Three Ways to Make Characters More Three-Dimensional

Three Ways to Make Characters More Three-Dimensional


We often call good characters “three-dimensional.” Three-dimensional characters are complex and unique, with fully developed fictional lives. This makes them seem like real people. And the more real the character seems, the more the audience will identify with them and care about what happens to them. Also, realistic characters are necessary for the audience to suspend their disbelief and buy into the story. This is especially true with stories set in unfamiliar worlds, like science fiction, fantasy, and historical drama. We need realistic characters to ground us in these strange environments. Underdeveloped characters are called “flat” or “cardboard” for a reason. They don’t engage our emotions. We don’t care about what happens to them, so we don’t care about the story.

Why do we say three dimensions, rather than four or five or ten? Because there are three aspects of a person’s (or character’s) life:

Physical:

The nature of a character’s body affects their attitude toward the world and the world’s attitude toward them. Are they male or female or transgender? How old are they? What is their race? Are they athletic? How is their health? Are they graceful, clumsy, sexy or sickly? Naturally attractive or ugly? Do they have a high-pitched, squeaky voice or a deep, soothing voice?

Psychological:

Psychological traits are the elements of the character’s personality. Are they outgoing or shy? Optimistic or pessimistic? Patient or short-tempered? Greedy, overly-sensitive, confident, competitive, charming, uptight, lecherous and/or kind? What are they most afraid of? What do they enjoy? What are their political, philosophical, and religious beliefs? Are they gay, straight, or somewhere in between?

Social:

Social characteristics can be thought of as demographics. Is the character single, married, divorced? Are they dating – if so, who and for how long? Do they have kids? Are their parents alive and do they get along with them? Is the character popular, stylish, a jock, or a nerd? What is their job? What religion do they belong to (which may be different from their spiritual beliefs) and do they actively participate in it? What is their socioeconomic class? Education level? What ethnicity, and are they a minority in their environment? What social groups are they part of – friends, work groups, hobby groups? Where do they live – what city and what kind of domicile? Whom do they live with?

You can get a good start building a multidimensional character by simply listing traits under those three categories. Here are three additional exercises that will help make your characters into more fully realized, complex human beings.

Read the full article on Screencraft.org

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