Writer's Notebook

Round vs. Flat Characters

Posted on January 31, 2015 at 12:35 AM

We have been studying round and flat Characters in class. One of the things that makes a character round instead of flat is that character's depth, and their abilities to surprise us in convincing ways. The discussion led me to the question, "Are people basically good, bad, or shades of both?" I haven't  completely formulated my opinion on the question, but here is the start of my answer to it:

People are basically good--and they are basically bad. We are made in the image of God, and at creation, he called us, "good." Yet, we also live in a fallen and sinful world, full of evil and decay. We are rotten to the core.

Being made in the image of God, we can see some of his characteristics in us. Some people are very creative. Some are fair and just. Some are hospitable and compassionate. Some people care for orphans and widows, and others help clothe and feed the homeless and the refugees. All of us, in varying degrees, bear God's fingerprint.

We cannot help but notice one person's joy, another's kindness, or one's ability to be a peacemaker, and those intent on helping the poor. We all have some ability to do good.

However, we also have the ability to do wrong. We decieve, we manipulate, and we use others for our own selfish advantages. We cheat, when we could have studied harder. We steal when we could have worked for what we wanted. We covet others' belongings, instead of rejoicing with them for what God has blessed them with. We lash out in anger at one another. We are selfish and sometimes think of others as less than ourselves, as less than human. We murder, we rape, we enslave one another, and commit all kinds of atrocities. We are all varying shades of darkness and evil. Therefore, we are not completely "good."

We are the complicated messes that we enjoy reading about. We are the real-life models that authors use in their writings.We are round and alive and complex. We are the Scarlett O'haras, the David Copperfields, the Jane Eyres, and the Eponines of the real world.

As an writer, I think the only way to develop round characters is to study people in real life. That's why professors assign people watching and evesdropping to their English students. It's why artists use actual people as models for their work, or if they paint still-life, they have their "scene" set in front of them. If we want to produce art that imitates reality, we have to imitate reality! 

I'm going to admit to you that some of my friends have cameos in my work, or are the base idea for a character that I develop through putting the character in lots of different scenarios to see how they react. My characters are not 100% representative of those they are based off of, but I start with real people that I know. 


Categories: Writer's Notebook, Advanced Creative Writing: Fiction

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