Make Flat Characters Genuine in 8 (Sort of) Easy Steps

Have you been told you have “flat characters” in your story? Reel in your emotions and re-examine your characters. Does your character have little to no internal life? As your character moves through the story, does she overcome nearly every obstacle? Does she have a crystal-clear need? Is she unchanged at the end of the story? If even a few of your answers are yes, you probably have a flat character. Is that a problem? Probably. Flat characters are usually uninteresting and unmemorable. Got flat characters? Don’t worry. You can take your flat characters to genuine in 8 (sort of) easy steps. 

Image of two rows of a chain of paper dolls in shades of green against a green background. .

1. Diagnosis: Flat vs Round Characters

What Does Flat Mean?

If you guess flat characters are the opposite of round characters, you’re right. But let’s take it a step farther. Typically, when a reader says your characters are flat, they mean the characters don’t feel real. They want to read about realistic characters, people like themselves or people they know. Writers often call realistic characters round characters. A round character is a character who has multiple-dimensions to their personality.

In real life, we humans are a complicated bag of emotions, contradictions, and quirky bits. Our relationships with others are just as complicated as we are. We often make a whole range of mistakes in relationships, jobs, and every other aspect of our lives. In order to write a “simple” story, authors must be certain their characters come across the page as just as complicated, even if not all those bits show up on the page. So the first step in diagnosing flat characters is to see what IS on the page.

What’s On the Page?

To fix a flat character, you must re-examine how that character appears on the page. Re-examining your character is harder than it sounds. You created these characters. You likely know them as well as yourself. Unfortunately, that may be part of the problem. As the creator, you read things into the story and character that may not be on the page. 

If you don’t see why readers say your characters are flat, print your manuscript. Mark your primary character’s internal thoughts, emotions, dialogue, and descriptions. (Hat tip to Margie Lawson’s excellent courses.) Then take a step back and look at your pages. Missing one area? That’s a definite area of flatness. If one color dominates the page, lack of balance may be part of what makes your characters flat. Don’t despair. You can fix flat characters. 

Read how to fix flat characters on the Writers in the Storm blog.

Image Purchased from Deposit photo.

Writing How-to: Put Ground Under Their Feet

A frequent piece of advice writers get is to put ground under the feet of their characters. Yet, advice on how to do that is limited or confusing. Often taking the advice literally, writers attempt to make certain the reader knows where the character is physically. However, the phrase means more than what city or building they are in. It also means where this character is in relation to the objects in the room and other characters in the scene. It reveals who this person is. 

Characters fit into a story, into a scene, like puzzle pieces. The right pieces make a complete picture. The wrong pieces can be confusing. To create a character that involves your reader in the story takes many unique pieces or layers. This article will touch on some of the different things you can do to put ground beneath your characters’ feet. 


Making characters’ voices, or dialogue, as unique as the instruments in a symphony, helps the reader to identify with your characters. But the reader needs more. Every word in your story (or scene) comes from a specific point of view. Strengthen your story and put ground under your characters’ feet by choosing words that reflect what your character sees, senses, his values, judgments, and opinions.


George, a 36-year-old prematurely gray business manager, walked down the street.

That helps the reader see him, but it doesn’t put ground under George’s feet. 

Be careful

Keep it natural sounding. You don’t think: I, a 36-year-old, struggling writer with her deep brown hair tied in a messy bun, walked down the mud-streaked asphalt street, do you? Of course not.

I’m not saying don’t refer to your character by name. There are certain things you have to do, so your reader isn’t confused, especially at the beginning of a story. However, the larger percentage of your descriptions should be as your viewpoint character thinks of it. So instead of the staying outside of George, try to focus on the inner George:


George, a 36-year-old prematurely gray business manager, walked past his favorite coffee shop on his morning walk.

That’s an improvement, but you can do better.

Read more.

I’m so glad you’re here. I blog for the Writers in the Storm (WITS) blog once a month. I share a portion of it here so that you who don’t follow WITS, can read it.

Don’t worry, I’ll be back to regularly posting content here very soon.

Thank you for reading and being willing to click to read the rest of the post.

For the rest of the article, please go to the Writers in the Storm blog.

Image Credits

Top image by Barbara from Pixabay