Creating 3 Dimensional Characters
by Rebecca Rogers
When I read a story, three major areas keep me hooked: the plot, the setting, and the characters. If a book slacks off in any one of these areas, odds are I’ll lose interest. If, however, I’m able to connect with all three, or even one more than the others, then I buckle up for an amazing adventure.
But which of these areas sticks out the most? To some, it might be the plot. To others, it might be the setting (any epic fantasy lovers out there?). For me, though, it’s the characters. I want to feel like I could crawl inside the pages and stand beside these fictitious people. I don’t want to grow tired of obstacles placed in their path and how they react to those obstacles. I want to help them jump over hurdles and move on. Why? Because that means I’m invested in their story.
So, how does a writer create three-dimensional characters? This is a struggle for many authors. I see complaints from readers all the time, who voice their opinions when characters don’t feel real or lack depth. The characters are real inside a writer’s head, but somewhere along the way, they weren’t written to pop off the page.
A one-dimensional character, for example, goes from Point A to Point B because that’s where the plot leads them, has no quirks, not much of a personality (if any at all), and isn’t someone a reader can relate to. Basically, they’re just filler. They’re a means of supplying the reader with a person to follow, but nothing about them stands out. They can also be the stereotyped, clichéd characters (i.e. – the villain who is evil just because he/she can be, the cheerleader who’s blond and dumb, the gothic/emo kid who keeps to his/herself, etc.).
On the other hand, a two-dimensional character has his or her moments (i.e. – they break away from the basic gist of a cardboard cutout and do something unexpected), they have a few minor quirks and personality traits that various readers may relate to, and they feel a bit more realistic, like they have the potential to be flesh and blood, but they’re not quite there yet. For some readers, 2D characters are fine. Why? Because they’re fleshed out enough that they don’t feel basic and boring.
Now, what about three-dimensional characters? For imagery purposes, if you’ve ever opened a pop-up book, you’ll understand the idea behind 3D characters. The pop-up expands as you open the page, stretching upward, until it’s fully upright. It’s not just a flat character on a page anymore; it’s something you can touch. It’s real. The same can be said for 3D characters: they’re so realistic it feels like you know them.
So, how does a writer create 3D characters? The simplest way to remember how to create a three-dimensional character is this: they need to be weak to be strong. What I mean by that is that they need weaknesses. They need to be flawed. They need to make decisions that seem irrational and imperfect. How they react to those decisions creates even more depth. Why? Because that’s what real people do. None of us are perfect, so why would characters be? I know I don’t want to read about an all-around good guy/gal, who has everything going for them. I want to read about characters who struggle with life. That’s realism, my friends. Adding dimension to your characters is as simple as that. Don’t be afraid to give them flaws—just don’t make them flawless.
Let’s have a quick recap:
~ Directed by the story, not directing the story
~ No quirks
~ No personality
~ Cardboard cutouts (a.k.a. – They’re too perfect and not realistic)
~ Can also be stereotypical and cliché
~ Make a few decisions along the way, but everything seems too easy for them
~ Have a few quirks
~ Show a bit of personality, but it doesn’t fully shine
~ Quirks and personality galore
~ Makes tough decisions that sometimes aren’t what you’d expect
~ Have flaws/aren’t perfect
I hope this post was helpful for anyone who was unsure of the difference between one-, two-, and three-dimensional characters. If you have any questions, or if you want to add to the dimensional-character list, let me know in the comments below! I’d love to hear from you.