When authoring a piece of fiction, one of the most exciting aspects of the endeavor is creating the rich, interesting characters that will populate the work. In fact, without a stable of well-sketched round and flat characters, regardless of how exciting or compelling the plot might be, the story goes nowhere. Read on to learn about the nuances involved in developing round vs. flat characters.

What is a Round Character?

If you are wondering, “What is a round character?” let us begin with the round character definition provided by dictionary.com: a character in fiction whose personality, background, motives, and other features are fully delineated by the author.

Indeed, a round character is “well-rounded,” endowed with depth, complexity, and multi-faceted character traits. Well-developed round characters delight the reader as they evolve and grow, often in unexpected ways. Both protagonists and antagonists tend to be round characters, complete with a variety of familiar qualities and flaws that make them relatable to the reader. A round character is also sometimes called a dynamic character because it changes throughout the story.

What is a Flat Character?

Well then, “What is a flat character?” you ask? A flat character is a two-dimensional minor character that lacks both a backstory and any real depth. An uncomplicated, unchanging flat character might have a short-lived role in the story, or may provide an archetypal presence that readers will instantly recognize. The flat minor character may be the polar opposite of the protagonist, a contrast that elucidates the qualities of the star in the story. A flat character is usually also a static character and does not exhibit change throughout the story.

At first blush, it may seem that a flat character would be easier to create than plumbing the rich layers of a round character. On the contrary, because a flat character is bereft of the kind of detail that a round character possesses, creating an interesting flat character that meaningfully contributes to the advancement of the plot takes a certain level of literary skill.

Round vs. Flat Characters

Rarely does an author of fiction need to choose between round characters vs. flat characters, as the story arc usually drives the need for both types of characters. However, writers should integrate flat characters deftly and sparingly, being careful not to overuse them.

Consider the clear differences between round vs. flat characters:

  • A round character is deep and complex, whereas a flat character is easily understandable.
  • A round character is unpredictable, whereas a flat character’s actions are not surprising or shocking.
  • A round character evolves, whereas a flat character doesn’t change.
  • A round character is difficult to describe, whereas a flat character can be summed up in a sentence.
  • A round character is multi-dimensional, whereas a flat character is based on a stereotype or trope.

Round Characters in Literature

Consider these compelling round characters:

  • Frodo Baggins from Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkien
  • Scarlett O’Hara from Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
  • Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

Flat Characters in Literature

Here are some noteworthy flat characters:

  • Miss Maudie from To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  • Diana Barry from Anne of Green Gables, by Lucy Maud Montgomery
  • Hercule Poirot, from the Agatha Christie mystery novels

Tips for Writing Round Major Characters

The quality of the reader experience depends to a great degree on the author’s ability to create complex and engaging round characters. Round characters are the heart and soul of the story, attracting the reader to connect with and care about them.

Writers should pay heed to the importance of their round characters and take care in creating them. There are, in fact, several fundamental traits to consider when developing a round character that a reader will connect with as a real person. These might include:

  • Backstory. When introducing a round character, a backstory offers a glimpse into their past, helping the reader to better understand the subsequent developments in their life. A backstory might include childhood experiences, such as their family life, school years, adverse or traumatic life events, and significant relationships.
  • Personality. Developing a character from scratch means assigning certain personality traits, idiosyncrasies, speech patterns, and tendencies that help the reader envision them as a person as they move through life.
  • Conflicts. A well-written round character will possess external and internal conflicts. These conflicts provide the character with obstacles to overcome, which keeps the reader engaged and rooting for them.
  • Flaws. What makes a character relatable are their flaws. These may be endearing shortcomings that increase a protagonist’s likeability, or they might be the antagonist’s despicable flaws that trigger the reader’s emotions.
  • Motives. The protagonist must be driven by some desire or motive that fuels their actions. Works of fiction are propelled by the obstacles and frustrations their main character faces when attempting to achieve this desired object or end result.

Writing a mix of complex fictional characters with a small handful of flat characters will keep the story balanced and engaging for readers. We hope this guide to round vs. flat characters was helpful for your book project.

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