Wednesday, 1 April 2020

If You Think It, You Can Write It!: Round & Flat Characters


I hope you and yours are safe and well and surviving this crisis without too much hardship. I was particularly moved by seeing how people—not just from one country, but from many—are publicly applauding their health workers on a daily basis. These men and women deserve every bit of support we can give, because they are our first line of defense in the war against the corona virus. 

Self-isolation, as many are required to do, is an austerity for a social species, yet boredom is often a prerequisite for creativity. So… if you’ve ever thought of writing a novel, this could be the perfect time to get serious. Check out the introduction and previous chapters and why not get started?

This is the final chapter dealing specifically with development of characters but, as you are learning, they are never far from a writer's mind.

Chapter 3: Round & Flat Characters 

When E. M. Forster used the term flat and round to describe characters in  Aspects of a Novel, he wasn’t referring to Laurel and Hardy; he was distinguishing between major and minor characters.

If the protagonist is a portrait painted with all the colors available to an artist, then minor characters are a simple black and white sketch. In one, the facial features and physical characteristics are defined, some areas are highlighted while others are shaded whereas, in a line drawing, the outline is there, the figure is visible but much less is revealed about them. 

Round characters are the key players in your story and are fully developed, possessing different facets to their personalities. They carry the plot, are central to the critical events and writers lavish hours of thought and deliberation, bringing them to life on the page; the focus is on them because, above all, they must come across as authentic.

Nonetheless, your protagonists and antagonists don’t live in a vacuum and the walk-on roles such as distant family members, garage attendants, doctors, etc., these are your flat characters. The number is as many as your story requires, and even though, these people may only appear briefly, they need to come alive in people's minds.

One method of making less important individuals stand out is to give them a specific detail or two along with an action, if appropriate. When you introduce them, describe in full at least one aspect of their appearance; a flamboyant way of dressing, a lopsided smile, corkscrew curls, a mustache that a man strokes—something which helps the reader recognize them when they reappear.

Charles Dickens was a genius when it came to inventing vivid details for his supporting cast. I still can’t hear the word humble without remembering Uriah Heap from David Copperfield with his repetitious ‘ever so humble’ phrase. Giving a minor character a physical or verbal tic, such as a particular speech pattern or idiolect, is another method of establishing them as memorable.

As readers we identify with the main character: their loves, hates, motivations and their journey. However, being playful with your secondary characters adds that extra dash of spice and flavor, creating more variety for your audience.

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Writing Exercise 1: 
Using either the book you're reading or your favorite novel, study one or more minor characters, noting how the writer has made this person stand out.

Writing Exercise 2: 
If your have a WIP (work in progress), check that you’ve given your minor characters a distinct attribute or phrase and see if you can tweak them a bit more. If you haven't yet started your novel, create a minor character and spend five minutes describing them. Give them a definitive physical attribute or phrase.

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Stay well and stay safe.
Sending lots of positive thoughts and prayers your way.
Until next month, best wishes
Teagan.

Photo: Fabian Irsara on Unsplash


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