“Your character is flat!” is one of the most disheartening comments a writer can get from an editor or reviewer. Just knowing that your character is a flat cardboard cut-out is a stake to the heart to a budding author.
This, however, shouldn’t make you give up writing. Almost every writer ends up with a flat character or two but this isn’t the end of the world.
The key is to learn how to transform a two-dimensional character into an epic three-dimensional one for a magnificent upgrade of your character development in the future.
But sometimes the most difficult thing is identifying a flat character rather than fixing it. This is why these tips will come in handy as you’ll learn what a flat character is and what remedies you can use to fix flat characters that come up in your writing.
Also, don´t forget that these tips for improving your characters can work even better if used in conjunction with LivingWriter features. A great feature for character building is the “Story Elements”, since it lets you keep track of any cool ideas you might have for a character, so do give it a try!
What is a Flat Character
Ever heard of the phrase “riddled with flat characters” and wondered what it meant?
A flat character is a persona with a plain personality that shows little or no ambition and motivation. The character also doesn’t go through any transformation that makes them have a well-rounded personality.
To be specific, a flat character is the opposite of a round character, who has a clearly defined profile and experiences changes throughout the story.
Ideally, a flat character will:
- Lack a multidimensional nature
- Never go through character growth
- Never have internal conflict
- Match up to a stereotype
On the other hand, a three-dimensional or multi-faceted character will:
- Experience internal conflict
- Have a rounded personality
- Undergo vast character growth
- Go through an emotional and mental transformation
Flat characters are often called “one-dimensional” or “two-dimensional” because of their minimal or lack of complexity and often make the overall story feel less authentic.
The Difference between a Flat Character and Static Character
Don’t confuse between a flat character and a static character because not all static characters are flat.
In other words, all two-dimensional characters are static but not all static characters are two-dimensional.
The inverse of static, “dynamic”, illustrates the degree of transformation that a character experiences throughout the story.
Are Flat Characters Bad?
Having two-dimensional characters doesn’t mean your book is doomed to failure. The one-time flat character appearance can make your narrative more interesting.
Knowing the relevance of your flat characters helps you craft a captivating story. Here are some roles these single-faced characters play: 1. They fill out the environments of the protagonist’s expedition and 2. They get the story rolling in a plot-driven novel.
That is to say, flat characters make your main character(s) shine; otherwise, your readers will get bored of them.
How to Rectify a Flat Character
So you’ve got a couple of flat characters you want to fix. Here are some essential strategies for character development to reshape your flat characters.
- Amplify the Character’s Profile and Backstory
Give your flat character more complexity by thinking about their everyday activities as if they were human beings. What are their flaws and strengths? What defines them? Why do they wake up every day?
Much of a character’s profile is obtained from their backstory. This includes the character’s education, family history, and every past information that fleshes out their personality and present choices. You can have a separate section for this for each character on LivingWriter.
- Apply Character Development Activities
A well-crafted three-dimensional character will make the audience want to know what their life is like beyond the book covers.
You can assess your character’s depth by placing them in strange scenarios, not necessarily to be used in the book. Simply jot down several scenes where the character goes about their everyday routine or struggles to deal with normal daily problems. It’ll help you understand your character better and influence their activities in your story.
- Visualize the Character’s Internal Curve
Consider how your character will evolve throughout your story. This will enable you to fill out their character arcs that involve their desires and ambitions and what they need to do to achieve them.
One way to visualize every arc is to plot a timeline on a notepad. At least, until LivingWriter’s timeline feature is here, jot down the primary events or transformation points of your story on it.
Draw a line beneath the timeline to mark out character growth at similar points in time. How does every external factor impact your character? Do such changes draw your character closer or farther from the story objective?
A character’s inner development isn’t always a straight road but it corresponds to the circumstances that evolve in the narrative arc.
These three key strategies should help fix your flat characters.
Why Do Writers Create Flat Characters?
Used creatively, flat characters can make the story alluring. Consider Mary Jane from Spider-Man– she is a two-dimensional character used mainly as Peter Parker’s love interest and the story’s damsel in distress.
Ginny Weasley from Harry Potter is another great example. She is a high-spirited girl who is the youngest of the red-headed Weasley family. Her only purpose is also to be Harry Potter’s love interest and future wife. She ends up having more of a role as the series progresses, and we see her fleshed out more. But initially, she’s two-dimensional in the faces of powerhouses like Hermione or Ron.
Authors generally use flat characters when:
- Minor characters are required: Such characters don’t need details as their main goal is to advance a three-dimensional protagonist on their quest.
- The story is excessively plot-driven: Novel genres like thrillers and investigatory series apply two-dimensional protagonists. Robert Langdon from The Da Vinci Code and Sherlock Holmes are a few examples.
- The story is so straightforward that multi-faceted characters are unimportant: This applies to most children’s content such as Cinderella.
So having a flat character isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s all about how creatively you use them. Some highly loved narratives make every character into two-dimensional ones except the protagonist(s). However, if you are a standard writer, it is better to steer clear of risky ventures.
The main rule of character development is, the more complex and rounded your characters are, the more you’ll attract your readers into the crystal world of your story.
Try LivingWriter to put that oomph into your flat characters. You won’t regret it!