The Third Dimension

Life goes on. One foot in front of the other – or so they say. But sometimes it doesn’t seem that way. Sometimes life throws us off-balance. We struggle, regain our composure and move on. Is that the life of a writer or what? So many things cause us to lose our focus, but we regain our composure and move on. At least, I hope we do. 

This week, let’s look at developing 3D characters. 

The first dimension is what we see on the outside. It’s the quirks and habits, the idiosyncrasies. This may or may not be who your character really is. Without a second and third dimension, it’s hard to tell.

The second dimension is where we see what’s on the inside. Make use of backstory here. Let us know why your protagonist and other characters act and react the way they do. What is it in their past that brings out the present in them? Think dreams that never happen. Think childhood fears playing out in adult life. Don’t be afraid to let your characters act out of character from time to time. No one in actual life is true to themselves 100% of the time.

The third dimension brings the stage to life. Let your actors surprise your reader. Have your strong man crumble. Have your weak man rise to the occasion.

It’s within humanity to search for a higher purpose. Give them one. We all have a destiny, so let your protagonist reach for hers. Give her a different path to follow than might be expected. Let it be known she was created for such a time as this. Maybe this unfamiliar path works. Maybe it doesn’t, but it does give an added dimension. 

Allow his inner feelings to show on the outside, to be expressed physically. What does a new haircut tell us about how an individual is feeling? How about a character that has worn the same clothes for a week? There is a difference in appearance, and likely there is a difference in how they feel on the inside. Just an example of showing, not telling. Trust your reader to figure it out.

Another way to deepen the third dimension is to use conflicting emotions. It may be the wife knows she’s not truly loved by her husband and needs to walk out, but deep inside she loves her husband. She is torn by the decision she must make. Or perhaps she feels she needs to stay for the kid’s sake. Either way, she’s reached a point of conflict in her emotions. Everyday people reach this point repeatedly. Make her an everyday person.

Use real-life emotions. Could it be that what your character is showing on the outside really isn’t what he is feeling? There are many reasons your main man might not reveal himself to the world, but inwardly his emotion is heavy. His outward appearance may be a smoke screen for something deeper. Then again, he may be very open with his feelings. We all have emotions, and we can identify with a character that has powerful emotions. It’s called empathy, and that’s exactly what you want to create in your reader. 

Let me summarize for you. You need to show your character with all three dimensions. People are emotional beings with conflict that includes all three dimensions. They are the sum of all their parts. This is what you want your reader to grasp. We’re filled with dreams and hope for a future, but we’re also filled with shameful secrets and self-doubts. Bring it all out in your key character and you have done your job.

Well, that should do it until next week. See  you then!


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