The World Is Round – People Are Flat

E. M. Forster described characters in literature as either “round” or “flat”.  He says, “The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way.”  Round characters are those that are dynamic, complex, and unpredictable.  They have a reckoning to come to – either with their situation or themselves.

Flat characters are, well, just that.  Flat.  Boring, static, unchanging, and a dime a dozen.  Stereotypes are often projected onto the flat character, as if it were a vehicle for the author’s prejudice.

I’m always interested in the reader’s attraction to the “bad boys” and girls of literature.  We love to hate (or love) the rebel/outcast/villain – which is evident in film, too.  Are you drawn to any unsavory characters?  And is there someone you’d rather not read about, for any reason?

Of course, real life “characters” can be described the same way.  How often have we met a person that is so predictable, so mind-numbingly dull, that we wonder how they stand to wake up to themselves every day?  And do these people tend to collect within certain areas, careers, or locations?  Do you think it is the occupation or environment that effectively “flattens” people, or are they already flat, and naturally drawn to that place?

Related Articles:

The Art of Reading

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Narrators & Characters, or Who’s Telling This Story, Anyway?

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2 thoughts on “The World Is Round – People Are Flat

  1. Dear Karen,

    Almost without exception, politicians are flat. They try their damnedest to be round but few pull it off convincingly. As soon as I hear most of them start to speak my eyes glaze over.

    Others in the flat department are government bureaucracy functionaries. They say what they are ordered to say, toe the line and don’t even try to be round.

    Nice post.

    Aloha,

    Doug

  2. Great post! I think that there are a lot of flat characters in books, as well as life. Personally, I find them annoying and unmemorable.
    Round characters, in life as well as in fiction, tend to stay with you. You want to spend more time with them, because you like them. That’s probably why we tend to read and re-read some books over and over, because the characters are rounded out and full of interest.
    As an alternate thought though, are the people in our lives that we perceive as flat really that way, or are they only showing us one side of themselves? I’ve found sometimes that the person I thought was flat was really just reserved, and saved the rest for after I got to know them better. Doesn’t always happen, but sometimes, you get lucky!

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