What Is a Round Character in Fiction?

Round characters grow and change

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A round character is a major character in a work of fiction who encounters conflict and is changed by it. Round characters tend to be more fully developed and described than 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 in real life. This is a good sign that they are round characters.

Why Most Protagonists Are Round Characters (and Some Are Not)

The protagonist (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 him or herself in the character's shoes. 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 provides the meat of the story. All of Jane Austen's heroines, for example, discover that their girlish assumptions and expectations are naive. Most, as a result of their experiences, change their perspectives and make decisions based on personal discovery and growth.

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, for example, often center on two-dimensional characters (Oliver Twist, David Copperfield, etc.).

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

Examples of Round Characters

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

  • 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 becomes a stronger magical character as a result.
  • Aragorn, 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, making him or her round, including description and dialogue. A character's responses to conflict and his or her internal dialogue are also revelatory.

How do you go about creating a round character rather than a flat one? Creating truly believable characters takes time and thought, of course; you can start by answering these questions about your main character.

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