Sunday, August 29, 2010

3-Dimensional Characters

We hear that term all the time and I think there is an unspoken rule that we are supposed to create them or our work is 'pedestrian.'

I am going to say it is IMPOSSIBLE to write a 3-D character in any piece of work. Including film. It is a completely unattainable standard, and a standard that can freak people out enough to stop writing altogether.

Does that mean we should trot out cardboard characters and be happy with it? No, of course not. I want my characters (and yours) to have depth and feel organic. However, this lofty 3-D goal is simply silly.

Sure, on your fifth NTY Top Ten Best Selling novel, when you have a yacht and a winter home in the Caribbean, I give you permission to toil and fret about finally creating the world's first fully 3-D character...

Until then? How about we go with the characters we have and get a book written?

And yes, I do read a lot of genre material that is not known for its character work, but I have read the fine literary works as well. You know, the ones with real 3-D characters. But sorry, even in the best of hands, the character is still... a character.

There is no way in the space and time allotted within a work of fiction to bring every subtle nuance and quirk that makes up a human being. We can add depth, just not to the point of creating a flesh and blood person on the page.

Why do I bring this up? Because I see author after author lament their character work and keep going back and fiddling with it so hard and so long they give up on the project entirely.

So, I am here to give you permission to write the best characters you can write, RIGHT NOW. Then put them through your writing group (don't have one? check out next week's blog) and do a rewrite based on those notes or take a class on character, but then move on with the story.

At some point you must accept you are the author that you are for now... with room for improvement.

Your assignment this week is to check in and see if you are hung up on your characters. Do you spend an inordinate amount of time tinkering with them? If the answer is yes, then STOP for goodness sake.

Go look at the Bestsellers on the shelf. I can almost guarantee you that none of them have fully realized 3-D characters. So just because you don't have them, why should that stop you from finishing your work (and learning along the way ;-0

Want to check how fully realized (or not) my characters in Plain Jane are? Click here to read 50 pages free and here is a 50% off coupon: RH88E

Until next week!


  1. yes i think some people do get hung out on creating perfect characters. people aren't perfect. even when you think you know someone really well, they can come out with some crazy behaviour that just doesn't make sense. sometimes writing about a character can be the same- they surprise you, and that's half the fun! the more your story evolves the characters should naturally progress with it, they will evolve and become more well rounded purely as a result of the story. i like being surprised by my characters- in some ways i dont create them, i just give them a voice and if i tried too hard they would disappear :)

    great post!

  2. That is definitely a good point. I always warn people of that when they ask me to base a character off of them, because all I can do is take one character attribute and exaggerate it. Real life people are way too complex, they wouldn't make sense in a novel.

    Definitely I agree! :)

  3. This is good advice. And it's true ... fiction is an approximation of real life. There's a shape and style to it that reality rarely has.

  4. Great advice. Characterization is a side of my writing I know I need to work on, but this is a good reminder that they're characters, not people. My characters don't have to be perfect now-- after all, I'm WORKING on it, which is fine!

    Thanks for the post!