1. T.R.P.
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    T.R.P. New Member

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    Character Realism: Your Thoughts

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by T.R.P., Jul 2, 2014.

    The basis of this discussion is the difference between two-dimensional and three-dimensional characters in literature, and how either kind could or should be used in fiction.
    In my experience, I have found that plenty of real life people are quite two-dimensional, and therefore, I don't feel all that bad including a myriad of two-dimensional characters in some of my stories. For anyone unsure of the terminology, two-dimensional is meant to refer to anyone who has a singular motive and in most cases never strays from a sole set of convictions and desires; these can range from the archetypal thief or knight who operate purely off of greed or duty, to the high school jock bent on remaining tough and popular, or even the mad scientist whose respect for science and discovery betrays all human compassion or sympathy. Anyways, I hope you get the idea - two-dimensional characters typically lack a certain degree of depth, and behave according to a very black and white worldview.
    However, three-dimensional characters exhibit qualities that make it difficult to completely dislike or actively root for them, which is certainly a trait seen occasionally in the real world. These kinds of people, for whatever reason, may also have a single goal they strive towards, but how and why they want to achieve that goal may require them to betray an individual nature they've been acclimated to their entire lives. It's been said that George R.R. Martin accomplishes this idea very well, and I would have to agree, but I'm very curious as to why such a concept is so popular when a majority of the human populace clearly falls into the first category.
    Feel free to share your thoughts or preferences of two-dimensional and three-dimensional characters, and I would like to ask you some interesting questions about yourselves:
    If you were a character in a story (exactly as you are in the real world), do you think you would be a two-dimensional or a three-dimensional character? Really give it some thought; is there ANYTHING you wouldn't do to get what you want? Is there a particular set of rules you live your life by that you wouldn't even CONSIDER going against, even if the result might be ethically unpleasing or detrimental to your goals?
     
  2. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    G.R,R, Martin is highly praised for his characters because of hard is it to love and hate them without feeling the other just as much. Everyone has motives and scrupples, redeeming and damning qualities. Even those that are argued as his worst characters ion term of personality such as Jon, Ned, or Daenerys.

    And honestly, all humans are three-dimensional, arguably. The entire two-dimensional thing is a youthful sense of narcisism best explained in that little doodle where there are four people on a subway with one thought bubble connecting them all stating that they are the only ones who really think, others are glass eyed, sheep.

    Humans do not operate on a black and white scale, such notions in fiction have been chipped away since the early 70s. It used to be faceless evils taking over the world and white knights coming to the rescue but as literature expanded in availability, many of those notions were scrubbed to create something more real and less whimsicle or fairy tale like.

    "Life is not song, sweetling. One day you may learn this to your sorrow." Petyr Baelish from aSoIaF

    Everyone has multiple facets to them and reasons why they may appear two dimensional. People with a one-way track mentality have that for a reason and their own fears and hopes pertaining to their life goals.

    Think of yourself or people you know; in life and death situations you and they might react very contrary to what you think you'll do. People will sacrifice others when they never thought possible or even put their own self-interests above those of ones they swore they never would. People are complex, and in every situation different things will ring inside of them creating new possibilities that weren't possible to hypothetically plan for.
     
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  3. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    What about you? From this post I bet you I can guess your age, gender, and lifestyle reasonably well.
     
  4. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    Dang, you've been aggressive lately in some posts lately, mate.
    Everything OK?
    (Though I know exactly what you mean by your post, I think)
     
  5. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    The idea of 2D/3D or round/flat characters is not a very useful concept IMO. It's just something you learn in middle school to help with discussions. How you handle characters depends on what your goal is. Not all authors are going for realism. I've used Dostoevsky as an example before, and I'll use him again. A lot of his characters represent abstract ideas. They are thus not meant to be completely realistic, and he intended it this way. So context matters. That's very important to remember.
     
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  6. T.R.P.
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    T.R.P. New Member

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    Excellent points, A.M.P.
    And 123456789, be my guest;
    If you didn't read my profile or introduction to find out i'm already a 19 year old male (most still call me a "boy")
    There are definitely times when I consider myself very two-dimensional, but when I really start to try and make sense of my own psyche, I find dark corridors with closed doors that I'm often too afraid to explore further. It is there that I usually make the decision that I don't really want to know what's deep in my own mind, and I adopt a more naive persona simply to convince myself i'm not the cruel, ruthless, selfish human being that I am certainly capable of becoming. Like most of us, I've done some things in my life that i'm not entirely proud of, but I would say they are still characteristic of who I really am. Most people - for better or worse - only see me for what I appear to be, whether that is a straight-edged, old-fashioned, kind-hearted youth, or the scheming, watch-from-the-shadows, opportunist that my enemies (for modern perspective, mah "haters") wouldn't think twice about passing judgment on. I live with the consequences of both prejudicial assessments from my peers, even if I only claim to be one or the other. However, from my own depiction of what two-dimensional characters represent, I'm confident I would be one myself, since I'm too much of a coward to betray the guidelines set for myself, and I, as a matter of fact, do see the world in strictly black and white - although I always wait and observe long enough before I segregate the two.
     
  7. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I was right ;)
     
  8. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I prefer the term provocative.
     
  9. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    @thirdwind
    Good point. I didn't think of characters in more philosophical works like that of Ayn Rand or, begrudgingly, Terry Goodkind.

    I just always think in form of fantasy fiction so I suppose my opinion is rather narrow minded when it comes to writing though characters as philosophical avatars are really interesting to me since I enjoy ethics and self-knowledge quite a bit.

    @123456789
    Maybe I'm just hearing your words in a different way than you mean :p
    You need more emoticons :3
     
  10. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you cannot find something, that does not mean it is not there. Look harder.
     
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  11. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't believe that they are. I quite believe that they may work to appear that way to others, and therefore they may successfully appear that way to you. But I don't believe that they really are.

    Looking at that high school jock: If you go to school with him, he may appear to be interested in nothing but a specific set of jockesque goals. But who is the person that his mother knows? His grandmother? The barista at the coffee shop? Who will he be if he gets sick and can't play any more?
     
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  12. HelloThere
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    HelloThere Contributing Member

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    You know a lot more about characters in novels than you do about the people you meet in real life. You can only judge someone by what they present to you as their personality. There is an internal and external component to every individual; for instance I might come across as a two-dimensional joker character, always being sarcastic and making witty remarks - but if you could see the inner workings of my mind you'd realize that I'm quite serious and contemplative.

    So I guess for the most part people are 2-dimensional sheets stretched over the valleys and hills of their mind. (Dat metaphor tho.)

    As far as its use in stories, it's just more interesting isn't it? Seen as you brought up A Song of Ice of Fire, which gets brought up a lot (Sorry to all the people who haven't read it having to put up with us fanboys.) there's Tywin Lannister, a man I didn't really like, but at one point it's mentioned that he only smiled on his wedding day and when his children were born. At that point I was just like "Don't make this b*****d likeable goddammit!" and it just makes the book that more believable and so more tangible.
     
  13. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    You raise an interesting point about the high school jock. To you, he's just this muscular dude who thinks it's glorious that he gets to throw a ball around and woo the leading cheerleader, but you don't really know him. What you see is just one aspect of him, but he's got a whole lot more aspects that you don't know. I remember meeting a high school jock who actually had some interest in history. This same guy who ran up and down a field every Friday night, using his body as a battering ram to push his way toward a goal, was the same guy who most likely loved to sit down and read a history book. If there was an example of a jock who defied his own stereotype, he was one of them.

    If you want your characters to be realistic, remember this: see them as people, not walking stereotypes. The guy you see as a stereotypical jock might actually be into history and science, or has a room in his house dedicated to painting nature and wildlife.
     
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  14. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I would need proof that the above quoted segment as a universal constant in order to engage the conversation. My personal experience and the subset of individuals with whom I have dealt across the last 44 years, while clearly only a small subset of all possible human conditions, tells me that the opposite of your thesis is the case.
     
  15. Mike Hill
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    Mike Hill Natural born citizen of republic of Finland.

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    I agree with Link and others whom have said that people you think are two dimensional are actually more deep. I think that human sees so much in his or her life, that it's hard to be a simple stereotype.
    Think about the guys who blow themselves up. They come from different situations, but end up doing the same thing for different reasons. For 100 terrorist there are 100 tales that are all different.
    This might be off target, but I like stories that dig deeper on stereotypes. No jock is the same.
     
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  16. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think this is a good example at all.

    At school he appears only interested in basketball. The same might be said in the eyes of his mother, his grandmother, and the barista, especially, if say, he wants a full scholarship. If he's sick and can't play, maybe he's trying desperately to get better so that he can play.

    I think we need to change our definition of 2 dimension and three dimensional characters.

    A "two dimensional" character, should be defined as "someone, whose actions and reactions, through the course of their life,or a significant part thereof, can entirely or almost entirely be predicted based solely on a few actions and reactions observed from that person." That is, if I spend a few days with John, I know exactly what he's going to do in almost any given situation.

    A "three dimensional" character should be defined as "someone whose actions and reactions, through the course of their life, or a significant part thereof, cannot easily be predicted based on only a few actions and reactions observed from that person, or even a large number." I've been married to my wife for ten years. One day I come home to find a pentagram drawn under my bed.


    This is all relative, and will change according to who predicts.
     
  17. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Nobody is two dimensional - they only seem that way because you're not privy to their hidden desires, thoughts, conflicts, fears, their history. That's what makes a two dimensional character when you don't bother delving into any of that and skim along on labels and cliches. And it doesn't take a lot to change a two dimensional character into a three dimensional character. You don't need lots of details just the right ones.

    First statement I don't really agree with. You can write a nice character and make him/her three dimensional. You don't need a lot of flashy conflict or choices. A lot of writer's grab for them because a lot of readers' like flash and it sells. But all three dimensional means is that the reader is privy to more complex decisions and motivations and sometimes not all is revealed. In one of my favorite ya books - Mrs. Fish, ape and me, the Dump Queen- the character is a nice girl Joyce who has no friends but learns through the book to trust people. The scenes are gentle and seemed simple but they really brought the girl's loneliness and turmoil to life. Her big choices in the book were whether or not to talk to a new girl who sat beside her, and whether or not to trust the quirky school custodian.

    I wouldn't overthink the issue. Just observe people without thinking in labels.
     
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  18. Michael the Angel
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    Michael the Angel Member

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    Well that explains the sharp tone you used earlier a little bit. ;)

    "Two-Dimensional" and "Three Dimensional" characters are not defined by their predictability, though. I find that argument to be misplaced, or, at the very least, incomplete. A static character, or a "two dimensional" character, is one who does not deviate from scripted behavior throughout the entirety of a work. Odysseus is a good example of this character type. A dynamic character, one who is capable of developing new morals or guiding principles throughout a work, is what I think you guys are referring to as a "three dimensional" character.

    If that's the case, that predictability you spoke of earlier isn't born of the author's direct comments about a character, it is the culmination of all actions and dialogues that a character has engaged in over the course of the work. If you feel that the only variable to be considered when deciding which characters are static and dynamic is their predictability to the reader, then you probably classify most characters in literature to be rather static. The fundamental difference in the character types is not whether or not the reader knows what they would do in a situation, but what the reader sees them do in situations within the novel.

    To sum up, I don't think this needs to a be a concern of the author's until he has finished his work and evaluates which of their characters they've developed to be static or dynamic during editing. Attempting to decide what changes you want to take a character through and to what degree the change affects him or the people around him before you pen your tale is, at the bottom line, unproductive. If you tell your story, and then decide that you want to see more or less of a development in a given direction by a character, that's one thing. But attempting to micromanage every paragraph of your work, especially in the meat of a body, will only serve to frustrate a young novelist.

    My advice, do this:
    :write:
    And when you're doing this afterwards:
    :read:
    Make sure your characters reflect the themes you designed them for.

    You may think this is easier said than done, but think back to when you were covering pieces in school which featured a multitude of both character types. Look at Lord of the Flies and your character sheets on those characters. Most of them reflect two or three solid themes, and are shown to either be static or dynamic through the degree to which they adhered to the symbolism reflected in their character. We all put characters in our works for a reason; if Piggy were a dynamic character, he might not have been able to avoid his tragic death. But the choice was made to keep him in his little turtle shell, to prevent him from developing. And because of that, the reader not only empathizes more with Piggy because of his situation, his death isn't foreshadowed much and the reader actually feels remorse about Piggy's inability to change postmortem.

    This emotional involvement is what we as writer's strive for. If you didn't want people to see things from a new perspective or to feel a certain way, you wouldn't waste the words.

    EDIT: The nutshell; Deciding in advance which of your characters is going to be dynamic or static can be useful, but in all instances, the author needs to make conscious choices about their characters which reflect their original intentions with them. You know why you created a character. Your job is to show the reader why they should care in the first place. If readers cannot put themselves in a character's shoes, or at least find that character's motivations interesting, no amount of character development will create that connectivity. Whether a character is two or three dimensional is almost irrelevant if that character isn't contributing a purpose. Form follows function. If you cover the "why" first, the "how" will be made more clear.
     
    Last edited: Jul 5, 2014
  19. nhope
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    nhope Contributing Member Reviewer

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    Ahh, dear young man, this is where you are incorrect. You presume this is how they see you because you believe you appear this way to them, but none of us characterize ourselves the way others do, as you do not expose all of your true self in the presence of others. And by *you* I mean most of *us*.

    You are 19 - where do you go during the day, school? Work? List 5 people you interact with daily. Do you have the same conversations with each person? Do you tell your family what you tell your friends? Do you tell your friends what you tell your journal? Do you note in your journal what you keep locked in your mind?

    No one is two-dimensional, and no one gives an accurate representation of themselves, or of others. There is always a slant. Even readers, when not given enough info about a certain character they have taken an interest in, will fill in the blanks. Or, will criticize the author, to take the character's side. Slant.
     
  20. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think it's awfully presumptuous of you to judge real people as 'two dimensional' as if you can see into their souls and what's really in there (or lacking). I think you are mixing up your impression of others, based on really limited data you have about them (obviously mixed in with some disinterest and stereotypes) and the reality of them as human beings.

    Through my job, I've gotten to know a vast variety of people, from all walks of life, and one thing I will say is that whether it's an old Chinese granny in her 90's, or a young girl from Essex, a former surgeon or a school boy, a young mother or a police inspector, they all share very similar, deep hopes and fears characteristic of a human condition. Everyone has an arc, everyone has moments of profoundness, everyone is complicated, it's what personality is - a struggle between different motivations.

    What you get to see on the surface, however, depends on whether you see them in intimate enough situations and also, how much they reveal of themselves to others. So don't just presume that what you see or can grasp about people is all there is to them, and label them as 'two-dimensional'. 'Two-dimensional' is an expression that should only b used to describe the level of detail the writer chose or managed to reveal about a character. If it's a protagonist or another important character who is 2D then it can make the story feel flat, but secondary characters, who only have a background purpose to fulfil, or to facilitate a more important character, are better off as being 2D because you don't want them to distract the reader, or slow down the story.
     
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  21. T.R.P.
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    T.R.P. New Member

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    This is exactly the stir I wanted to cause when I started this conversation. :]
    Thank you guys, I'm really starting to love this website!

    In regards to my age, yes, I may be biased toward believing most people are stereotypes because that type of behavior is what I've become accustomed to in my first 20 years of life, but it's completely possible that I'll start to see things a lot differently in the next 20 - and the 20 after that, so on and so forth. That isn't to say I've never encountered people who appear to me unmistakably as "3-dimensionals", I simply meant that, in my own continuing observations, a lot of those in my life - heck, a lot in my family, even - remain very static in how they live their lives without much potential for change of their own initiative. As for myself, the description I gave earlier may have been a bit exaggerated, but the core understanding of who I am and how I appear to others comes from honest confessions and word-of-mouth by reputable sources within my circle of peers, so even though I don't always like being seen those ways, that's how it is, and that's how its going to be if I don't do something about it. I've done a lot of growing, maturing, evolving, what have you, since High School, so the same opinions might never have developed if the same people could assess me how I am right now (or better yet, maybe a couple years from now).

    And I don't mean to have shots fired, but humanity in itself is pretty damn presumptuous if you think about where we came from (evolution in play or otherwise). I'll leave THAT discussion for another day, though.
     
  22. PensiveQuill
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    PensiveQuill Contributing Member

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    I think what you are really describing here is people you find interesting versus people you don't. People tend to take on dimensions proportional to your interest in them. It may be an age thing or it could be an exposure thing. People who find a comfortable clique and hang around in that tend to see the world outside of their clique is being somewhat limited and lacking. I had a similar point of view before I took a job that exposed me to the general public in a very personal way.

    You need to understand that some people are genuinely happy in the ordinariness of life. It doesn't make them two dimensional, it makes them in many ways the lucky ones because they find no need to chase holy grails of one kind or another, if they have their 2 kids, dog and house in the burbs they consider that they've made it. That for them is life satisfaction so why would they have an impetus to change it? If you achieved your goal of being a published writer would you then feel a need to immediately dump it and go study medicine? Probably not.

    It's got nothing to do with dimensions and everything to do with a different focus in life.
     

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