The Meaning of Round Character and its Examples in Literature

Meaning of Round Character in Literature
If you're among those who find themselves at sea on hearing the expression 'a well-rounded character', this Penlighten post is meant for you. We're telling you all there is to know about round characters in literature, and also otherwise.
Penlighten Staff
Last Updated: Feb 10, 2018
But first, let's thank its creator.
Renowned author E. M. Forster was the first person to have coined the term 'round character'.
Round characters are the ones that are completely fleshed out by the author, and more often than not, they tend to be protagonists. The 'roundedness' in them refers to completeness, in the sense that they have several facets to their personality.

Such characters are used by the author in myriad ways, but their foremost use is to spring the element of surprise on to the reader. These characters are portrayed in a manner that they seem believable no matter what they do; even their faults end up lending a new dimension to their persona.
Literary Definition of a Round Character
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica,
Round characters are complex and undergo development, sometimes sufficiently to surprise the reader.
Dictionary.com defines a round character as,
A character in fiction whose personality, background, motives, and other features are fully delineated by the author.
Round Character Vs. Flat Character
A flat character, by its very definition, refers to the one that remains consistent throughout the course of the story. This type of character is understood to be two dimensional―predictable and uncomplicated, as against the round character's varied dimensions.

These two types were first cited by author E.M. Forster in his book, Aspects of the Novel, a guiding light for all budding novelists. He cited the example of Mrs. Micawber from Charles Dickens's David Copperfield as a flat character, whereas Becky Sharp from William Thackeray's Vanity Fair exemplified a round character.
Examples of Round Characters in Literature
Our first example sees a comparison between three characters, which highlights the features of a round character vis-à-vis a flat character. We'll follow it up with an instance of a classic round character.
HARRY POTTER AND SEVERUS SNAPE VS. LORD VOLDEMORT
Let's play safe and pick two literary characters that run no risk of obscurity among most readers. Throughout the 7-book series, we saw how author J. K. Rowling pulled all the stops when it came to developing Harry Potter, the protagonist's character. In the first three novels, Harry is shown to be somewhat in awe of his newfound fame as "the boy who lived". He values his friends, and is a bit shaky in his dealings with the antagonist, Voldemort, seeing as he spent the first ten years of his life in a completely different environment. Book number four, The Goblet of Fire sees him in a slightly edgier avatar, which is probably a combination of teenage angst and his coming to terms with (doomed) fate. In the three novels that follow, we are introduced to newer aspects of his personality―like the phase when he is constantly agitated with his friends, or his steely and resolute determination to find and destroy all of Voldemort's Horcruxes.

Professor Snape, on the other hand, was indeed the surprise package of the entire series. The character was built up in a manner which made the readers loathe him. Even in The Order of the Phoenix, his good act seems to only appear as a really good ruse. Rowling pulled out the proverbial rabbit out of the hat in the climax of the series, where we actually learn the truth about what made him the way he was. It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that his was the most fleshed-out character in the entire series.

Poor, old Voldy seems to pale in comparison, being the antagonist and never springing a single surprise throughout the series. We all know he is evil, of course, but we can't help thinking about how that's all there is to him. Formidable as a villain, but flat and insipid as a character.
EMMA WOODHOUSE
Jane Austen's Emma is as rounded as it gets in terms of literary characters. She is, of course, the protagonist of Emma, and ranks high among Jane Austen's many colorful creations. She is described to be "handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and a happy disposition", but as the readers go on to realize that she can become seriously obnoxious with her disturbingly meddlesome nature. She comes across as high maintenance and a little fake, but then, that's precisely the reason why the character resonates with readers. We do have a little bit of Emma within us, and that is what makes her real.