Not all characters are living breathing beings.
When the writers Jeffrey Lieber and Damon Lindelof first approached J. J. Abrams about a new Television series, Lost, J. J. Abrams was not interested. A group of people, plane crashed on an island, was not gripping enough. He suggested they make the island a character. Some time later, the screenplay writers returned with a revised story line where the island was a major character.
The survivors weren’t just on a piece of land in the South Pacific; this island did things. It cured Rosy of cancer. It healed John’s legs. It cure Jin so his wife Junjin could get pregnant. But no child conceived on the island ever came to full term.
The Island gave eternal life to Josh, his brother, and Richard. But it took more lives than it saved.
It drove Ben psychotic then saved and redeemed him.
The island made the series exciting, interesting and creepy. There were strange noises in the bushes, polar bears, evidence of a lost government experiment, and a smoke creature that made friends, hunted, and violently killed.
After all that, one might think the island was the star and everyone else were supporting characters.
When a place or thing has an affect on the characters and moves the plot along, it’s a character.
Another good example is the Perfect Storm. Three storms come together to form one expectantly large storm in the North Atlantic off the Eastern Sea Board. The storm with hurricane winds and monstrous waves were all characters to be fought.
When it is was man against nature. For the unprepared or the unfortunate, man is swept away and never seen again. Those left behind are heart broken over the lost. For the hero of the story, it’s his extraordinary skills that save his life and return him to his loved ones.
To make an inanimate object a character, the object must have an affect on the human characters. It presents obstacles that prevent the character from reaching his or her goal. The characters must overcome the obstacles to achieve their goal.