Flat Characters: Definition, Examples, Tips
Written by  Daisie Team
Published on 7 min read


  1. Flat Characters in Literature
  2. How to Identify Flat Characters
  3. Examples of Flat Characters
  4. How to Use Flat Characters in Writing
  5. Benefits of Using Flat Characters
  6. Tips for Writing Flat Characters

In the colorful tapestry of storytelling, every character plays a crucial role. Whether it's a heroic protagonist or a sinister villain, each character contributes to the narrative's rhythm and flow. One such character type is the "flat character." While the name might sound a bit dull, flat characters can add depth and charm to your narrative. This blog will provide a clear definition of flat character, together with examples and handy tips for incorporating them into your writing. So, let's get started, shall we?

Flat Characters in Literature

Flat characters are like the supporting cast of a story— they may not have the most lines, but they still play a significant role. To kick things off, let's dive into the definition of flat character in the context of literature.

Definition of Flat Character

In the simplest terms, a flat character is a character that does not undergo significant changes or growth throughout the narrative. They are two-dimensional, meaning they are relatively straightforward and uncomplicated. Unlike their round character counterparts, flat characters typically have one or two defining characteristics that remain consistent from start to finish. Think of them as the 'steady-Eddies' of the literary world— you know what you're getting, and there's comfort in that predictability.

The Role of Flat Characters

  • Supporting the Main Characters: Often, flat characters are used to support main characters. They provide a solid and predictable backdrop against which the more complex main characters can shine.
  • Driving the Plot: Despite their simplicity, flat characters can also drive the plot. Their actions or decisions, no matter how predictable, can lead to significant events in the story.
  • Adding Color and Depth: Flat characters add variety and depth to the narrative. They give the story a sense of realism by representing various types of people in real life.

In essence, flat characters are like the spices in your favorite dish. They may not be the main ingredient, but they add that extra flavor that makes the whole meal come together.

Common Misconceptions About Flat Characters

There's a common misconception that flat characters are boring or poorly developed. But that's not necessarily true. A well-crafted flat character can be engaging, memorable, and even endearing. The key is to use them strategically and not confuse simplicity with dullness. Remember, even the simplest character can have a significant impact on your readers if you use them well.

How to Identify Flat Characters

Now that we've explored the definition of flat character, let's delve into the nitty-gritty on how to identify them in a piece of writing.

Consistent Traits and Behaviors

Flat characters are marked by their consistency. They possess one or two prominent traits that define their personality and dictate their actions. This consistency makes them predictable. If a character always reacts in the same way or has a single defining characteristic that doesn't change, you're likely dealing with a flat character.

Limited Character Development

Character development—or rather, the lack thereof—is a key indicator of a flat character. Unlike round characters, who evolve and grow as the story progresses, flat characters remain largely unchanged. They start the story with a certain set of characteristics, and they end the story with those same characteristics intact.

Secondary Role

  • Supporting Role: Flat characters usually play supporting roles in a story. They exist to help move the plot along or to highlight the qualities of the main characters.
  • Plot Device: Sometimes, flat characters are used as plot devices. Their actions or decisions, while predictable, can be crucial in driving the story forward.

Remember, identifying flat characters isn't a critique of the author's character development skills. Instead, it's a way to understand the story's structure and appreciate the different roles that characters play in the narrative.

Distinct Lack of Backstory

Backstories provide depth and context to a character's motivations. However, when it comes to flat characters, extensive background information is often sparse or non-existent. This lack of backstory further emphasizes their straightforwardness and predictability.

In summary, flat characters are consistent, unchanging, often play secondary roles, and lack an extensive backstory. Remember, these aren't negatives. Instead, they're specific tools in the writer's toolkit, used to create a balanced and engaging narrative.

Examples of Flat Characters

Let's get a better grasp of the definition of flat character by examining some classic examples from literature and film. It's important to remember that a character being flat doesn't make them unimportant or uninteresting. In fact, some of the most memorable characters in storytelling are flat!

Dr. John Watson from "Sherlock Holmes"

Dr. Watson, Sherlock Holmes' loyal sidekick, is a prime example of a flat character. He's consistently portrayed as logical, reliable, and a bit conventional. His character doesn't undergo significant changes or growth throughout Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, but his steady nature perfectly balances Sherlock's erratic genius.

Ron Weasley from "Harry Potter"

Don't get me wrong, we all love Ron! Despite being a main character, Ron remains relatively unchanged throughout the Harry Potter series. He's consistently loyal, a bit insecure, and provides comic relief. His predictable nature is comforting and helps to spotlight the complex developments of characters like Harry and Hermione.

Miss Maudie from "To Kill a Mockingbird"

  1. Constant Support: Miss Maudie, neighbor to the Finch family, consistently shows kindness and provides moral support to Scout and Jem. Her unwavering character helps to emphasize the story's themes of justice and morality.
  2. No Significant Changes: Though she experiences her share of hardship, like the loss of her house to a fire, Miss Maudie's character remains steady and unaltered by these events.

These examples further reinforce the definition of flat character as one who remains consistent and unchanging throughout a story. Yet, they are instrumental in shaping the narrative and highlighting the qualities of the protagonists.

How to Use Flat Characters in Writing

Now that we've dived into the definition of flat character and looked at some examples, you might be wondering how to incorporate these types of characters into your own writing. Let's explore some practical ways to make effective use of flat characters.

Highlighting Main Characters

Flat characters can serve as excellent foils for your main characters. By staying consistent in their attributes, they can highlight the growth and transformation of your protagonists. For instance, think about how Ron's steady loyalty in "Harry Potter" underscores Harry's evolving bravery and leadership.

Advancing the Plot

A flat character can be a driving force in your plot without undergoing change themselves. They could be the one who sets the journey in motion or provides critical information. Remember the role of Dr. John Watson in "Sherlock Holmes"? His flat character is crucial in moving the plot forward.

Maintaining Familiarity

Sometimes, you need a character who remains the same to lend a sense of familiarity and stability to your narrative. Miss Maudie from "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a great example of this. Amidst the turmoil and growth of other characters, her steady presence fosters a sense of continuity.

Incorporating flat characters into your writing doesn't mean settling for bland or boring. It means choosing the right tool for the right job — and sometimes, the job calls for a character who's steady, reliable, and unchanging.

Benefits of Using Flat Characters

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of storytelling, flat characters are often unsung heroes. While they may not undergo dramatic transformations or display complex personalities, they play pivotal roles that add depth and richness to the narrative. Let's take a closer look at some of the benefits of using flat characters in your writing.

Consistency and Stability

Flat characters often provide a sense of consistency and stability in a narrative. They remain unchanged, embodying certain traits or characteristics throughout the story. This can be comforting for readers, serving as a constant in a world where everything else may be shifting.

Simplicity and Clarity

Flat characters can also add simplicity and clarity to a story. By being straightforward in their motivations and actions, they can help readers understand the plot better. They're like the straight lines in a painting that guide your eye to the main subject.

Focus on the Main Characters

Finally, one of the main benefits of flat characters is that they allow the spotlight to stay on the main characters. They offer contrast, which can make the main characters' arcs more pronounced. Like a well-placed shadow in a portrait, they emphasize the features of the main characters, making them stand out more.

While they might not get as much attention or fanfare as their round counterparts, flat characters are an integral part of storytelling. They may not change, but they can change everything around them—making your story more vibrant and engaging.

Tips for Writing Flat Characters

Whether you're drafting your first novel or you're a seasoned author, creating compelling flat characters can add depth to your narrative. Here are a few tips to help you craft flat characters that are memorable and add value to your story.

Make Them Memorable

Just because a character is flat doesn't mean they have to be boring. In fact, some of the most memorable characters in literature are flat characters. Think about how you can make your flat character distinctive. Perhaps they have a unique catchphrase, an unusual fashion sense, or a peculiar habit. These details can help make your flat character stand out.

Give Them a Purpose

Every character in your story should serve a purpose, and flat characters are no exception. They might be there to provide comic relief, to highlight a certain aspect of the protagonist, or to move the plot forward. Always keep in mind the role your flat character plays in the story.

Keep Them Consistent

One of the defining traits of flat characters is their consistency. They don't undergo significant changes or character development. Make sure to keep your flat character consistent throughout the story. This doesn't mean they can't have surprises or layers, but their core personality traits should remain the same.

Writing flat characters can be a fun and rewarding part of the storytelling process. While they may not have the depth and complexity of round characters, they are an essential part of the narrative. So next time you sit down to write, consider how you can utilize flat characters to enhance your story. Remember, every character, no matter how simple or complex, has the potential to leave a lasting impression on your readers.

If you're looking to breathe life into your characters and make them more engaging, check out the workshop 'Drawing Compelling Expressions in Character Design' by Rory Duke Stewart. This workshop will teach you how to create dynamic and expressive characters that will captivate your audience and elevate your storytelling skills. Don't let your characters fall flat – sign up for the workshop now!