Thoughts · Writing

When Beloved Round Characters Become Flat

 

when-beloved
Image Taken from Encyclopedia Spongebob and modified with by flipping it and adding text.

While trying to catch up on the September discussions for the Book Blog Discussion Challenge, I saw another common complaint I hear about Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: the Golden Trio has become flat. I have heard and read this all through August, and then I decided I would stop reading these reviews until I could get my hands in November. (Hurray, long library waitlists!) I was successful until I stumbled upon AJ Sterkel’s discussion post. AJ Sterkel, in her “Discussion: I Read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and I Have Thoughts,” lists her thoughts about the script while she read it. Number 6 in her list says:

Okay, something is wrong with all of the characters. I can tell this wasn’t written by J.K. Rowling. All of the characters have been reduced to one character trait. Ron is the funny one. Hermione is the smart one. Why can’t they be more complex?

I originally chalked it up with all the other common complaints about the same issue, and I should remember this if I think the same thing when I read it. Then I had another thought. Is it necessary for Ron, Hermione, and Harry to be round characters in this play? I can’t say for sure since I’m about one month away from being able to check it out at the library. There are other books that make once round characters flat. Should our beloved round characters remain round in a book that is not about them?

I have not read many spinoff series or books that star a different protagonist every time, so I am choosing the Shadowhunters universe by Cassandra Clare, which I have not read in full, and the Night World series by L.J. Smith for this discussion.

Reactions to Round-Turned-Flat Characters

First, the reactions to finding our beloved round characters being flat are mixed. We have the reaction to Cursed Child above. I might have that reaction when I get a chance to read it. I only like seeing Ron and Hermione as flat characters in fan fiction that switches the good guys (minus Harry) with the bad guys. A strong dislike could be caused by it feeling like an assault on our childhood nostalgia, or the book might truly be terrible. I’ve also heard reactions that liked the script in its entirety, including the flat characters. Both are valid reactions in either case.

clockwork-angel-by-cassandra-clareThe other books I can’t speak to are the Infernal Devices as they relate to City of Heavenly Fire. We see the appearance of Tessa Gray, who I am only aware of from several attempts at reading Clockwork Angel. She struck me as a flat character in City of Heavenly Fire because she does not develop much there. I don’t remember hearing complaints about how Tessa is portrayed in the sixth book of the Mortal Instruments, but I wasn’t paying much attention to commentary about her at the time. For someone who has not read a single book of the Infernal Devices, I had no problem reading her as a flat character. If anything, I knew I was missing some connections that I would have understood had I read spinoff series that she stars in. If you have read both series, what did you think about seeing Tessa in City of Heavenly Fire? What about other characters from the Infernal Devices that appeared in the Mortal Instruments? Their portrayals never bothered me, but I do not have a connection to them. I don’t know who they are in their developed forms.

I had the same reaction to seeing Ash Redfern and other characters in later books of the Night World series that I did to seeing Tessa, though I have read books the entirety of the series that has been published at this point. Ash and the other characters seem well-placed in the books that are not about them. With the way that Smith constructs this series, I assumed when I read it that it might be a reminder that all of these books are part of the same series.

Whatever reactions we have, we need to think about why it bothers us that the characters are not the same. Have we come to love them as round characters like they are friends? Is the development poor enough to say that that is the cause for disliking them this way? If that is not the case, is it necessary for this beloved character to play a minor, and therefore flat, role?

Round Characters Appear as Minor Characters

I must bring up whether or not it is necessary for the characters we know and love to be developed in a book that is not about them. Must they be the full-fledged characters we know them to be in other books?

night-world-1-by-lj-smithWhen we talk about a singular, polished story or book, we can decide whether a character is round or flat. Flat characters don’t change much from beginning to end. Two examples are Queen Gertrude from Hamlet and the sharks from Finding Nemo.

Considering Ash again and his cousin James Rasmussen, Ash first appears as a flat character in the Secret Vampire and then becomes round in Daughters of Darkness, which is a nonissue if you read chronologically. He appears in Dark Angel and SoulmateDark Angel, the fourth book, shows Ash keeping his promise to the girl he loves, but in this book alone he only helps the protagonist escape the Black Iris Club. Soulmate, the sixth book, gives him a larger role, so he develops as a round character. James is one of the main characters of Secret Vampire, but he appears as a minor character in the sixth book. He only appears when he and his soulmate are introduced to Hannah.

Are these later and minor appearances development? James only develops in one book, but his second appearance does not develop him. The most it does is recount his experience in Book One and confirm his development in that book. Ash develops not only in two books as a major character but also across the series. Those minor roles show development to his character in the series. Both characters fit their roles in the individual books because it is necessary. When they play minor characters, it does not make sense for them to take greater roles. It helps that each book in the series is about a different character, and those give different perspectives about the characters we know.

For me, I think if it is necessary for a character to be flat, then why try to make them round in a book that is not about them? In other books you know they are more developed. If it is done well, if it is necessary to write the characters flat, then I think the simplified character is fine. Then again I might hate seeing Ron and Hermione reduced to a one-dimensional state. I might hate that when I read Cassandra Clare’s Lady Midnight with Clary and Jace, assuming they are in it.

What do you think of your favorite round round characters becoming flat characters in different books?

*The cover images are from Goodreads as usual.

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5 thoughts on “When Beloved Round Characters Become Flat

  1. This is really interesting – I never would have thought about this. Of course, in theory, I don’t want my round characters to become flat, but sometimes as the book goes on and the characters deal with some of their issues, I suppose they become less complex, right? In the case of HPatCC, I think it makes a bit of sense that the characters become a little more flat because in a play it’s a bit harder to flesh out ALL of the characters.

  2. I think that if a main character becomes a side character in another book, they don’t need to necessarily keep developing and having obvious character growth and arcs and all that, but I think they still need to appear complex. They still need to have a full personality and be themselves as they always were, or it bothers me and just feels off. I’ve read enough books in which side characters did in fact seem complex and three-dimensional to know that it’s possible, but of course some authors are better at writing side characters than others.

  3. I’ve read both Cursed Child and the Shadowhunters series, and I don’t remember being disappointed by Tessa. That particular installment wasn’t about her, after all, so I didn’t expect to see lots of complexity. Personally, I found Ron’s and Hermione’s flatness disappointing because I was expecting so much more from a Potter story. I was aware that the format doesn’t allow for that, but I think the nostalgia was too strong!

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