Characters are the fictional people – the who – in a story.They are endowed with moral and dispositional qualities that are expressed in what they say – the dialogue- and what they do – the action. The grounds in a character´s temperament and moral nature for his speech and actions constitute his motivation. But how is it that we can at times feel so close to a character ? The ¨round¨character is complex in temperament and motivation, and is represented with subtle particularity , thus he is difficult to describe with any adequacy as a person in real life, and, like most people , he is capable of surprising us. My own favourite are Mrs Dalloway, Jay Gatsby, Elizabeth Bennet among others. A ¨flat¨character on the other hand, is built around a single idea or quality, and is presented in outline without much individualizing detail. The degree to which a character needs to be three-dimensional depends on his function in the plot, and many types of plot, such as in the detective novel or adventure novel, even the protagonist usually possesses only two dimensions. Sherlock Holmes, for example, does not require the roundness of a hamlet to solve his case.

Difference Between Flat and Round Characters - infographic

Now, there are a few literary terms we have for certain types of characters. The main character, the one we follow most closely in the story, is the protagonist. They’re the Harry Potters, the Katniss Everdeens and the Luke Skywalkers of the literary world.

Then there are the antagonists, or the bad guys who work against the protagonists. Enter Voldemort, President Snow and Darth Vader.

We also have foil characters. A foil is a character that shows qualities that are in contrast with the qualities of another character with the objective to highlight the traits of the other character. What we observe in literature very often is that a foil is a secondary character who contrasts with the major character to enhance the importance of the major character.

Example of foil characters:

Dr Watson, the faithful companion of Sherlock Holmes is a foil character inasmuch as he is a minor but essential character; He never solves a crime and his true function is to contrast with Holmes and  therefore emphasize the great detective´s traits.

Point of View

Signifies the way a story is told – the perspective or perspectives established by an author through which the reader is presented with the characters, actions, setting, and events which constitute the narrative in a work of fiction. To understand point of view, it is important to pay attention to 2 things : grammatical person (is the narrator telling his own story using ¨I ¨ or ¨we¨ or someone else´s story using ¨he¨¨she¨ ¨they¨ ) and his level of insight, that is, how much does he know about his characters ?

In a first-person narrative, the narrator speaks as ¨I ¨and is himself a character in the story, the protagonist like Salinger´s Catcher in the Rye who begins : ¨If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you´ll really want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David copperfield kind of crap…¨ He can also be someone very close to the protagonis someone who is privy to his thoughts and actions (Dr. Watson in Sherlock Holmes stories), or an ancillary character who has little to do with the action of the story (such as Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby).

Third-person point of view:

The omniscient point of view:  The narrator knows everything that needs to be known about the agents and the events ; he is entirely free to move as he will in time and place, and to shift from one character to another, reporting or conceiling what he chooses of their speech and actions. He has also ¨privileged¨ access to a character´s thoughts and feelings and motives. Within this mode, the intruisive narrator is one who not only reports but freely comments on his characters, evaluating their actions and motives and expressing his views about human life in general. Historically, the third-person omniscient perspective has been the most commonly used; it is seen in countless classic novels, including works by Charles Dickens.

The main advantage of this mode is that it is eminently suited to telling huge, sweeping, epic stories, and/or complicated stories involving numerous characters. The disadvantage of this mode is the increased distance between the audience and the story, and the fact that—when used in conjunction with a sweeping, epic « cast-of-thousands » story—characterization tends to be limited, thus reducing the reader’s ability to identify with or sympathize with the characters.

The limited point of view or subjective: the narrator tells the story in the third person, but confines himself to what is experienced, thought, and felt by a single character within the story (or a very limited number of characters).  If there is just one character, it can be termed third-person limited, in which the reader is « limited » to the thoughts of some particular character (often the protagonist) as in the first-person mode, except still giving personal descriptions using « he », « she », « it », and « they », but not « I ». This is almost always the main character (e.g., Gabriel in Joyce’s The Dead, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Young Goodman Brown, or Santiago in Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea).

Which character is your favourite? Ask yourself why?