Good storytelling uses a mix of character types to propel the movement of the plot. There are four basic character elements that you need to know in order to write compelling characters: round, flat, dynamic, and static. In this post we will look at what is a round vs. flat character, as well as the difference between dynamic and static characters, which are often confused with round vs. flat characters. If you’re looking for a round vs. dynamic character definition, you’ve come to the right place – because we’re going to untangle all of these character types!
Round vs. Flat Characters, Static or Dynamic Characters
What is the difference between round and flat characters? You can think of round vs. flat characters as the “primary” character types, the core nature of a character. Whereas dynamic and static are descriptors of whether those character types “move,” if they evolve or stay the same over the course of the narrative. Both flat and round characters in literature, television, and film, can help drive a story, and neither is good or bad. Too many flat characters don’t make a story compelling enough for an audience to get invested, whereas too many round characters can clutter a plot and require so much backstory we cannot follow the narrative thread.
ROUND vs. FLAT CHARACTER DEFINITION
What is a Round vs. Flat Character?
What are the differences between flat and round characters? Round characters are multifaceted and lifelike, while flat characters are the “stereotypes” of storytelling. Flat characters often follow predictable tropes and are less relatable, whereas round characters offer surprise and complex layers to their personality, like real people.
Compare and Contrast Flat and Round Characters
Round vs. Flat Characters
What are round and flat characters? A round character is complex, layered, and multidimensional. As a round character unfolds their personality, inner and outer conflicts, and motivations, they advance the plot. Round characters always deepen and reveal some kind of emotional development by the story's end – though they may not actually transform. (More on that below.)
Flat characters, on the other hand, tend to be rather shallowly drawn. These are the “stock” characters who lack complexity and depth. Flat characters are one-dimensional, and often draw from common stereotypes like the “evil villain,” the “goofy sidekick,” or the “mean boss.” You can usually describe a flat character in one sentence, as their personality does not surprise or have any backstory to it. See our post What is a Flat Character to dig into how to identify flat characters and utilize them in your writing.
To get a clearer sense of flat vs. round characters, let’s check out the following video. The classic evil characters from Harry Potter are a great example of flat characters. Their basic motivations never change and their personalities never develop (save the surprising Professor Snape, who you can read about in our post on What is a Round Character).
Flat vs. Static Character
Now, is it Dynamic or Static?
In addition to being either flat vs. round characters, any given character type is also either static or dynamic. Often, when people talk about flat vs. round characters, “round” is confused to mean dynamic, and “flat” is confused with static. But there is a difference between static and flat characters. But round characters can be static, and flat characters can, believe it or not, be dynamic. The question is not whether you have a flat character vs. static character, or a round vs. dynamic character – it’s whether you have a flat vs. round character, and a static vs. dynamic character. Confused yet? Let’s look a bit closer at the different types of flat vs. round characters to unwrinkle how flat vs. static characters can often be confused.
Dynamic characters are what we usually think of when we think of “round” characters. Dynamic characters always undergo some kind of transformation over the course of a story. Both flat and round characters can change, therefore, either flat characters or round characters can be dynamic. A dynamic character’s defining characteristic is not how interesting they are or how much depth they reveal–remember, depth is a matter of flat vs. round characters. Whereas, the issue of whether a character is dynamic or static is simply a matter of whether they change over the course of the story. Check out the video below for an overview of round, flat, dynamic, and static characters:
Examples of Dynamic Round Characters
- Ebenezer Scrooge from Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is the ultimate dynamic, round character. He starts out layered, with a past that has shaped him to be the miser he is in the present day, and through a transformative visit with a ghost his cold heart becomes kinder and more sympathetic to his fellow man.
- Shrek from the Shrek series is also another classic round, dynamic character. He goes from a grumpy, mean old ogre to a kind soul transformed by his love for the princess.
It is common to only think of dynamic characters when we think about what is a round character. But a round character can also be static. This is why we need a round vs. dynamic character definition. When a round character is static, they maintain a fixed personality and do not undergo any real transformation over the course of a story. This lack of transformation can actually be part of what makes them so relatable. Their frustrating inability to change or grow or finally learn a lesson can provide a key foothold into why we care about their journey.
The following chart breaks down the four character types into a visual so you can see what is a round vs. flat character, and how they can be either dynamic or static:
A Breakdown of Character Types
Character Study: Compare & Contrast
Basically, if you’re trying to determine the difference between a flat character vs. static characters, you want to assess whether the character has depth, and whether they change. So you probably want to determine whether you have a flat character vs. round character before deciding whether they are going to change.
Examples of Static Round Characters
- Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series is a reliable, static round character. Sure, his personality deepens over the course of the story. But ultimately, he starts out good and ends good. His basic nature does not change or surprise, and that stasis provides an anchor for traversing the many twists and turns of the story. While other characters deepen, switch sides and surprise us during the course of Lord Voldemort’s overtaking of Hogwarts, Harry is always the good guy.
- Emily Dickinson in the fictionalized Dickinson is the ultimate static round character. What helps make her so relatable is that she was drawn from the real life Dickinson, who plumbed incredible depths through her poetry (round) but rarely left her small hometown of Amherst, Massachusetts. Though she has many layers, contradictions, and moments where her actions surprise us, her basic nature never changes.
Both Flat and Round Characters Can Change
Exceptions to the Rule
The vast majority of the time, flat characters are also static. (Again, a reminder: the issue is not one of flat character vs. static character, but flat character vs. round character, and dynamic vs. static). But sometimes, a flat character can undergo some kind of change that switches them to dynamic, and usually this surprise reveals them to actually be a round character. Let’s look at two stereotypically “evil” characters from Harry Potter who actually surprise us by going from flat to round by changing over the course of the narrative:
Examples of Flat Dynamic or Static Characters
- Draco in Harry Potter starts out as a flat character, a stereotypical bully who helps foil Harry’s good but cursed protagonist. But over time, he begins to develop and change, even showing a sensitive side to his personality, a capacity to see the morals of a situation. He is thus a flat character who is also dynamic. But, he is an accessory to the plot, so he never really develops into a full-fledged round character.
- Professor Snape, on the other hand, starts out as a flat “villain,” but over the course of the series surprises us so many times that by story’s end, he has become both round and dynamic. He is eventually bequeathed with a compelling backstory, demonstrates a complexity of motivations, and we care about him and his relationship to Harry and the fate of Hogwarts.
Want to dig deeper into Character Types?
Want to dive deeper into round character types? Now that you know the difference between flat vs. static characters, and round vs. dynamic characters, you can add depth and dimension to your story and use a character’s stasis or development to help bring your story to life. Check out our post What is a Round Character to dig into characters with depth and interest.