that we truly engage with the story. We laugh with Elizabeth Bennet in "Pride and Prejudice", we cry with Hazel in "The Fault in Our Stars", and we feel the tension with Winston Smith in "1984".

In essence, characters are not just elements of the story; they are the story. They bring the narrative to life, they guide us through the narrative landscape, and they make us feel. That's the pivotal role of character in storytelling.

Character types

As we delve deeper into the definition of character, it's important to know that not all characters are created equal. There are different types of characters that serve diverse roles in a story. Let's discuss four main types: protagonist, antagonist, supporting characters, and minor characters.

The protagonist is the main character around which the story revolves. This character drives the plot, faces the major conflict, and undergoes significant changes. Think of Harry Potter, Frodo Baggins, or Luke Skywalker. They're the central figures who take us on an emotional journey.

On the other side of the spectrum lies the antagonist. This character opposes the protagonist, stirring up conflict and tension. Remember Voldemort, Sauron, or Darth Vader? They're the ones who make the protagonist's journey challenging and exciting.

The supporting characters are essential in enriching the story and adding depth to the main characters. They can be friends, family, mentors, or anybody who aids the protagonist. Characters like Ron and Hermione in Harry Potter, or Samwise Gamgee in Lord of the Rings, are excellent examples.

Lastly, minor characters serve to fill the story world and support the plot. They may not have a significant role or undergo development, but they contribute to the overall texture of the story. Think about the shopkeepers, classmates, or background characters that populate your favorite books.

Recognizing these character types is a key step in understanding the depth and complexity of a narrative. It showcases the rich tapestry of characters that authors weave to bring their stories to life.

Character traits

Now that we've explored the different types of characters, let's turn our attention to character traits. When it comes to the definition of character, traits play a vital role. They are the qualities, attributes or characteristics which make a character unique and help us, as readers, to understand their personalities.

Physical traits describe a character's appearance. This includes everything from hair color and height to style of dress. For example, Sherlock Holmes is often depicted as tall and lean with sharp, eagle-like eyes.

Personality traits give depth to a character's mental and emotional state. Is your character outgoing or shy? Are they adventurous or cautious? Hermione Granger from Harry Potter, for instance, is known for her intelligence, loyalty, and determination.

Behavioral traits are those that are displayed through a character's actions. These can include habits, mannerisms, and reactions. Think about the way Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games often uses silence as a tool, expressing more with her actions than with words.

Moral traits define a character's sense of right and wrong. This can greatly influence their decisions and actions throughout the story. Atticus Finch from To Kill a Mockingbird is a perfect example of a character with strong moral traits, standing up for justice despite societal pressures.

Understanding character traits is crucial in creating a complete and well-rounded character. It allows us to predict their actions, understand their motivations, and ultimately, empathize with them.

Character development

Character development is the evolution of a character throughout a story, resulting from their interactions with other characters and the story's events. It's a crucial part of the definition of character, as it brings the character to life, making them relatable and real to the reader.

Imagine you're building a house. You wouldn't just erect the walls and call it a day, right? You'd install plumbing, paint the walls, and fill the rooms with furniture. Similarly, character development is about adding layers to a character, enriching them from a mere sketch to a fully realized individual.

There are two types of character development: static and dynamic. A static character remains fundamentally the same throughout the story, like Sherlock Holmes, who remains a brilliant detective from start to finish. On the other hand, a dynamic character undergoes significant changes, like Ebenezer Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol," who transforms from a cold-hearted miser to a generous and kind-hearted man.

But how do you achieve character development? Here are a few tips:

  1. Give your character goals: Characters should have something they're striving for. This could be anything from finding love to avenging a wrong.
  2. Throw obstacles in their way: Challenges force characters to grow and adapt, revealing new aspects of their personalities.
  3. Allow them to make mistakes: Mistakes and their consequences can be powerful catalysts for change.
  4. Explore their past: A character's history can provide insights into why they are the way they are and can influence their future growth.

Remember, character development is not about making a character perfect. It's about making them human and relatable. Because at the end of the day, we connect with characters not because they're flawless, but because they're flawed, just like us.

How to create believable characters

Characters are the heart and soul of any story. The more believable they are, the more immersed your readers become in the world you've created. But how do you breathe life into a character, making them leap off the page and into the reader's imagination?

Let's explore a few techniques to create characters so real, readers might start expecting them to jump out from behind the bookshelf:

  1. Build a backstory: Everyone has a past, and your characters should too. It influences their personality, their motivations, and their actions. But remember, not all of it needs to be explicitly stated. Sometimes a little mystery can make a character even more intriguing.
  2. Give them unique voices: Each character should have a unique way of speaking. This can be influenced by their background, education, and personality. For instance, a scholarly character might use complex vocabulary, while a street-smart character might use slang.
  3. Make them flawed: Nobody's perfect, and characters shouldn't be either. Flaws make characters relatable and human. It could be anything from a short temper to a fear of spiders. Plus, overcoming these flaws can contribute to character development.
  4. Let them grow: Characters should evolve over the course of the story - this is a key part of the definition of character. Whether they become stronger, braver, kinder, or even more villainous, change keeps characters engaging.

Creating believable characters is like preparing a meal. You need the right ingredients in the right amounts. Too much of one thing can ruin the dish, but the right balance can create something truly memorable. Just remember, there's no one-size-fits-all recipe for character creation. So, experiment, play around, and most importantly, have fun with it!

Character development examples

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. When it comes to understanding character development, examples might be worth a thousand explanations. Here are a few instances of well-executed character development in some of our favorite stories.

  1. Harry Potter from the "Harry Potter" series: Let's start with the boy who lived. Harry starts out as a lonely boy living under a staircase. But as he discovers his true identity and navigates the world of magic, he evolves into a brave and selfless hero, showcasing a clear character development arc.
  2. Katniss Everdeen from "The Hunger Games": Katniss begins as a determined survivor, doing whatever it takes to protect her sister. As the series progresses, she becomes a symbol of rebellion against tyranny. Her development is rooted in her experiences and the tough choices she has to make.
  3. Elizabeth Bennet from "Pride and Prejudice": Our dear Lizzie starts as a young woman with strong opinions and prejudices. Over the course of the novel, her character develops as she learns to see beyond her initial judgments, eventually falling in love with the man she swore to despise.

These examples illustrate that character development is not about changing who a character is at their core. It's about showing how they evolve in response to the events and experiences they encounter. And that, my friends, is the essence of the definition of character development.

Character writing tips

Now that we have a solid grasp on the definition of character and its development, let's step into the shoes of a writer. How can you craft characters that are as memorable as Harry, Katniss, or Elizabeth? Here are some pointers to guide you on your journey:

  1. Know Your Character: Every character has a history. What's their favorite food? Who are their friends? What keeps them up at night? Knowing these details will make your characters feel more real and relatable. After all, you can't write a character if you don't know them.
  2. Give Them Flaws: Nobody's perfect, and that includes your characters. Flaws make characters more human and their struggles more engaging. Remember, even Superman has his kryptonite.
  3. Let Them Grow: The definition of character isn't static — characters should change and evolve over the course of your story. Stick to their growth arc and let their experiences shape them.
  4. Make Them Active: Characters should drive the story, not just be swept along by it. Active characters make decisions, face consequences, and influence the plot, making the story more engaging.
  5. Show, Don't Tell: Instead of telling readers that your character is brave, show them. Let your character's actions reveal their traits.

Remember, writing compelling characters takes practice. Don't be afraid to rewrite, revise, and experiment. Sometimes, characters even have a mind of their own and can surprise even their creators. Happy writing!

If you enjoyed this blog post on character definition and development tips, you'll love the workshop 'Creating Characters: The Design Process' by Kit Buss. This workshop delves into the process of creating unique and memorable characters, offering valuable insights and techniques that will help you bring your characters to life.