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Column Eight: Round and Flat Characters

By Janice Alonso

Characters may be complex with intricate or complicated personalities, or they may be simple, with a “what-you-see-is-what-you get” label. Those who have turmoil in their lives or conflicts are called round. These individuals have issues. A flat character is someone with a single defining trait. While there are always exceptions, major characters are usually round, and minor characters are more often flat.

Let’s examine a couple of examples of round and flat characters. Remember the geeky teen with acne from last column? He can remain a stock character, but let’s round him out a bit. His name is Matt, a high school junior, and is the only child of high profile career parents. He loves designing sets for school plays, and he dreams of his work showcased on Broadway. Matt’s parents are getting a divorce because they’ve grown apart. His mom is moving from their home in California to take a new position in New York. They want the best for their son, so they are letting Matt make an important decision: he may remain in San Francisco with his dad or move to the East Coast with his mom. But it becomes more complicated than this for our young man

Ariel has fallen in love with Matt – his first encounter with any relationship; also, since he was a child, Matt has wanted to go to NYU to pursue a career in theater. Staying with his dad would keep him near his girlfriend, but he’d have to sacrifice or delay his dream of his work appearing on Broadway. Moving with his mom to New York would enhance his chances of going to NYU and getting a jump-start on that goal. Matt’s life is complicated, and while he remains the geeky teen outwardly, he is living in the wake of making a choice that could impact his future. Our stock character is now round.

A flat character has one characteristic that follows him/her throughout a story. Let me introduce you to Hannah. She is our second example of another often used stock character: the personal assistant. In our example, she is the “right hand girl” to an internationally successful fashion model. Hannah has an obsessive-compulsive personality. The readers know nothing else about her, but in every scene in which she appears, she exhibits this trait. The writer doesn’t need identify her because Hannah is continually straightening paintings, fluffing sofa pillows as soon as someone stands, and adjusting collars, skits, and wayward strands of hair on her boss. This is the sum-total we know about this character, and it is all the writer wants us to know. Hannah is a flat, stock character. Her one defining trait is that she is obsessive compulsive.

We’ve spent the last few columns looking at kinds or types of characters. These characters fall into two groups: major and minor characters. The protagonist, antagonist, and confidant are examples of major characters. Minor characters include foils, and stock and symbolic characters. Major ones are necessary to the development of the story. They are important because they are the ones who impact the outcome of the conflicts as a series of events moves toward the resolution. Minor characters, while they may not influence the outcome of the story, do help to move the major players forward as the plot advances: not a hard and fast rule, but major characters impact the development and outcome of a story while minor characters are used to advance the storyline.

In the next column, we’ll look at what we’ve learned about characters’ functions and purposes, and then see how they are vital tools in an author’s creative box.

Our homonyms are “capital” and “capitol.”

Capital – has many definitions, but the most used are: the city or town that is the
official seat of a state or country (with a capital letter, the proper name of a
building in Washington, D.C.), the upper case of a letter of the alphabet, or the
wealth owned by an individual or company.
ex: Atlanta is the capital of Georgia.
Use a capital letter when writing a proper noun.
Home Depot has a large capital.
Capitol – a building used by state or federal legislatures.
ex: We spent our summer touring state capitols.

An easy way to remember the difference between capital and capitol is that capitol always refers to a building. In all other cases, use capital.

Step Eight: Create one round character and one flat character for a story you are writing.

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