Static Character Definition: A flat or static character is a character in a story who possesses only one or two personality traits, and generally does not change or evolve throughout the story.
A flat or static character is a character in a story that lacks depth and complexity, and tends to remain in a fixed mindset. They often do not learn anything from their experiences, or they are simply in the story to fulfill a role. They can be an archetypal character, like a sidekick, mentor, or villain, which serves to highlight the protagonist’s more complex personality traits. For example, in the novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles, Gene’s narration focuses on his memories of Finny; yet Finny never changes throughout the novel. He remains optimistic, upbeat, adventurous, and forgiving of his flawed best friend right up until his death. His personality is unique in Gene’s world, but it mainly serves to highlight Gene’s own shortcomings, and his eventual realization that the only enemy he’s fighting is his own insecurities.
A flat/static character is usually found in a supporting role, but not always. A protagonist can be flat or static if they lack a fully dimensional personality and do not evolve or change throughout the story. For instance, Montrestor in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Cask of Amontillado” is the protagonist of the story who is bent on revenge against Fortunato, and this does not change or evolve. Montresor’s personality is limited to wanting retribution and using manipulation to get it, which lacks complexity and depth.
While Finny is the centerpoint of the novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles, he is a one-dimensional character. His ever-present optimism, sense of adventure, and forgiveness of his best friend Gene’s flaws live on in Gene’s mind, but they do not change or evolve enough to make Finny a dynamic character.
Mercutio is entertaining and works well as the foil to Romeo in the play The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare, but he does not evolve or change throughout the play, and his personality lacks complexity. Mercutio is risque in his jokes and has an inflated ego, which leads him to challenge Tybalt to a duel which results in his own death.
In Dante’s epic poem The Inferno, Virgil is Dante’s guide into Hell. While Virgil was revered for his poetry and complex ideas in life, he is a static character as he only serves to explain the horrors of Hell to Dante. When he is done, he leaves Dante so that Dante can continue the rest of his journey with his love, Beatrice, another flat character in the next two parts of the story.
In the novel To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee, Miss Maudie is an adviser-figure to the children, but her personality is limited to that role throughout the story. She does not evolve or experience a change in her thinking throughout the story; in fact, as the story progresses, Miss Maudie becomes less important to the events of the children’s lives.
In the play The Crucible by Arthur Miller, Elizabeth Proctor is a static character who does not evolve or change by the end of the play. While John has betrayed Elizabeth, she supports him and forgives him endlessly throughout the play, right up until the end where she says, “He have his goodness now” as he refuses to sign his name to the confession and is carted off to be hanged. Her personality is limited to reactions to John: his actions, his moods, and his decisions.