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Character change | Reading

We can see characters in stories change and grow, just like real people. When we find a dynamic character, we notice they change throughout the story. On the other hand, a static character stays the same. We can observe how events and other people cause these changes. To understand a character better, we can look at their choices, actions, and how they react to events. Created by David Rheinstrom. Created by David Rheinstrom.

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Video transcript

- [Teacher] Hello readers. One of the wonderful things about stories, when they're given the room to grow and expand is the idea of character change or growth over time. Characters in stories are just like real people, they have the capacity to change, to make mistakes, to apologize, to set things right, and to learn. When you read, or when you interact with any kind of fiction, watch carefully for how characters change over time. How do characters in a text interact with each other? Does the way a character react to events change over the course of the story? What's changed and why? One of my favorite pieces of fiction of all time is "Avatar: The Last Airbender," and while he isn't the main character, I think the character of Prince Zuko has one of the best illustrations of character change across the course of the show. So spoilers ahoy! But Zuko goes from being an antagonist in the first few seasons, to officially joining the protagonists, the good guys, in the final season of the show. I appreciate how the creators of the show map Zuko's growth and change, because we can see him unlearning old, bad habits and taking on new, more productive ways of behaving as the show progresses. He fundamentally changes as a person, and it's the result of a lot of hard work on his part and a lot of love and patience from the people who care about him. Zuko is what is called a dynamic character, which is to say that he changes throughout the story. This is the opposite of a static character, who does not change. There's a running gag in the "Avatar" series about this one hapless cabbage merchant who keeps on showing up in various cities only to have the protagonists knock his cabbage cart over again and again. Pretty much the only thing he says in the course of the whole show is his catchphrase, "My cabbages!" He doesn't learn, he doesn't grow, he only suffers. Cabbage guy, static character, Zuko, dynamic character. Many main characters are dynamic, but secondary and background characters, like the cabbage guy are static. So what causes character change in stories? Other people and events. Let's take a look at an example from our website, "Oscar's Musical Odyssey." Oscar begins the story by telling his friends on the soccer team that he can't hang out with them that night, he's gotta go to the symphony with his parents. His teammates mock him and he feels bad: Oscar was hesitant to say it out loud, as he knew exactly what would happen when his friends found out where he was going. "I have to go to the symphony tonight," he said quietly. The water in Kevin's mouth exploded into the air, propelled by the laughter that closely followed. "The symphony, hey fellas," Kevin exclaimed, as his voice rose to address everyone within ear shot. "Guess where El Capitan Rico over here is going? "He's gonna go sip tea and listen to the symphony!" Instantly the other soccer guys joined in mocking Oscar. "I didn't know you had a thing for old gringo music," laughed Lorenzo. "What's next, bro," shouted Juan, "watching the evening news in your bathrobe?" "What kind of soccer player goes to the symphony?" said Javier. Oscar sighed. He knew this would happen. although he loved the camaraderie he had with the guys on the soccer team, the amount of grief he was going to get over a stupid night out with his parents was going to be rough, very rough. While Oscar almost always felt tight with this group, this was stirring up some feelings of isolation within him. So this is how Oscar reacts. He's hesitant, he's embarrassed because of how his friends feel about his symphony plans. They're not even his plans, his parents are making him go. Good readers ask themselves how do characters treat each other? Oscar's friends think listening to classical music is something for old white dudes or fancy tea-drinking nerds, but whatever it is, it's definitely not for soccer players. But then Oscar attends the symphony and he is bewitched by what he hears. The experience changes him. So we can ask how do events change how characters behave? Well, let's return to the text: On the way home Oscar's mom said, "I know this wasn't what you would have chosen for tonight, "but I hope you enjoyed it." "I thought it was great," said Oscar, "I had no idea, I was so wrapped up in what the guys "were saying about me that I didn't give it a chance. "I bet they would love this music," he said. "Maybe," said his dad, "but if they don't, does it matter?" And that's when Oscar understood something. His whole identity didn't have to be defined by only one or two things. Who he was could be a mix, in interwoven harmony of many things. We can look to the text to provide evidence of Oscar's change. He has this moment of clarity in the car after the symphony. He realizes he doesn't have to be either a soccer player or a guy who enjoys symphonies, he can be both at once. So when you're evaluating a character, ask yourself for specific choices that characters make, dialogue exchanges, or interactions with other characters, or responses to story events. Compare similar events at different points of the story. Does a character react in the same way at the story's beginning versus how they might react in the middle or near the end of it? If no, what's changed and why? If you can answer those questions, congratulations! You've identified the dynamic character. You can learn anything. David out. My cabbages!