A character is basically somebody capable of performing actions within a story. Although this could be considered a concise enough definition for what a character is, we will break it down into two elements, in order to fully understand it: a character is a being and this being is capable of performing actions within a story.
When talking about the character as a being, we will try and set aside the notion that characters must always be human. Throughout history, literature has been full of characters embodied by beings from the animal, vegetable and mineral kingdoms as well as objects and even ideas. In the original text for Italian writer Carlo Collodi’s Pinocchio, the main character is a wooden doll and there are other characters embodied by animals or human beings. In Mexican author Juan Rulfo’s Pedro Páramo, most characters are dead people, which call for a peculiar perspective of the concept of a character. In The Time When Monday was Sunday by Venezuelan author Francisco Massiani the main characters are the days of the week.
- There are no limits for the characters’ nature within a story. What turns a being into a character is the possibility, granted by the author, of performing a given action. However it is necessary to understand that this action must be performed consciously by the character. In a story, a self-opening door is not a character until the author adds elements that indicate that the door has opened by its own will and with a specific objective. For instance, if the door opens because it knows it must open and does it under specific circumstances, it turns into a character and takes a role within the story. This writing device, which is basically achieved by assigning human characteristics to a being that by nature does not have them, is called humanization.
- By assigning them human characteristics, the writer provides the characters with a new possibility: to possess their own psyche. Through life experience, the author learns that people can be grouped in different typologies. The author identifies classic human characteristics: those of the introverted, the rich, the hard working, the drunk, the feminist, the proud, the weak… The greater the writer’s experience, both in life and literature, the better the character development will be, as long as he successfully pours into the characters, the human characteristics witnessed in other people.