Fictional character

fictional human or non-human character in a narrative work of art

A fictional character is a person or animal in a narrative work of art (such as a novel, play, television series, or movie) [1][2][3] The character can be completely fictional or based on a real-life person. In that case, the difference between a "fictional" and "real" character can be made.[2] Coming from the ancient Greek word χαρακτήρ, the English word dates from the Restoration,[4] although it became widely used after its appearance in Tom Jones in 1749.[5][6] From this, the sense of "a part played by an actor" developed.[6] Character, mainly when played by an actor in the theatre or cinema, involves "the illusion of being a human person."[7] In literature, characters guide readers through their stories, helping them to understand plots and ponder themes.[8] Since the end of the 18th century, the phrase "in character" has been used to describe an effective impersonation by an actor.[6] Since the 19th century, the art of creating characters, as practiced by actors or writers, has been called characterisation.[6]

The word character can also mean "personality". We can say that someone has a "strong character" meaning a strong, confident personality. It is sometimes used as a noun in this sense: "He is a real character" (meaning someone you cannot easily forget).

A character role in a play means one of the people in the play who have a particular character (personality). They contrast with the main characters of the play. For example, a pair of lovers may be the main characters of the story. The character roles who help the story might be: a wicked step-mother, a kind nurse, an old wise man, a fool, a domestic worker who is very old, a "Mary Sue" who is virtually without flaws, and so forth. These may be archtypes.


  1. Matthew Freeman (2016). Historicising Transmedia Storytelling: Early Twentieth-Century Transmedia Story Worlds. Routledge. pp. 31–34. ISBN 1315439506. Retrieved January 19, 2017.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Maria DiBattista (2011). Novel Characters: A Genealogy. John Wiley & Sons. pp. 14–20. ISBN 1444351559. Retrieved January 19, 2017.
  3. Baldick (2001, 37) and Childs and Fowler (2006, 23). See also "character, 10b" in Trumble and Stevenson (2003, 381): "A person portrayed in a novel, a drama, etc; a part played by an actor".
  4. OED "character" sense 17.a citing, inter alia, Dryden's 1679 preface to Troilus and Cressida: "The chief character or Hero in a Tragedy ... ought in prudence to be such a man, who has so much more in him of Virtue than of Vice... If Creon had been the chief character in Œdipus..."
  5. Aston and Savona (1991, 34), quotation:

    [...] is first used in English to denote 'a personality in a novel or a play' in 1749 (The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, s.v.).

  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Harrison (1998, 51-2) quotation:

    Its use as 'the sum of the qualities which constitute an individual' is a mC17 development. The modern literary and theatrical sense of 'an individual created in a fictitious work' is not attested in OED until mC18: 'Whatever characters any... have for the jestsake personated... are now thrown off' (1749, Fielding, Tom Jones).

  7. Pavis (1998, 47).
  8. Roser, Nancy; Miriam Martinez; Charles Fuhrken; Kathleen McDonnold. "Characters as Guides to Meaning". The Reading Teacher. 6 (6): 548–559. |access-date= requires |url= (help)