CHARACTERS #6 - CHARACTER DEPTH, CHARACTER BUILDING, AND CHARACTER 'DON'TS'
There are just a few points I need to make about creating deep, multi-dimensional characters.
Three-Dimensional Main Characters
A few steps to developing them:
1 - Allow for “out of character” characterization:
Don’t limit your characters to a certain set of behaviors so that your shy character is ALWAYS shy, or your outspoken character is ALWAYS loud. Instead, be open to unexpected character traits. What makes people so interesting is how unexpected their behaviors or reactions can be. Ask yourself: Are your characters surprising you with their quirks?
2 - Use real life experiences:
To make a character three-dimensional is to make him or her more believable. What better way to place your character firmly in reality than by using your own life experiences to influence your character’s? Sprinkle your creative narrative with elements of reality so that you allow yourself some distance between your real life and your writing.
3 - Every Strength has a Weakness
One key factor we must appreciate is that every strength has a flaw. A loyal person is noble, but they are also often naïve. A strong leader gets the job done, but often is a control-freak who fails to rely on a team and sucks at delegating. A tender-hearted person is kind, loving, but often used.
Part of creating conflict is to place the character in situations where the strength becomes a fatal flaw. The character’s arc is to learn to address this flaw and change.
4 - Ask your character these three questions:
-How do you behave in public?
-How do you behave amongst family and close friends?
-What are you like when you're alone?
These questions represent three aspects of a person’s life – public, personal and private. People in real life behave differently and show different aspects of themselves according to who they are with. We are complex and faceted. So to replicate this in our screenwriting will produce the effect of making our characters feeling real.
- What the three dimensions are:
1st dimension - How other characters and readers see and relate to them. This includes surface traits, quirks, and habits. It may be real or it may be fake, but without another dimension the reader would never know. Extra, background characters are often only one-dimensional, as they should be.
You need to make sure, though, that your main characters are not one-dimensional. How can you tell?
The frustrated waitress who refuses to laugh or smile and always spills coffee on her customers? That's a one-dimensional character.
The baseball coach teaching his team good morals when he goes home and doesn't live by a single one of those morals? That's a one dimensional character.
Why? Because we don’t know what, if anything, is behind those behaviors or those quirks. If the character is a hero or a villain, we need to know these things.
This is often a slip-up for newer writers, who provide their character with a variety of quirks and mannerisms designed to make them either cool, weird or supposedly – best intentions — compelling. But if those quirks and kinks are all you offer the reader, in the hope that the reader will fill in all the blanks, then you’ve created a one-dimensional character.
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