1. Ziggy.
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    Ziggy. Member

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    What makes a character 'three dimensional'?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ziggy., Mar 26, 2014.

    I am aware of character development, and how one can change, but I'm confused too...A little.

    What exactly makes a character three dimensional? What are the good points that you can tell me which will help me in creating stronger, THREE DIMENSIONAL characters? As right now I'm a little lost on what exactly to do in making a character seem more real at the start of a story.

    Zigs.
     
  2. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I would avoid saying length, breadth and depth, but it's actually very apt; taking into consideration their history, their personality, their beliefs and behavior. having emotions, opinions, desires, dislikes and concerns that are not all cliche, but support the behavior of the individual
     
  3. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Well, the first thing to do if you want to make stronger characters is make sure you understand them on a deeper level. The expression 3-dimensional (as I understand it, at least) is in reference to the idea of depth. Generally speaking, height, width, and depth are the three dimensions. With regards to character development these are replaced with things like general characteristics, history, and interiority--where interiority doesn't refer to what we see inside the character as we would with the pov character, but rather what they have inside in general.

    Put another way, 3-D, fully fleshed out characters, are more than their description. They are primarily defined by their motivations and their decisions. They are as human as a body of words can be because they are represented by a consciousness of their own as opposed to background, description, and action assigned point-by-point by the author. 3-D characters become visible in the mind's eye because they exhibit uniqueness or personality. They have emotions. They act and react to things in their world. Further, their motivations are dependent on things surrounding their lives, not just assigned by a writer to meet the need of a scene.

    Remember though, as a collection of words, all characters generally start off as static and shallow. You start off with just a presence. However, as you develop their backgrounds and character traits over the course of the story, they begin to gain depth. Avoid infodumps. We don't need all of the information on a character up front. Instead, start with their consciousness and work outward. The more we learn over time, the more the character manifests as a 3-d presence.

    As an example, let's create a character. We'll call him Sam.

    Level 1- general information
    • Sam is a 17 year old boy in high school
    • He gets good grades, generally B's with a couple of A's
    • He is tall, but not unusually so compared to other guys his age.
    • He's Indian (Punjabi)
    • He is the youngest in his family and the only boy
    • He likes basketball, but doesn't play on the team
    • He has a lot of friends, but only 2 best friends
    • He has trouble talking to girls he likes
    Level 2- Background
    • Sam's family is 2 generations removed from India, but his grandparents insist that he learn an value his Indian culture and traditions.
    • because his parents are more Americanized, Sam learned a lot of his morals and cultural beliefs from his grandparents, and has a keen respect for elders in any community.
    • As the youngest in his family, he often has to deal with some teasing from his 2 older sisters. But He knows it's all out of love and fun. As the the only boy, he also gets a few benefits.
    • Because he spent much of his youth with his grandparents, Punjab was his first language, not English, making him mostly bi-lingual.
    Level 3- Interior
    • Because of his strong Hindu upbringing, Sam is very superstitious about Karma, and often finds himself apologizing more often than necessary to make sure he doesn't cause offense that would harm his Karma.
    • Sam is also religiously nonviolent, but he often steps in to resolve conflicts believing it will accumulate good Karma and prevent his friends from ruining theirs.
    • Even though he can be outgoing in a crowd, he is very self-conscious about his thinner frame, often wishing he could build muscles like the other boys in his class.
    • Because many of his classmates practice different religions, he wants to go to college and study theology. However, he is fairly certain he will study Chemistry, Computer Science, or Business because those are the only fields his parents will support.
    • He once thought he could be a doctor, but after an incident in a hospital that he doesn't like to think about, he's decided he's not brave enough to work with sick people.
    • He has a pet king snake named Arjuna, whom he regards as his closest friend because he talks to it every night as if it were listening. He considers the snake good luck because it approached him while walking but did not attempt to bite.
    • Sam has a strange attraction to fire and the color red. So he often wears a red band on his wrist and approaches fire whenever he see's it, even if it's not very safe.
    As you can see, at each level we receive a different amount AND TYPE of characterization. These details all come together to produce a fuller character. These are the types of things that should come into play when thinking about who your (major) characters are. They should be diffused throughout the narrative, along with other things.

    In short, you have to think of your characters as people, not chess pieces. Even with these details, Sam doesn't come to life until I allow him to interact and start doing things within his world.
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2014
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  4. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    I think inconsistency helps, or at least apparent inconsistency. If you define a character to be a certain way and that character is always that way in every situation, it gets old. It's also not realistic. People who are normally cool under pressure sometimes crack. People who are normally whiners sometimes "man up." People who are normally very empathetic sometimes are callous. It is the exceptions to their normal personality, and the circumstances under which these exceptions occur, that help make a character interesting.
     
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  5. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    This is from Elizabeth Bowen's essay and I think it's amazing. And something a lot of writer's - even good ones - miss. The idea of a story is not to show the entire spectrum of a character but to highlight enough that the readers know they're not getting everything. Maybe even some key points are missing. Leaving some mystery there. The reader should have a clear sense that there are and were other things going on in between and before the action started. It's just like real life - not every gesture can be properly deciphered, not every past known, we only know so much about a person.

    I think in order to do this you, the writer, shouldn't always start a novel knowing everything about a character, you need to be as surprised by revelations as the reader.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2014
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  6. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    See if this helps.
     
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  7. Ziggy.
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    Ziggy. Member

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    You just blew my mind! Please, teach me more.

    As for everybody else, thankyou. It's helped me understand a lot more as to what makes them third dimensional, and if anybody else has anything to add, it would be more than appreciated.
     
  8. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    I have to admit... this... is... brilliant! ha ha! Just the kind of laugh I need this morning. :D

    @peachalulu, you raise a good point. It is about giving the readers the right details. Not everything about them, but enough at each of the levels for readers to feel like there is more to them than what is presented, just as there is more to real people than we generally get to know.
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2014
  9. AndyC
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    AndyC Member

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    I usually divide characters in Round characters and Flat characters.

    Round characters are the type of characters who are imposible to label within a stereotype. For every characteristic you give them, there is other that work against it (For instance, a shop attendant with a bad temper but a love of poetry.)
    They give an initial impression which can be categorized, but then they start developing into something more complex. They have a emotions, behavior, likes and dislikes, and so on. Just like real people. This would be those "three dimensional" characters that everyone here explained very well.

    But there are also Flat characters. Those type of characters which you can categorize into a stereotype (For example: The old bald man next door who always has his T.V. too loud.) They are characters who always act according to their stereotype and never do something out of the "ordinary". Those would be "two dimensional" characters.

    I often have a lot of fun with those flat characters. Having a few of them in your story and exaggerating their traits to make them stand out can really make a difference in it.

    I really like the way @Andrae Smith explained it. I've never thought of thinking about those "three dimensions" as separated points. Really helpful, thank you.
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2014
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  10. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Likewise, I like the way you've presented characters here. I never really put much stock in thinking about characters as one way or the other, but by the time I reached the end of your post, I had come to the same conclusion that a couple of flat characters make room for some excellent comedic relief. Like, with your old man example, I might write something like this:

    Okay, I got a little carried away ha ha, but it was fun writing!
     
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2014
  11. AndyC
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    AndyC Member

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    That was really good.

    That description you made for Herbert there just cracked me up :p And I think it illustrates the point very well :)
     
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  12. Andrae Smith
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    Andrae Smith Gone exploring... in the inner realm... Contributor

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    Thank you! I was hoping it would. :)
     

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