Writing Three Dimensional Characters

When I first started to write I was often told my characters were one-dimensional. At first, I thought what the hell does that mean. I soon understood the difference.

So what is the difference between one-dimensional and three-dimensional characters?

The most obvious (something I should have pick up from the start) one-dimensional characters are about as interesting as watching paint dry and as appealing as dry cardboard. They are a character type.

Three-dimensional characters have depth. A fully rounded have: 1. Thoughts, 2. Emotions, 3 Action. They think, feel, and do things.

They have flaws. Let’s face no one is perfect. Your heroine’s beautiful well-groomed hair may turn into a mane of uncontrollable frizz. Your masculine hero could have a limp.

At times, they will act out of character. A shy heroine can become a tigress protecting her cub if a loved one is in danger. Even the hardest egotistical hero can turn to jelly at the sight of a rain soaked muddy mutt.

Have your characters do unexpected things that take them out of their comfort zone. Your heroine may have to ride a horse to go for help even though she is petrified of them.

We are three-dimensional and so should your characters. Give them personality. What personal traits, quirks, or habits do your characters have? Watch people around you, watch how they move, what they do in situations, do they have a nervous twitch? Can you use it in your writing?

Back-story. Where do your characters come from? What in their past drives them to be better now? What scars do they carry? Fear, weaknesses etc.

Their behaviour. This is determined by the decisions your character makes. Like the shy heroine jumping to the defence of a small child. It may be out of character but she decides action needs to be taken, so she acts on that decision and feels empowered by her action.

Don’t forget to incorporate the five senses. Hear (sound), See (sight), Smell (odours), Taste, Touch. We use them every day and so should your characters.

My biggest problem is that I’m a pantster so I have no clear picture of what my characters will or won’t do until I start writing. I like it to meeting new friends, we have no idea what someone is like until we get to know them. My characters are like that, they give me little bits of information, an insight into their personality as I write. I love the feeling of discovery being a panster; I never know what my characters will do next.

I do however make sure I have these elements in my story as I do my revision. I do character charts as I go along filling in any information as it comes to me.

This is just my view on three-dimensional characters. Other writers may have a different view. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject.




9 thoughts on “Writing Three Dimensional Characters

  1. I love writing my characters backstory / history. Often I get another idea for the story I can use to either strength my character’s motivation or add another layer to the plot. While they say just about every story plot has been written, its the way we, as writers, bring out characters to life that makes all the difference. Interesting post, Sandie and very timely, since I’m working on characters atm 🙂

  2. Good post, Sandie. Thanks. For me, characters are THE most important part of a story, so it’s essential to really make them come alive. You can have the greatest plot ever, but if the charaters are blah, that connection won’t be there for readers.

  3. Great post Sandie. One thing I find rounds out a character is their memories. I heard John Marsden once say that each book contains hundreds of stories when you take their memories and snippets of backstory into account.

  4. I hear you loud and clear Sandie. I find that intriguing about you and your characters, being a pantster, you have to grow to know them.
    What well behaved characters you must have. I wonder if they change as the story goes on? 🙂
    Mine – Crikey they talk to me in my sleep, follow me around the house, even to the washing line. I feel I know them like a long lost friend.
    I’m pantster & Plotter combined, but it doesn’t stop them trying to take over my life at times – hahahah
    Great Post

  5. Great article Sandie. I also believe that readers want to read three dimensional characters in novels, but I think it does require a bit of work to get them right.

    Lol Mary re your characters following you around! I would love to have that happen to me. Thanks for sharing your insight with us Sandie 🙂

  6. I enjoyed your post, Sandie. I too am a pantster and my characters just evolve. I like that Mary’s characters follow her around. Mine are almost like family. I also have a character diary for every book where I write down not only their physical descriptions but their traits and background. They become real people.

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