One Simple Way To Add Dimension To Your Characters (A Guest Post by Annika)

7:00 AM


Do you miss me yet, darlings? Don't worry, I've left you in good hands. Our first guest poster of the week is Annika @ Writer and Proud, who happens to be pretty awesome. Give her lots of comments and lots of love for me, if you wouldn't mind. Here she is: 


https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-e3lPJObpbPc/VY88IE7s90I/AAAAAAAAErE/Rp78PPVT3ew/s400/One%2BSimple%2BWay%2Bto%2BAdd%2BDimension%2Bto%2BYour%2BCharacters.jpg

Writers talk a lot about characters with dimension. We say things like "this character was really well developed" and "the antagonist was very multi-dimensional." Of course, that is when we think the character was done well. If we thought that character was boring, we'll say things like "he was a cardboard cutout" or "she didn't have any depth." Apparently this thing we call "dimension" can make or break a character. But what is it? And how can we add this all-important dimension to our characters?

First, let's deal with what exactly dimension is. According to the definition that pops up on Google, some synonyms of dimension include "feature," "facet," and "side." The amount of dimension we give a picture, for example, determines how life-like it will look. A cartoon possesses only two dimensions - height and width. Add a third dimension, depth, and suddenly we have a picture that looks a lot more life-like.

The same principle can be applied to characters. Giving a character dimension means that his personality doesn't look like a cartoon character (flat and unrealistic) but more like a real live person (it has the depth dimension). Giving a character dimension means that he'll have enough sides to his personality that he'll feel real.

A character with only one side (or dimension) gets called things like cliche, cardboard cutout, and flat. None of that is good, obviously, but how to avoid it? What are some ways to add some extra depth to your characters?

Well, there are many ways and I can't cover them all. However, I do have one simple method to share.


Say we have a scale, like so:


At one end of the scale would be a character who is entirely cold to others, tough, unyielding, etc. At the other end would be a character who is entirely warm to others, is easy to emotionally crack, sways easily on opinions, etc. A character will land somewhere on the scale, but if he landed on the very tip of either end he wouldn't feel very real. Because, let's face it: no human being (except perhaps a psychopath) has absolutely nothing in life that could make them soften up a little. Nor does a single human being on the planet not have a single person or thing that could make them show a more sensitive and soft side.

Take Katniss Everdeen. In general, we'd probably place her pretty close to the "tough/cold" end of the scale. She's quite cold to most people, blunt, brave, harsh with some people such as her mother, commanding, and in general not a very soft person.



So what keeps her from feeling as flat as a cartoon?

The answer is that she becomes a softie around her sister Prim.

When Katniss is with Prim, she becomes a nurturer. She tucks Prim's shirt in, uses terms of endearment, comforts Prim from nightmares . . . in other words, the complete opposite of how she treats most people.


Can you see what I'm getting at? Katniss doesn't just stay on one end of that scale. Depending on who she is with, she will occupy completely different ends of the spectrum!
https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-IojUKlQsgqs/VY9DoF3VYUI/AAAAAAAAErc/g_g3lHL2URk/s320/Katniss%2527s%2BUsual%2BSelf.png
https://4.bp.blogspot.com/-kwwd0QuLL3c/VY9DszPiUPI/AAAAAAAAErk/neOpPNorWU4/s320/Katniss%2Bwith%2BPrim.png

It is this movement on the scale that gives Katniss her depth. We don't just see one side of her, or one dimension of her. Because of Prim, we get to see multiple sides of her personality - therefore, her personality isn't as flat as a cartoon but full of depth. She feels more real.

It's like this: with just her tough side shown, she'd feel like this:

Found here. Not mine.
But with the soft side that Prim brings out in her, she feels like this:


Just as there is no question as to which picture looks more lifelike, there is no question that Katniss's multiple sides makes her character feel more realistic.

What I'm getting at is this. If you want to add dimension to your character, show both their tough side and their soft side. In the opening pages of the book demonstrate that they can slide around on the scale a little. Show that they aren't stagnant in their behavior and that they change as the situation changes, just like real people. Do that, and you'll bring your characters to life.


I spoke mostly about being tough and soft, but there are other pairs of opposite traits which you can use to add dimension to a character: bravery and cowardice, emotional expression and poker face, etc. Can you think of any? Can you think of any other characters which have been given dimension using opposite traits?


16 comments

  1. Hm, I definitely see how watching your characters veer from one side of the scale onto the other can make for a different characterization of someone. Perhaps I think of... okay, I can't think of anything. But it's something for me to think about as I read on!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Haha, I'm glad the post got you thinking. :)

      Delete
  2. Thanks for letting me do this Aimee!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for posting! I really appreciate it. :D

      Delete
  3. I love this! I remember going to a writer's workshop and the speaker talked about this. He said that giving characters dimension means their relationships with different people hold a different status. (He was very technical, I guess).

    Because in real life, you joke around with your friends and you at ease. But then there's those people who put you on your guard and you're stiff and tense around them. There's those people who never fail to make you angry. The people you respect, and the people you taunt with the subtly of your words because you really don't care about them or what they think. That's reality.

    And characters should be that way too. They are going to act a little different around different people. Like Katniss. I love the color scale! It makes easier to understand that way. And Katniss was the best example ever. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Exactly! That sounds like it was an awesome workshop. Haha, I'm glad the time I spent making it was worth it. ;) Thanks for the comment!

      Delete
  4. Ooh, wonderful post, Annika! I've always tried to place my character at middling parts of the spectrum, but I hadn't considered shifting them along in different situations. Awesome point!

    ReplyDelete
  5. This is incredible and insightful. Now that I think about it, the most fully-fleshed out characters I know have multiple sides, soft/hard/cold/warm. And your right, it's not like Katniss is cold all the time, then how lovable would she be? Wonderful job. :)

    ReplyDelete
  6. Such a good tip, Annika! I'll definitely have to pay more attention to this as I write my own characters.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks! I'm happy you found it useful. :)

      Delete
  7. This is a really cool post! People in real life aren't always the same way around everyone and that's a cool thing you point out here. ^ ^ And I love Katniss being used as an example, because she's amazing. ^ ^

    storitorigrace.blogspot.com

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Katniss was the first one I thought of, because she shows such extremes. Thanks for reading!

      Delete

hey. hey. talk to me. i'm a fan of comments and flailing with you. go for it.