I don't have examples of what you ask for, but in the revision: You could say that the role of "characters" is that they have choices and intents. The sun does not choose to rise, the volcano does not choose to erupt, and the waves do not choose to crash.
A character, be it a fish or dog on the beach or human, can choose to run or stay, and there are consequences to either choice. The author can engineer the circumstances to make those consequences large: Life or death. Abandoning your children or risking death to stay and protect them.
The effect of characters, and their ability to make choices, is an uncertainty in the consequences and outcome of the decision that readers find interesting.
I think it would be very difficult to create interest in a fictional recount of biology, geology, astronomy, and so forth that basically led from state to another state, with no real consequences for anybody or anything.
In human psychology, stories are expected to have emotional consequences, not just consequences for dead rocks and water or dead suns and asteroids. What the author writes is supposed to make a difference, however subtle, in those eventual emotional consequences: It changes the characters feelings, minds, choices, actions. The settings influence them (or are allusions to their feelings; hence the clichés of equating 'rain' with 'tears' or 'fireworks' with 'love' or 'orgasms').
The role of characters is to make the story matter to the reader.