The basic characteristic of prose fiction that distinguishes it from other genres of literature is that it tells a story in narrative form and each story depicts the lives of individuals though fictitious. In fiction, these individuals are referred to as characters. The story unfolds through the interpersonal relationships and interactions of the characters. Characters are therefore very important in prose fiction. This unit is entitled characterization which though related to character is not the same as character. You will find out the difference between the two words in the course of our discussion in the main content of this article.
Characters in fiction are the human beings, animals or supernatural beings that act out the story presented in the work.
The author creates characters and presents his or her story through the actions and words of these characters. The novelist, depending on the point of view he or she uses, may allow one of the characters in the work to tell the story, otherwise, he narrates the story him/herself, telling the reader what this character did or did not do as the story progresses. Characters therefore are indispensable in any form of prose fiction no matter how sketchy or how short the work is. Basically in a prose fictional narrative, there are two major characters, the protagonist and the antagonist. There are other characters too. They include the minor or supporting characters.The minor or supporting characters are involved in fewer actions or incidents in the work. Their roles are just to support the major characters in propelling the plot of the story. Characters are developed through appearance, words, feelings, and reaction of others.
In most cases, one character stands out in the work and indeed attracts the reader’s attention. It appears as if the story revolves around him/her or that it is his/her story that is being told. That character becomes the driver of action in the story. She/he therefore is responsible for achieving the story’s objective or goal. In manystorytelling traditions, the protagonist is usually the main character or the hero/heroine.
Some scholars refer to the protagonist as the Point-of-view characterbecause he/she is the character from whose perspective the audience experiences the story. This is the character that “represents the point of view the audience will empathize, or at the very least, sympathize with. Therefore this is the “Main” Character” (Ezeigbo 23).
You may deduce from the name who the antagonist is. In literal sense, he is someone who antagonizes. We will not take it in that literal sense. The character that stands constantly in opposition to the protagonist is the antagonist. He opposes the protagonist or is pitted against him/her in all cases and situations. The antagonist is sometimes referred to as foil. However, foil is also seen as the character that stands in contrast to the protagonist in a way that illuminates their personality or characteristics. The foil here may not necessarily be pitted against the protagonist in a confrontational manner but in comparison.
Characterization is often listed as one of the fundamental elements of fiction. It refers to the way an authorcreates and manipulates the characters in the work to explicate his/her theme. A character is a participant in the story and is usually a person, but may be any personal identity, an animal or an entity whose existence originates from the fictional work. The author is usually careful in the selection of these characters and ensures that the role of each character is clear. Some characters are used and dispensed with while others are active participants in the story from the beginning to the end. The former are the minor characters while the latter are the major characters.
The writer reveals the character in such a way that the reader becomes familiar with the character’s nature through the character’s words and actions. A character is also revealed through his relationship with other characters and reaction to situations and events. Sometimes the character’s thoughts are revealed by the writer depending on the narrative mode or point of view.
Types Of Characters
There are different types of characters and the author decides the ones to use depending on the message and the effect she/he desires to create.
The flat characters are those characters who remain the same in the course of the story from the beginning to the end. Some scholars refer to them as static characters. They do not undergo significant changes during the course of a story. In the real sense they are not affected by circumstances around them and are usually very rigid in their belief. Many of them are usually tragic characters because they are prepared to pursue any goal they believe in to its (perceived) logical conclusion even at the risk of losing their lives.
A good example of a flat character is Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart. If you have read the novel, you will notice that he is a very strict and hardworking person who has no patience with the poor and the weak. He believes in action and not words. He is a strong adherent of his tradition and is prepared to uphold it and fight anybody or institution that threatens the existence of that tradition. He therefore opposes the colonialists, refuses to see any progressive aspect of the Whiteman’s civilization and remains rigid in this belief even when others are bending to the wind of change. In the end, he takes his own life. The flat characters are very predictable because there seems not to be any change in their growth and activities.
Round characters are those characters that grow in the course of the narration. Most of the time, they grow from innocence to maturity and adapt to situations accordingly. They respond to changes in their environment and react differently to different situations. Meka in FerdinandOyono’sOld Man and the Medal is an example of round character.
In characterization, a stereotype exhibits particular attributes by which a particular individual, group, or race is known. In a prose fiction, it may be one or two characters that (is) are stereotypes. The writer creates such characters for special effects or to make a point.
This attribute of the stereotype may or may not be true but it is the notion or opinion which people have about that group and could equally be applicable to other groups. For instance, in Nigeria, it is generally believed that the Igbo Man will be ready to do anything including selling or killing a friend or relation to make money.This means that they love money obsessively.A writer may therefore create an Igbo man in his work to reflect this notion.
Meanwhile this is not true. If it is the truth, there will no longer be poor people in Igboland or most of them must have been killed by the wealthy few. Besides, there is no tribe or ethnic group that does not love money obsessively and ritual killing is not limited to the Igbos alone.
A stock character is closely related to the stereotype but here the character is a true representation of a particular group especially a profession. In most cases, stock characters are created for satirical purposes. For instance, soldiers and some other related professionals are associated with force and brutality especially in Nigeria. A writer might therefore create such character(s) to draw attention to their brutality, viciousness, cruelty and the irrationality of most of their actions. Writers of most novels that satirize military leaders, portray such leaders as despotic, tyrannical and dictatorial.
Allegorical characters are characters that are not human beings. Such characters are employed and manipulated by the writer to convey a double meaning of the subject matter at the literal level and a deeper level. In such works, all the characters are allegorical. Such a work “would normally operate at a primary level as well as the secondary level of significance. … narration offers the writer an opportunity to describe one subject under the guise of another and thus to be ambivalent in his or her themes”( Ezeigbo24).
Characters are the representation of human beings in any fiction. The characters could be humans, animals or abstract qualities but exhibit human characteristics. This means that there are different types of characters. Characterisation is the act of creating the characters by the writer. In a work where characterisation is good, the characters are consistent, their actions are properly motivated. Such writer reveals characters through their actions, words and interaction with other characters. The writer also reveals characters by him/herself in the course of narration depending on the point of view adopted.
We have seen in this article that characterization is an indispensable element in prose fiction. The characters dramatize the action of the narrative through their interpersonal relationships thereby conveying the writer’s message. The writer has the liberty to create any type of character that suits his or her purpose but for effective characterization, he ensures that the characters are consistent. A character is a participant in the story in form of a person, animal or abstract quality. The important factor is that the characterise an entity whose existence originates from a fictional work or performance.