Surviving Nanowrimo # 7: Round and Flat Characters

Years ago the novelist and critic E. M. Forster stated in his Aspects of the Novel that there were two kinds of characters. Round characters are those that were multi-dimensional and complex. The kind that lead a reader to believe a character is realistic. Round characters are usually the major characters of a novel, unless the novel is a comedy.

Flat characters are those that are one-dimensional and simple. The are usually the walk-on characters who have only a few scenes. Characters like the cop that gives out a ticket or the cook in a restaurant.

Anne Tyler proved that this didn’t necessary need to be. A walk-on character could be just as round as a major character. In The Accidental Tourist, she has a waitress serve Macon Leary, the protagonist. In just a paragraph, the waitress is as alive as any round character in the novel. The fact that I find her memorable years after reading the novel proves that.

When writing a novel, try to see the walk-ons as real people with real lives. The novel may be the protagonist’s movie. But the walk-on sees themselves in their own movie intersecting with the protagonist’s movie. Sometimes the walk-on becomes so memorable that the novelist feels they have to write a novel for that character.

So give your walk-ons a chance to shine. They won’t let you down.

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