Entire libraries could be filled with the books and articles written by much better writers than I on how to develop characters in your book. And no doubt as I go through this some equivocation will occur with the terms I’m using. Some experts may think I’m misdiscribing one thing, or that one is not relevant. I do not claim to be presenting the definitive work on the subject, so cut me a break.
I’m also not going to tell you how to decide what types of personalities to give to your characters. Only you know your stories, and hopefully you have an idea of what types of personalities you envision experiencing your story.
What I am going to give you is a general overview of the four major types of characters: Flat, Round, Static, and Dynamic.
Flat or Round?
Flat Characters – These characters are exactly what you’re probably thinking. They are two dimensional unimportant characters. They are “flat” because you know very little about them. They are background noise to everything important that’s happening in the foreground. Most don’t even get names. You see them in movie credits as “Biker #1” or “Skinny Waiter”. The reader never learns anything about flat characters other than the fact that they exist…and maybe a little about what they look like or what they happen to be doing that moment in the scene.
Round Characters – These characters are the exact opposite of flat characters. They have a third dimension to their development. The reader knows their names, background, likes, dislikes, or hobbies…anything necessary to make the character a real person. They get full, complicated lives in the mind of the reader. They are “fully developed.”
Static or Dynamic?
Static Characters – The word “static” means “unchanging.” Simply put, a static character is a character that doesn’t change. They begin their involvement with the story and end their involvement in exactly the same life circumstance and attitude. What you see at the beginning is the same as what you see at the end. They can become an anchor and constant with which to judge the development of other characters.
Static characters can be either flat or round. But by definition all flat characters must be static.
Dynamic Characters – Just as “static” means “unchanging”, the word “dynamic” means “changing.” Dynamic characters are characters who change throughout the story. They learn and grow. Their lives change. Their attitudes change. What they are to the story in the beginning is not what they are in the end, for good or bad.
By definition all dynamic characters must be round characters.
Why is this important?
As you build your cast of characters, you need to be aware of what of these four roles each character will play. Obviously most of your main characters will be dynamic. But if you don’t identify static characters or flat characters, you may fall into the trap of spending too much time developing the wrong characters.
Is this supposed to be a flat background character? Don’t waste time giving us detailed information about them.
Are they important to the story? Make sure you at least round the character a little.
Should this character be static? Don’t be tempted to give them something to grow over, because it’ll take away from the main story. Maybe consider writing a spin-off.
Of course, your main character is a dynamic character. Don’t forget to give them all the necessary details to have a nice life. And don’t forget to screw up their life so that they can learn something.
——–> Continue to Next Article – Five Stage Plot
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4 thoughts on “Story Building Mastery 5 – Character Development”
I’ve heard Gollum described as a flat character. He has very little character growth. He remains the same, aside from a brief foray into schizophrenia with the Gollum/Smeagol thing. Gollum still comes out on top in the end. Yet he’s hugely entertaining for all that.
Thanks for commenting, Kessie! I know there’s some equivocation with some people’s opinions over how I define the terms. But as I defined it Gollum would definitely be Static because he doesn’t change. But he’s not flat. We do know his background and story, so he’s a Rounded character but he’s Static.
My opinion anyway.