How to Write a Round Character: Definition and Examples

When we talk about round characters, we're not talking about the egg-shaped Humpty Dumpty, Tweedledee and Tweedledum from Alice in Wonderland, or even BB-8 from Star Wars. They may be physically round, but all of those characters are actually pretty flat when it comes to their character development. And there's nothing wrong with that. They serve their purposes in their respective stories, which are supporting roles for the other actual round characters.

Most stories need to have a round character or two. There are a few exceptions, but if you're looking to write compelling stories with characters that people can identify with and root for, you need to know how to write a round character.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. What is a Round Character?
  2. Round Characters vs Flat Characters
  3. Round Characters vs Dynamic Characters
  4. Round Character Examples
  5. When and Where to Use Round Characters
  6. Tips for Writing a Flat Character

What is a Round Character?

A round character is one that is complex and multifaceted enough to be believable for the reader. A round character's personality mimics that of a real person through their actions, words, choices, and reactions to conflict. Usually, a round character is a major character, although this is not always the case.

If the reader doesn't believe that a character could be a real person — if they seem two-dimensional or stereotypical — then they will not be invested in that character's journey. And for most fiction, this is the key to a great story. This is why round characters are so important.

Round Characters vs Flat Characters

Character depth is the fundamental difference between round and flat characters. Flat characters are just what they sound like: lacking depth and a complex personality. Flat characters serve different purposes in a story. Usually, they make up the supporting roles, showing up as minor characters for the main character to interact with. For this reason, the terms “stock character” and “flat character” are often interchangeable.

A flat character can also work well as a foil character. When placed against a more complex character, a flat character can help strengthen the reader's opinion of a round character, making him or her seem more real in the process.

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Round Characters vs Dynamic Characters

A dynamic character is a character type that is easily confused with a round character. The main difference here is the character arc. Dynamic characters are defined as those that go through a change during the course of the plot. Round characters are simply defined by their complexity and believability.

That said, most round characters are also dynamic characters, but this is not always the case. A round character can also be a static character, meaning she or he doesn't go through any change during the story.

How Can You Tell if a Character is Round or Flat?

There are a couple of ways to tell if a character is round or flat. These include looking at the character's personality, whether they have an internal conflict, how they react in stressful or pressing situations, and whether they're a major or minor character.

  • Personality – A character's personality is one of the best indications as to whether they are flat or round. And personality can become apparent through dialogue, thoughts, actions, gestures, dress, and the character's backstory. Flat characters don't generally get enough page time to become anything more than stock characters. They're often only defined by one or two personality traits. Round characters are made complex, as if they've been plucked out of the real world by the author and aren't just a fictional character.
  • Internal Conflict – An internal conflict is a good indication of a round character because you don't generally spend enough time with flat characters to get to know whether they have an internal conflict or not.
  • Reactions – How a character reacts in stressful or pressing situations is another good indication as to a character's type. Flat characters will react in predictable ways, whereas round characters can often surprise the reader.
  • Major or Minor – In most literature, if you see a secondary character, they're most often a flat character. Especially if only one or two words come to mind to describe that minor character. In all but the most plot-driven novels, readers expect the main character to be complex and flawed and easily imagined as a real person.

Any one of these factors does not make a round or flat character, but when you look at any given character with these factors in mind, it becomes much easier to tell the difference between a round and flat character.

And if you really want to round out your characters, I've got a character profile template that you can download today! Fill it out, and you'll be one step closer to the best characters you've ever written.
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Round Character Examples

You can find at least one round character in most fiction stories. Let's look at some famous examples.

Lee Child's Jack Reacher 

The immensely popular Jack Reacher is an excellent example of a round character that doesn't really change. That is to say that he's a round character, but he's also a static character. This works well in part because the Jack Reacher novels are extremely plot-driven, with Reacher solving a problem and righting a wrong in each novel. But we still get to know Reacher. He's a complex character that is often surprising and always fun to follow. 

Child himself has even said that he purposely doesn't want Reacher to change because it creates a sense of familiarity for the readers. Reacher is a constant comfort, while the plots change from novel to novel.

J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter 

It's probably no surprise to you that Harry Potter is a rounded character. In fact, the Harry Potter series has a number of believable, layered characters. Not only do we learn a lot about Harry through the series, which helps him become more real in our minds, but we also get to see him change as he grows up and deals with conflict in believable ways. Harry Potter is a good example of a round and dynamic character.

Truman Capote's Holly Golightly

In Breakfast at Tiffany's, Holly Golightly seems like a carefree woman living her best life. But this is only the outward appearance. As the story evolves, we learn that she is prone to bouts of depression, lives with a cat that she hasn't bothered to name, and often doesn't know what to do when she gets what she wants. All these things combine to make Holly Golightly a character that's at once knowable and unpredictable — as all good round characters should be.

When and Where to Use Round Characters

Most major characters should be round. Even in plot-heavy stories, such as mysteries, it's important to have an interesting and believable central character. Round characters are essential for crafting a compelling and believable novel that readers will enjoy.

That said, not all characters should be round. The best books have a balance of round major characters and flat secondary characters. Readers want to root for the protagonist, even if she or he is an antihero. And in order for that to happen, the protagonist needs to be surprising, complex, flawed, and layered.

Tips for Writing a Round Character

Once you know what a round character is and what makes them round, you're in a better position to create one of your own. So here are a few tips to help you do just that.

1. Character Analysis

Pick a character that you like. It can be from a short story, a novel, a movie, or a television show. Take that character and write down what you know about them. See if you can do it without referencing the material. Write down things like:

  • Appearance
  • Demeanor
  • Speech Patterns
  • Internal and External Changes
  • History
  • Family
  • Secrets
  • Wishes
  • Goals
  • Weaknesses
  • Flaws

While you may not have something for every single one of the factors above, gather as many as you can. Then ask yourself if the character is round or flat. Most memorable characters are round, so if you like the character, they're probably round.

2. Create Your Own Character

Take the factors from above and use them to flesh out your own character. This can be one from a story you're already writing, or simply thinking up one from scratch as a writing exercise. You can always start with a character archetype and expand on it, making the character come to life. You may not use everything you write down about the character, but the more you know your character, the more likely it is you'll be able to create a compelling and complex protagonist or antagonist when it comes time to write.

3. Use Direct and Indirect Characterization

Indirect and direct characterization are key to creating a round character. If you're not familiar, direct characterization is describing the character by their clothes, physical appearance, occupation, hobbies, and pursuits. Indirect characterization is the process of describing a character through their actions, thoughts, speech patterns, personality traits, and dialogue.

It's important to use both types of characterization when writing your story, as too much of one or the other can make for a dull or even confusing reading experience.

4. Let the Details Unfold

Let the reader uncover the character as the story progresses. To do this, avoid info dumps about the character. Readers don't expect to learn everything about a character all at once. In fact, they may get bored and find the character predictable if this happens. This is why it's best to reveal the character's personality, backstory, flaws, goals, and weaknesses a bit at a time. And don't forget that these reveals are best done by putting the character into conflict.

Conclusion

Take a look at the book you're reading right now. Or the show you're currently enjoying. Chances are, there's a round character there somewhere. They are common and often essential for an entertaining and engaging story. Round characters mimic real people in that they are often unpredictable, multifaceted, and deeply layered.



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