Round Characters in Fiction

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A round character is a major player in a work of fiction—often referred to as the star of the story—who encounters conflict and is changed by the conflict that falls upon them. Round characters tend to be more fully developed and fully described than the flat, or static, characters. If you think of the characters you most love in fiction, they probably seem as real to you as people you know. This is a good indication that they are round characters.

Most Protagonists Are Round Characters But Some Are Not

The protagonist—or the main character—of almost every work of fiction is a round character. Round characters engage the reader's imagination and empathy, making it possible for the reader to imagine himself or herself in the character's shoes. The reader is able to relate to around character in some way. Often, the protagonist's personal growth mirrors the reader's own hopes and dreams.

Literary fiction usually revolves around a process of growth and change—and a character whose growth and change provide the main substance of the story. All of Jane Austen's heroines, for example, discover that their girlish assumptions and expectations are naive. Most of Austen's heroines, as a result of their experiences, change their perspectives and make decisions based on personal discovery and growth.

The Literary Exceptions

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. These exceptions are mainly in genre fiction as opposed to literary fiction. For example, Agatha Christie's detective Hercule Poirot does not grow or change as a result of his crime-solving activities. The works of Charles Dickens often center on two-dimensional characters—Oliver Twist and David Copperfield are two examples.

These characters have few personal qualities or motivations—they are essentially pawns who are used and abused by others. While their conditions change over the course of the story, they themselves change very little or not at all. These works maintain their literary importance because their purpose is not to create and explore character, but rather to delve into economic and social injustice stories.

Examples of Round Characters

Even genre novels, such as "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, gains much of its power through the development of round characters. These stories are satisfying because several of the main characters do, in fact, overcome their limitations or self-doubt to become stronger. Consider the following examples:

  • Frodo the hobbit and his friend Sam both discover unexpected depths of personal commitment, physical and emotional strength, and dedication to a cause.
  • Gandalf the wizard discovers that the trust he placed in his fellow wizards was misplaced and, as a result, becomes a stronger magical character.
  • Aragorn, the heir to a long line of kings, has given up his title. But, over the course of the stories discovers his own leadership skills and learns that he can, and should, reclaim his crown.

Creating Round Characters

A writer employs a number of tools or elements to develop a character in order to make them round including using description and dialogue. A character's responses to conflict and their internal dialogue are also revelatory and end up creating a multi-dimensional character.

How do you go about creating a round character rather than a flat one? Creating truly believable characters takes time, diligence, reading the works of the best literary authors. You may also want to answer questions about your main character to see if you've created a round or flat character.