How to Recognize Round Characters in Fiction

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In works of fiction, a round character is a significant player who is often the star of the story. This type of character encounters conflict and is changed by it. Round characters tend to be more developed than the flat characters, which are incidental. 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

The protagonist of almost every work of fiction is a round character. These main characters engage the reader's imagination and empathy, making it possible for the reader to imagine themselves in their shoes. Often, the protagonist's personal growth mirrors the reader's hopes and dreams.

Literary fiction usually revolves around a process of growth and change with a character whose experience reflects this and provides the primary substance of the story. All of Jane Austen's heroines, for example, discover that their girlish assumptions and expectations are naive, which influences them to change their perspectives and make decisions based on personal discovery and growth.

Creating Round Characters

A writer develops a character and makes them round by employing several tools or elements such as description and dialogue. A character's responses to conflict and their internal dialogue are also revelatory and serve to create a multi-dimensional character.

Creating truly believable characters takes time, diligence, and study of the works of the best literary authors. There are also specific questions you can ask to determine if the character you're writing about is a round or flat character.

  • Where does your character live?
  • Where is your character from?
  • How old is your character?
  • What is your character called?
  • What does your character look like?
  • What kind of childhood did your character have?
  • What does your character do for a living?
  • How does your character deal with conflict or change?
  • Who else is in your character's life?
  • What is your character's goal or motivation in this story or scene?

Examples of Round Characters

Even genre novels, such as "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien, gain much of their power through the development of round characters. These stories are satisfying because several of the main characters overcome their limitations or self-doubt to become stronger. Consider these 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, throughout the stories, he discovers his own leadership skills and learns that he can, and should, reclaim his crown.

The Literary Exceptions

There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, 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 like Oliver Twist and David Copperfield.

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 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 stories of economic and social injustice.