'Fleshing Out' Otherwise Two Dimensional Characters

by Twilight Dragon
(Adelaide, South Australia)

Question: I will admit, I am usually a 'pantser'. However, as experience has shown how flimsy that can be, for my latest piece I actually started planning.


It was during this that I realized some of my characters aren't as three-dimensional as I would like. I get that you can't write it for me, but just ANY tips that'd help would be AWESOME!!
I'll write all the 'main characters' (though admittedly, a few are more 'impact characters') down so you get the gist:

EVAN - is a quiet, logical 25-year-old guy who's new in town and is just starting to make some friends. However, the past he's been running away from for thirteen years has hunted him down; his father, the main antagonist, is back to mould his son into a perfect likeness of himself. While he tries his damnedest to never follow his father's path, he fears he someday will and hurt all he cares about.

ELIAS - is Evan's 15-year-old best friend; cheerful, friendly and headstrong. Having been raised in the one city since he was six, he's tired of being behind its walls and wants to get out and see the world. This dream is forever being suppressed by others, who don't yet see him as an adult, not to mention his romantic ideals are suppressed as well.

DYLAN - is Elias's 17-year-old brother, who has been his guardian since the death of their mother nine years prior. Unlike Elias,however, Dylan knows the true circumstances: she was murdered. He has spent nearly all his life trying to keep his last promise to her, and protect his little brother, which is not easy considering Elias's goals. Oh, and he's a hopeless romantic.

BRIGG - is Dylan's 21-year-old best friend and the legal guardian of the two younger boys. Hidden behind his funloving and rebellious nature is a caring heart who stretches himself to help others, particularly orphaned children, usually at his own expense. His mother has been institutionalized from the grief of losing his father over a decade ago, and he therefore fends for himself and won't let others help him.

MYSTIE - is Elias's would-be love-interest, who shares a lot of his traits along with a LOT of recklessness and stubbornness that gets her into trouble. She's the only child of the local lord, who looks down upon the boys she hangs out with and tries in vain to raise her as a 'proper' lady. As such, she is forbidden to court a 'working-class ruffian' such as Elias, to her chagrin, as she reciprocates his affections.

CAROLYN - is Evan's would-be girlfriend, a fiery, passionate woman who won't take 'No as an answer. Evan, due to his insecurities about himself (see prior), isn't very giving to the relationship, much to her chagrin. She is EXTREMELY protective of those she cares about.

LEE - is Carolyn's 4-year-old cousin and ward, who never seems to be low on energy. The only thing that'll get a concerned response from him is the welfare of his friend Isa.

ISA - is Lee's best friend and also Carolyn's ward, who contrasts starkly with Lee by being very quiet and pessimistic. This is for good reason as his parents (and everyone else in his hometown, besides Lee) abandoned him after the revelation of his 'mark' (a bit like a superpower that people are afraid of). He, like Evan, fears he will hurt others if he gets too close.

My problems are Dylan, Carolyn, and Lee. Unlike the others, these three can really be explained one word (over-protective, passionate and energetic, respectively) and that's NOT good.
Is there any way I could make them more unique?

Cheers.

Answer: The essence of character creation is to build a very complete 3D image (concept, hologram, etc.) of your character in your mind. The more vivid this image, the more you will instinctively know how the character will respond in any situation.

One "pantser" technique is to spend some time writing from each character's point of view, even if they will not be POV characters in the actual story. This exercise can help you discover/create much material that adds depth to their personality.

You can, for example, write several versions of an event in your story, each one from a different character's perspective. Or you can write monologues for each character in which they explain their inner life -- their wants, dreams, feelings, worries, beliefs, opinions -- or perhaps significant experiences from their past that shaped their personality.

Plotters, on the other hand, will often develop standard lists of questions which they try to answer for each character. A good character questionnaire covers all aspects of a character, including both external and internal elements. For instance, you might include...

Age and gender.
Physical traits and mannerisms.
Style of dress.
Props and environment.
Occupation.
Class and lifestyle.
Education, expertise, talents, and skills (or lack thereof).
Likes and dislikes.
Affiliations.
Family and social network.
Personality traits.
Habits.
Desires (long and short term).
Opinions, beliefs and judgments.
Emotions (including past scars or positive experiences).
Comfort zone.
Etc.

Tips:

1. It helps to include at least one surprising fact or detail about each character.

2. You want to reach a point where you fall in love with every character in your story, even the most disagreeable ones.

You many not need to answer every possible question about every character, but the more you do this work, the more real the characters will seem to you, and the easier it will be to write them in a way that makes them seem real to the reader.

Best of luck

Comments for 'Fleshing Out' Otherwise Two Dimensional Characters

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Jun 23, 2015
Quick Trick
by: Anonymous

I am so glad Twilight Dragon posted this question, as it led to so many valuable techniques.

As an aspiring novelist, one thing that works for me, which I did not see mentioned in that wonderful list of tips is this:

I go to Google images, type in a few words, and skim through the resulting images until I find a photo of what I know to be "my character". After saying, "Oh, that's him," I then do absolutely no research on who this person really is because for me he's just "my character" that I'm trying to get more in touch with. I save the image to the file for "my character" and simply let it stimulate my imagination, keeping the original inspiration fresh and fruitful for however many months and years I'm working on that manuscript.

I know some people will find "their character" on the street, in the mall, or on the news. But I find my memories of such people fade over time, while my image of "my character" is perfectly preserved for as long as I need it.

Jun 23, 2015
re: photos
by: Glen

Looking for photographs of real people who suggest a character you're creating can certainly be a useful technique. S.E. Hinton's character The Motorcycle Boy was based on a photograph she found in a magazine.

You do have to exercise some caution, however. Magazines do not tend to offer a representative view of humanity, but rather a glamorized version of humanity with too many fashion models, and too few people who are poor, old, ethnic, or average looking.

You also have to be careful about basing your characters on real people. It's often better to combine traits from several real people or take just a few traits from a real person and add other traits of your own devising so you get a character who is clearly different from the real person.

Jun 23, 2015
I Completely Agree
by: Anonymous

Hi Glen

I couldn't agree more about not basing a character on a real person. That's why I simply look for a photo that inspires me, save it, and leave it at that.

I deliberately learn ABSOLUTELY NOTHING about the person whose image struck enough of a chord with me to be saved. One that, for me, "puts flesh on the bones", making my created being spring more fully to life.

Having already based my character on my own "mental character collage" -- mainly pure imagination but also combining one or more personality quirks from each of three to five persons [real or fictional] into a believable functioning whole -- I find such a photo a way to stay in touch with the character I birthed.

Love this website!!!

Jun 24, 2015
Answering my own question
by: Twilight Dragon

Thanks Glen and Anonymous! Those ideas will indeed come in handy!
For anyone else reading this, it reminded me of another technique I also on occasion use: music.
Sometimes, the lyrics of a song will perfectly fit the kind of character I want to portray, so listening to said song a few times can be quite inspirational.
For instance, even in this story here, I find Mystie's character is perfectly portrayed by 'I'm Only Me When I'm With You' (Taylor Swift) and Carolyn herself is named after the Black Veil Brides song of the same name. Brigg's father is named after Elton John's 'Daniel'.
Of course, they also have their limitations, like photos/images. After all, these characters are to be unique, not just personifications of someone else's music.

Oct 14, 2015
Drawing Out Your Characters
by: Anonymous

One thing I absolutely adore to do when evolving a new character is to sketch them out! It helps with creating a very distinct and unique visual representation as well as having clear visuals of their facial expressions and interactions with others. It's also fun to come up with their style of dress through drawing! I realize not all people can draw well, but it doesn't need to be good, only you're going to see it!

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