Static characters are surprisingly a lot harder to find because they are easy to overlook. They don’t personally undergo any real journey other than the events of the plot – instead they tend to serve as a tool for the dynamic characters of a story to react to or receive guidance from. Here are four examples of static characters. I tried to avoid literary figures like Atticus Finch, so that students have room to talk about those once they understand the concept. I instead focused on making sure that these characters were prominent in pop culture to ensure that students would be able to see the concept at work with characters they already know.
If you’re looking for examples of dynamic characters, I wrote an article about that here.
I started the last one with a Dragon Ball character, so it’s time to start with one here. If that one worked with your audience, then this one will work for those same people.
I was tempted to start with Frieza, a villain, but I decided it would actually be a more effective example if I used a hero. Villains are easy. The idea is that they don’t change, so you don’t have to feel bad when the hero destroys them. A static hero, however… how do you explain that?
Static heroes were especially popular back in the day because it allowed an audience to pick up a series easily – what you see is what you get, and you can count on them to be that way because they’ll always be that way. What happens then is that the audience begins to see how the characters around him develop. Son Goku is no exception. It is his refusal to change that makes Vegeta’s transformation so stark in contrast.
The Benevolent Fighter
Son Goku starts the series Dragon Ball as a young boy. It is revealed when he is an adult that he is a Saiyan, an alien race subjugated by the evil Lord Frieza, and that he was sent to the Earth as a baby (named Kakarot) to destroy all life there to make the planet fit for sale to the highest bidder. However, a head injury as an infant causes Kakarot to become sweet and kind, a trait that stays with him into adulthood. Raised by an old martial artist named Son Gohan as a grandson (named Son Goku), the baby retains the strength and love of fighting possessed by his race, but his nature is converted by his head injury and perhaps most notably by his adoptive grandfather’s influence into that of a generous, loving hero.
Goku retains this nature as an adult, an immensely strong fighter who wouldn’t hurt a fly. However, for such a comedic, dopey, likable guy, he sure does have a huge body count. Goku’s love of fighting often gets him into trouble and interferes with his common sense, much to the chagrin of his comrades. His rival, Vegeta, is constantly developing as a character as a result of repeated attempts to surpass Goku. In fact, most of Goku’s friends were formerly dastardly villains that are won over by his constant, consistent optimism and unrivaled work ethic. In this way, Goku – like most static characters – serves as a device for all of the other characters to change and develop around him.
Steve Rogers/Captain America
This hero is definitely well-known, both in the comic world AND in popular culture as a result of cinematic success. (Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The Avengers, The Avengers: Age of Ultron, Captain America: Civil War, and the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War).
A Patriot Lost in Time
Steve Rogers just wants to fight for his country, and he gets the chance to do so when he is recruited and made the only successful test subject for the Super Soldier Program. Frozen in ice while saving the world, Rogers unexpectedly finds himself in the 21st Century, with most of his friends old or dead. With augmented athletic abilities, and a strong sense of hope and optimism, he is regarded somewhat as the flagship member of the Avengers – and most of the time, the group’s leader.
Captain America’s moral compass is one that never wavers. You never wonder if you should or shouldn’t be cheering for Cap, even when he does things against the system. I found this especially true during Civil War: “Oh, Captain America is doing something weird? Well, he must be right, so let’s wait and see.” While he certainly changes physically, Captain America as we know it hardly ever changes.
If you’re about to quote the comics at me, shut up. Comics explore every single idea out there because otherwise they run out of story. Any prolific series is going to have an evil version, a cynical version, an elderly version, a child version, a werewolf version, a zombie version… The point is when you say “Captain America,” there will always be a very specific picture in your head. He is and always will be. He arguably has more of a “boy scout” rep than Superman does!
He’s Batman. Unless we’re referring to the Adam West goon, Batman is a pretty static hero – especially once the 90’s animated series was underway, as its popularity validated what the comics had begun doing in making his character dark and brooding.
A Force of Nature
Bruce Wayne will sometimes change, but his role as The Batman seldom does. Batman is smart, crafty, and has a ridiculous work ethic. His status as a static character does not mean that he is without flaws. He has definite trust issues that often lead to very explosive incidents with those involved – particularly the time when it was revealed that he had secret files recording the weaknesses of every Justice League member and how to exploit them in case any one of them went rogue.
Batman also has a very firm policy against killing that never seems to change – despite fighting some of the most deranged villains in comic book history, and despite suffering equally devastating losses at the hands of these villains.
Much of the interest in the Batman series comes from watching the dynamic characters around him. (Batgirl. Robin/Nightwing. Two-Face. Red Hood. The list goes on.) All of them owe their engrossing storylines to their interactions with the force of nature that is Batman. The first Robin, particularly, goes from worshipping him to resenting him – eventually becoming Nightwing and forcing his surrogate father to recognize him as an equal. Batman stays the same – no matter how the villains or even his friends try to force change on him.
Geralt of Rivia
Whether you’ve played Witcher 3 lately (I haven’t yet) and just entered the series, or you’ve been a long-time fan, it’s pretty plain that Geralt is a static hero. This doesn’t mean he’s not a badass: His character design is top-notch and distinct, with white hair, scars… he has a sword and a silver sword – come one. One for monsters, one for people right?
Sure Geralt has revelations and crises of identity – but for the most part, if you are reading or playing the Witcher series, you know exactly who you’re dealing with and what he’s going to be like.
One trait he has is a stubborn adherence to his personal code. Geralt, like most Witchers apparently, has a very specific job description; he has to kill monsters. Of course, there are wildly varying impressions throughout the world of exactly how necessary or serious this job is – though as you might imagine, respect for this job is usually directly proportional to how close a monster is to messing up the lives of those whose respect is in question. This means that sometimes he’ll get a job offer asking him to deal with a striga (a terrifying monster whose description involves the words “dead monster baby” and a tiny coffin). No problem. But in other places where the monster problem is less than common, they’ll offer jobs that let you know they obviously don’t take his job seriously. King or not, he will refuse these people. Need him to kill a dragon? Dragons don’t count as monsters to him, so no. Not to mention that for the most part, he refuses to work for free.
Well, actually it’s no hold barred for the video game, right? Fetch-em quests galore!
Geralt, for the most part, is cynical, sarcastic, and dismissive of authority. He is also very loyal to those rare few that become his friends. He has shown himself to be sympathetic to the plight of even monsters, despite his overt commitment to kill those in his path for money. He is well-aware of the fact that he literally eliminates work for himself as he does his job. I’m not currently aware of how exactly he got his powers or why he wants to be human again, but I find Geralt’s static nature to be a nice anchor when transitioning from setting to setting in his stories. Most of my journey with The Witcher is “Okay, that’s the person available, okay that’s the problem… whoa, this is interesting… where’s Geralt? Oh, there he is, good, okay I know how this story is framed now.” The experience feels a lot like watching anything based on Sherlock Holmes. (I would have used him in this article, but he’s not current in my mind, despite the riveting BBC present-day adaptation.)
Hopefully, this article helps you talk about static characters when you need it. If you have better ideas for current static characters, let me know in the comments or social media!
If you’re a Witcher die-hard that wants to tell me how Geralt is actually super dynamic, then take a moment, Internet Warrior, to reflect on your life, and on how being static isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and then also know that I’m like two books in, so if he suddenly becomes a villain or something that’s gonna come out of left field for me.
Dynamic and Static characters may seem like an easy-to-process concept, especially with some solid examples. However, you may run into the problem of your solid, perfect example becoming suddenly (or not – let’s be truthful with ourselves) obsolete.
Well, here’s where I come to the rescue. Without further ado, here are 5 examples of Dynamic characters that today’s youth will understand. The design is such that hopefully if you cover this list, at least one will hit students the right way, and you’ll have that “Ohhhhhh” moment!
Vegeta, Prince of Saiyans
Vegeta begins in an anime/manga called Dragon Ball Z, where he starts as a heartless alien prince hell-bent on destroying all life on Earth so it can be terraformed and sold to the highest bidder. He is cruel, sadistic, and arrogant. He shows this through his cruel fighting style, as well as his unflinching penchant for destroying those in a vulnerable position. A perfect example of this is when his partner – unexpectedly defeated by the heroes of the series – begs him for help. Vegeta pretends at first to help his long-time partner-since-childhood, then instead tosses him into the air and brutally destroys him in a blinding flash of power.
This one is great because every time we see Vegeta, he is going through some kind of change. Like the next example, we almost never see the same Vegeta twice.
Vegeta is forced to fight on the heroes side repeatedly out of self-preservation, and somewhere along the way a change happens inside him that he has to wrestle with. It arguably begins when he marries one of the heroes, Bulma, and has his first child with her. He battles with his newfound affection and benevolence for Earth, and even tries one last time to turn to his evil self before eventually holding his son close and telling him he’s proud to be his father, and then subsequently sacrificing himself to save the Earth.
Iron Man/Tony Stark
This superhero is one that is always in a different part of his personal journey when you see him, and even though his first movie was about a decade ago, he’s still hugely popular.
Tony Stark starts as an arrogant genius inheritor of a world-changing weapons manufacturer, Stark Industries. While the arrogant part of his personality takes a bit longer for him to adjust, his sense of responsibility for the world’s events begins when he is kidnapped and sees firsthand his company’s weapons being used in the Middle East to oppress innocent people.
This one is more impressive to kids if you go movie by movie.
- Iron Man – By the end of this movie, Tony realizes that he cannot differentiate himself from the new task that he has before him in protecting innocent people. The last line is one that allows him to take responsibility for his actions and to truly own the changes he has gone through in becoming a hero: “I am Iron Man.”
- Iron Man 2 – Tony starts this movie as a superhero, but an arrogant one. Bit by bit, this comes back to bite him as he first gets outdone by a man who figures out his tech from his broken down hut, followed by losing everyone close to him. He ends the movie a more humble hero, leading to…
- The Avengers – By the end of this movie, Tony readily sacrifices himself for the good of humanity. He lives, but not because he wasn’t ready to die. In fact, he spends the 3rd solo movie freaking out about how traumatic this experience was. No matter what you think the catalyst is for his change, it’s apparent that the Tony Stark of the 2008 movie would not be prepared to do what he does in this film.
There are more movies, but I’ve got three more characters to go. Don’t be greedy!
Oliver Queen/The Green Arrow
Oliver Queen is a famous DC hero, but most kids will know him from The CW’s hit series, Arrow, or if they watch any of the other three or four shows that take place in the same universe. Warning: If you’re watching this show, I spoil it brutally here.
There are some obvious character changes here when it comes to Oliver before and after his father’s yacht, The Queen’s Gambit, is shipwrecked, marooning Oliver on the remote island of Lian Yu. Before the shipwreck, he is a fun-loving, irresponsible, selfish man who took his long-term girlfriend’s sister on a cruise for several days. Scandalous. However, there are less obvious changes that make this character dynamic. After 5 years of being away from home, Oliver returns as a figure known as The Hood, and begins to “save the city” by doing whatever it takes to destroy its criminal element – including eliminating people on a list that his father leaves him. While this may sound badass and hero-ish, this literally makes him a serial killer.
Over the course of seasons of the show, Oliver decides that the killing must stop. He also makes several changes regarding his life of deception, especially when it comes to who he should trust and what it means to be in a trusting relationship. This conflicts often with his life as “The Hood,” and later “The Arrow,” and then even later, once he stops killing, as “The Green Arrow.”
He also vacillates regarding how close he keeps the people around him, starting with his bodyguard, Diggle, who eventually becomes the hero “Spartan,” and Roy Harper, who becomes the Red Arrow (known in the show as Arsenal). By 2017, the show has a “Team Arrow,” composed of Wild Dog, Mr. Terrific, the third Black Canary, Spartan, and The Green Arrow himself. This is a big departure from Oliver’s tendency to go it alone.
This team is eventually broken up due to a breach of trust; Oliver suspects one of his team is a mole, which leads him to spy on the whole team. This shows the struggle that Oliver still has with trusting others. He eventually reconciles with the team, even though they agree to go separate ways.
Despite this apparent failure of this team, Oliver of 2018 is a lot more compassionate, trusting, and responsible. He is even elected as the Mayor of Star City.
This version of The Green Arrow draws a lot of comparisons to Batman. However, one should note that Batman’s character tends to NOT change, even as the events of the two plots begin to look similar.
Yeah, I know you know this one. We all know this one. This one works because a lot of our high schoolers were like three or four years old when Finding Nemo came out, so they’ll get it.
Marlin the clownfish is a paranoid, neurotic, single father who is terrified of the ocean and even more terrified of losing his son. This is mostly due to a traumatic incident in which a barracuda killed his wife and hundreds of his children, leaving only one survivor – his son, Nemo. As a result, Marlin is fiercely protective of Nemo, to the point that he stifles Nemo’s development. His fears are further exacerbated by Nemo’s apparent helplessness – one of his fins is tiny and underdeveloped (dubbed as Nemo’s “lucky fin”).
When his son is picked up by divers, Marlin goes on a crazy odyssey to recover his son. He is forced to confront his fear of the ocean’s dangers, as well as confront the faults in his own parenting that led to this situation. This is further helped by his encounters with a regal blue tang named Dory, who tries to help him despite having a memory and attention span so short that she often requires the same type of supervision as a child. By the end of the movie, Marlin is more confident and assured of his own abilities as well as those of his son, and he happily allows his son to have experiences in childhood unmarred by fear. He also accepts Dory as part of the family, which displays his newfound openness and security, along with the development of his ability to trust.
Hopefully, between these four examples, you are able to successfully convey the concept of dynamic characters. I purposefully avoided famous literary characters, because I know pop culture references work better, plus now you can ask them yourself after talking about them with your class without you having given them the answer. I’ll write another soon, talking about some static characters you can use – these are remarkably a lot harder for some people to pull out nowadays.