How Do I Create a ‘Round’ Character?
In fiction, the practice of differentiating “round” verses “flat” characters is quite common. Flat characters are stereotypical, one-dimensional: The evil boss, the dumb cheerleader, or the supportive friend. These characters are predictable, and are incapable of surprising the readers. Contrarily, round characters react to conflict in unexpected ways. They have depth, and hidden fears and desires. Maybe that evil boss surprises everyone with holiday bonuses or lights up when asked about his dog. Or perhaps the shallow cheerleader is discovered reading Lord Byron’s poetry in the back of the library.
First, like real people, a character should have a background. He or she needs a past—a childhood, a family, major life events—and is capable of memory (flashbacks) and thoughts. The writer should know his or her character backwards and forwards, but need not include all this in the story. The more familiar a writer is with a character, the more natural he or she will seem to the readers, even if the entire life story isn’t part of the fiction.
Physical description is one of the most central forms of character development, and a good way to begin designing that rounded character. Physical descriptions may be directly told: “Patti was tall and slender with a svelte waistline, and tanned legs. Her dirty blonde hair was cut short, and spiked on top, resembling David Bowie;” Or simply implied or shown: “Paul’s presence filled up the doorway, and brought in a piney scent from outside where he had spent the last two hours chopping firewood.”
Rounded characters need well-defined personalities. This is best when achieved through highlighting a character’s speech and actions, as opposed to simply telling the readers, “Jane often lost her temper when driving in traffic.” It is more compelling to show Jane cursing at the other drivers, or honking her horn in impatience. Also, it is crucial to establish a character’s voice when writing dialogue. A 65 year old professor is bound to sound different than a 14 year girl. Dialogue helps establish personality—does the character have a speech impediment or speak in slang or with an accent? Is he or she bitingly sarcastic?
Needs, Wants, and Desires
Well-developed, round characters all want or desire something. They have a goal to fulfill, and the decisions they make throughout the story can drive the plot, as well as reveal the character. Maybe the character wants revenge, a lover, or even a car. The plot should emphasize the ways in which the character goes after this desire—the decisions he or she will make, and the conflicts he or she will encounter while aiming to tackle this goal.
Once a character’s background, physical description, personality, and desires are established, go further. What makes that character unique? What are his or her personality quirks? Maybe Jane, along with getting angry in traffic, lights candles to calm herself down. Character’s also need flaws—such as Jane’s anger—in order to stay humanistic. No one in real life is virtuous all the time, go