One of the most crucial questions to answer before starting your novel is, what is a round character?
Round characters take literature from mediocre to classics and oftentimes, keep readers thinking about the character long after they finish the last page.
In this article, I provide you with a round character definition, the core characteristics of this type of character, and four tips to help you master writing them.
Leveling up your writing, connecting more deeply with your readers, and creating a lasting impression on your audience all starts with the simple question: what is a round character? So let’s dive into the answer!
This Detailed Definition of a Round Character Includes:
What Is A Round Character, Defined
Round characters portray many of the characteristics of real-life individuals: multi-faceted, layered, and complex. They are usually very dynamic characters that take time to flesh out. Just as it takes time to get to know a new friend, discover what they love and dislike, what their top character motivations are, and what inspires them, the same is true for round characters.
Characters that readers connect with feel human. They embody the characteristics we do, and often portray some of the flaws we work to overcome.
You’ve likely encountered round characters without even realizing it. When you open a new book, it’s unlikely you ask yourself, “What is a round character, and does this book include any?”
Instead, you simply notice the characteristics of specific characters you relate to:
- The larger-than-life hero who is afraid of snakes
- The orphan with a destiny that will change the world
- The girl who acts valiantly despite deep-seated fears
But as an author, it's important to know and understand the round character definition – and have some tips in your back pocket for effectively writing them into your stories.
4 Core Characteristics of a Round Character
We’ve asked, “what is a round character?” And we've defined it. Now, it’s time to learn how to identify them clearly.
Here are four core characteristics of round characters – and tips on how to write them into your next book.
1. A Complex, Multi-Dimensional Personality
Round characters take time to get to know. Many authors choose to slowly peel back the layers of these characters over time – which is one reason why they often appear in book series.
If you're asking yourself, “What is a round character, and how do I write one?” take a look in the mirror. Whether you consider yourself boring, standard, or exceptional, chances are that your personality is more complex than you realize. Note the duality of who you are, whether as simple as idiosyncrasies or complex as fears that are in friction with your dreams. Think about how your personality, behavior, beliefs, and actions sometimes contradict themselves.
That's true complexity.
Now, apply this same thought process to your round character.
2. Layered Weaknesses
We all wish our strengths always outweighed our weaknesses, but the fact remains that we are human, and sometimes we make the worse of two choices. For the best round characters, the same is true.
Consider the characters you most love, whether from novels or films, and take a moment to remember their weaknesses or fatal flaws. Part of the story arc of a great round character is watching them overcome their weaknesses with growing strength.
However, nobody wants to read characters that are all weakness and no strength. So layer in the weaknesses as the story progresses – and give them small triumphs to celebrate.
3. Commentary and Experiences That Feel Real
A round character feels realistic.
They get blisters, dislike certain colors and love others, always forget to tuck their shirt in, have a specific type of humor (or don’t), and have favorite foods.
Small details portray realism. So don't forget to add these things in to help your readers resonate with your characters on a more personal level.
These real moments also complement the complexity and weaknesses of the round character. For instance, it’s easy to want to get into the best shape of our lives, but taking that run on a rainy day can feel too difficult. As you write your round character, keep real-life experiences and choices in mind.
Need some inspiration?
Take up people-watching. Mix up your normal writing process or routine by going to a coffee shop for a day. Notice people's orders, their interactions, how they stand in line, their body language, and how they eat or drink. The smallest details can bring the biggest authenticity to your characters.
4. Notable Transformation
In order to truly answer the question: “What is a round character?” you must include the fact that they do not stay the same throughout the story. Their change does not need to be dramatic, but there should be some form of self-discovery or realization.
Consider Severus Snape’s character arc versus Dumbledor’s in Harry Potter (arguably one of the best fantasy book series, but I digress) Both characters are round; both are vital to the plot, but one experiences dramatic change whilst one resolutely remains mostly the same, even in the face of great difficulty.
Dumbledore is a bit more of a static character – he is interesting, real, and multi-dimensional but remains consistent throughout the series.
While there are many examples of round characters undergoing transformations in your favorite novels, you can once again get inspiration from real life. Study historical figures and famous individuals, many of which have had their lives thoroughly documented from birth to death. Study how these iconic figures changed over time, noting that progress is often slow and nonlinear.
Use these real-life round character arcs as inspiration for your novel.
Before we get into some examples of round characters, it's important to note that this type of protagonist does not belong in every novel.
On occasion, writing a flat character will serve you better. Consider Sherlock Holmes in the book of the same name or Mr. Collins in Jane Austen’s classic novel. Sherlock gives familiarity to the series, and Mr. Collins is a comedic, though frustrating, recurrence when we least expect it.
Examples Of Round Characters
A round character is humanized, whether the protagonist, villain, or supporting character. There are countless examples of round characters, but here is a short list to help get your imagination going:
- Dana, Kindred
- Gale, The Hunger Games
- Scout, To Kill A Mockingbird
- Severus Snape, Harry Potter
- Mr. Darcy, Pride and Prejudice
- Jay Gatsby, The Great Gatsby
- Marlin, Finding Nemo
- Hamlet, Hamlet
Notice that this covers protagonists but also secondary characters and even characters with some villain-like qualities. When asking yourself, “Who is a round character in my story?” remember to think outside the box.
While protagonists are usually round, villains, foil characters, and even orbital characters can embody some of the characteristics of round characters.
The more you want your audience to connect with the characters in your book, the more important it is to present them with some of the qualities mentioned above.
What Is A Round Character: Putting It Into Practice
Learning to define a round character is the first step—putting it into practice is another effort entirely. So how do you do so effectively?
The key word, like most writing tips, is simple: practice. A helpful way to begin may be to choose a character you have already written and write down details about them you included in the story.
Next, write down a list of details you wish you had included and how you could do so. Finally, choose a scene you really enjoyed writing, open a blank document (or sheet of paper) and rewrite the scene with characteristics of round characters.
Surround these characters with other types of personalities to highlight their specific complexities, challenges, and transformations.
Notice the difference between the two scenes, list the pros and cons, and then repeat the process. Happy writing!