Round vs. flat

Characters are an important part of every story. They are the vehicles to which the story rides.

The diversity of characters in a story should be great. No one character should be exactly like another. (Unless they are meant to be)  I mentioned Dynamic vs. Static characters. Within either of those groups lies another option. Round vs. Flat.

Rounded characters are full, interesting and often multi-layered in their approach. Regardless of the complication or lack of in a character I keep track of them in detail. Consistency is key to character writing.  Rounded doesn’t mean dynamic. Dynamic is changing and evolving(or de-evolving) while rounded means the character has a rich character. Often with a background story that should be reviled in a timely manner within the story. They have emotional depth and react to things and situations. The more rounded a character is the more realistic they feel to the reader.

A rounded character takes time to grow and develop. They need a lot of attention even if they are minor in the story. I like to give minor rounded characters one very distance flaw or quirk. Sometimes they get their own mini side story. For example a character that is picked on my a main character may have a breakdown or a moment of strength. They may impact the main character’s journey but not change it.  Amber picked on Rachel. I let Rachel interact with Amber, Dale and Scott and eventually Rachel stood up for herself just as Amber is starting to question her behavior and life choices. I gave Rachel a back-story, emotional responses, opinions, thoughts and feelings. She reacts to situations but isn’t a key part of them. (See ‘what if’s of imagination’)

Flat characters are the two-dimensional ones. They often have little to no impact on the story. They come and go and are there as a prop for a scene.

Examples of Flat characters
Waiter/Waitress
Counter clerk/sales person
Receptionist/concierge
Co-worker
Relatives
Police officer/fireman/paramedic
Panhandlers/Buskers
Person bumped into on bus, street etc.

Whether they are reoccurring or a one-off flat characters don’t need a lot of attention. I barely give them a presence. A general description if necessary. I don’t go in to detail over what they wear, how they look or act. These people are the cardboard cut-outs and are meant to be. I dislike very much when a flat character gets a full paragraph of introduction then absolutely nothing happens with them. They go nowhere and do nothing.  I don’t care what colour their eyes, hair, skin and clothes are if they have no impact on the story whatsoever.

My advice about flat vs. Round characters.
I often say I write what I like, what I want to read. The same is true for the opposite. Judge carefully who needs depth and who can stay in the background. Two dimensional characters tend to stay that way. If you give them more than you have to make them more.

-Sheryl

Related Posts

 The “What ifs” Of Imagination

Squeaky Clean

Wisely Perpetrating Gullibility

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Timely

Static Vs. Dynamic

There are many facets to writing characters in a story. I like to make mine as layered and real as possible and use charts and lists to ensure I know who they are from their quirks right up to major character flaws that define them.

A dynamic character is one that changes over time. They start off one way then learn and grow as the story or stories progress. Sometimes this happens by design and sometimes it happens out of creative circumstance. This doesn’t always mean for the better. A character can rise up from the ashes or descend blindly to the depths of hell. There is a caution here, having a character spontaneously change is frustrating and weird. There must be foreshadowing, cause and effect put into play. If Scott went crazy for no reason and just snapped it would be weird for the reader. Unless I’m going for shock value. Even then I would have foreshadowed it a little.

On the flip side of a dynamic character are static ones. The static character remains steady. They don’t grow and develop or crash and burn. They simply are there and stay that way.  Most often a static character is on the side or comes around infrequently. I’ve noticed the “advice givers” or wisest of characters are often static. they don’t have a journey to make they’ve already been there and done that.

Examples of typical stationary characters:
Boss’s
Parents/relatives
Best friends with no strife in their life
Teachers
Co-workers not tied to the story
The guy selling hot-dogs on the corner
The advice giving barista
Doctors and or nurses
The doorman/server/maid/concierge

Basically, anyone in a dynamic character’s life that are not directly a part of it. There have been times when a static character is pulled into the story and becomes dynamic, but I choose them carefully and try to replace them with another static character.  I’ve also had characters that are constantly around the most dynamic and still stay the same. Not everyone needs to grow and evolve or fail and de-evolve.

A static or background character runs the danger of becoming inert. They can easily have an impact on the story, good or bad. They can easily help the dynamic’s of the story move along their path. A static character isn’t a one-off appearance. They are there more than once, often a support system of sorts. They should not always be dull or invisible. I call this the cardboard cutout character. The one that is there but not.  The easiest way to give them some color is to give them humor or make them the ‘middle-man’.

Confusing growth with change is easy to do. Circumstances can change for a static character, they can react/act within that change and still remain static.  Dale is a character that hasn’t grown, rather his circumstances have changed and he adapts within his set parameters that I created. He is still the same and hasn’t become more or less of a hero, nor has he become or more or less of a villain. Scott has changed for the bad. He is slipping into an old dark shoe that has nothing to do with this story but affects his personality. This is known as back-story. His change was foreshadowed with actions, expression, and words.

My advice about Static vs. Dynamic characters
We spend a lot of time focused on the Dynamic characters. I think it’s important to give Static one’s depth too. Give them a history, purpose, range of emotion and response. They don’t need to learn, but they shouldn’t be cardboard cut-outs either.

-Sheryl

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 Blindly