Literary Elements Character. as a literary term, refers to a person or an animal in a story, poem, novel, or a play. A writer who is adept in the realistic creation of characters is said to be good at “characterization.”. Real Life and Literary Characters.
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as a literary term, refers to a person or an animal in a story, poem, novel, or a play.
A writer who is adept in the realistic creation of characters is said to be good at “characterization.”
One of the marvels of literature is that writers can teach us about real people and about human nature by creating and presenting to us their imaginary characters.
One reason readers love literature is that we experience and come to know “people” whom we will never otherwise “meet.” Getting to know characters such as Don Quixote, Hester Prynne, Hamlet, Jay Gatsby, and Madame Bovary enriches our lives.
When we say about a real person, “He’s a real character,” we mean that he has notably unique or conspicuous traits. All characters in fiction have chosen traits and perform actions which the author has chosen, eliminating other possible traits and actions in order to highlight certain aspects of that one character. Some characters seem very lifelike or true to life, while others may seem fantastic, so imagined that we would never really expect to meet such a real person in our own lives.
Writing fiction and poetry is making art. Characters are made, artificial representations. Authors carefully choose the background and circumstances in which they place their characters. In doing so, they eliminate the more trivial everyday occurrences which tend to clutter the scenes in our own everyday lives. This is why literary characters are so different from the rest of us. Just about everything they do and say may seem important and interesting!
In fact, since authors choose their characters’ words and actions, those authors consider everything a character says and does to be important. And so should we. It’s helpful, then, to pay close and special attention to what each character says and does. Such attention is crucial in a short story because no character is really “on stage” very long.
Pay special attention to repetition of images or patterns in relation to any character. Such images may give us a key insight into that character’s personality.
Some authors do bring their characters back to life in other works. Then we can get to know the characters even better because we are allowed to see them in a variety of circumstances, in other stories. But such is generally not the case in short stories, although there are many notable exceptions. One is Sherlock Holmes, whom we know through a lengthy series of Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories. We continue reading these stories and others with recurring characters because we have grown to know and perhaps love the character and we want to know what he or she is up to, what new circumstance presents itself.
Characters live only on the page. They have no lives beyond the page. Thus -- although we can speculate -- it is not really fruitful to write too much about what a character might do off the page, after a story ends. This limitation forces readers to focus our attention, and our own critical writing, on the evidence we do have -- whatever the characters say, do, or tell us about themselves in the storyat hand, or on whatever another character or the story’s narrator tells us.
Ways we can learn about particular characters:
(Mr Gradgrind, for example, is a dull, strict, and unforgiving teacher in Charles Dickens’ novel Hard Times.)
Remember types of conflict occurring in a short story:
“Characterization.” A Handbook to Literature. Holman, C. Hugh and William Harmon, eds. New York: MacMillan, 1986.
Kennedy, X. J. and Dana Gioia, eds. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. New York: Longman, 1999. 60-63.