Characters need 3 dimensions. How do you get to understand what the differences in dimensions are?
Some is simple: The first dimension is what you see. Clothes, affectations, all the guff people use to mask the real person in the safe, inner world behind the facade. The second dimension is the stuff that is either used as an excuse for the 1D, or a reason for them. But these backstory elements of 2D may or may not create the responses seen in the outer persona, the 1D side. There’s an element of choice. People choose which way to present themselves, and the lessons learned from the history/backstory can explain some of it, but not all. Now, the third dimension – that’s their real world. The core of the person. 3D elements pop out when there’s no time to consider which mask to use, which persona to present. This is the actions and decisions that are spontaneous and unscripted. It’s what happens when there’s nothing to block the ‘real’ from reacting to the (usually sudden) incident.
It really does sound simple, doesn’t it? Now you try it.
Paint the picture of your character. Height, weight, hair colour (how often do they change it? – shows a psychological issue), teeth, the way they smile at the opposite sex (or same sex, or couples, etc.; depends, doesn’t it?), taste in shoes, styling of clothes and hair, the way they ‘dress to impress’ – or not, the choices they make in food they eat in front of others as opposed to what they eat when alone, the choices they make for transport or fitness, the ‘face’ they make up to go to work. There’s also friends and acquaintances, hobbies and tasks, things they volunteer for (or sneer at others for). First dimension also includes things like the way they want the world to see them, so the hat that’s twisted at a jaunty angle? 1D. What does the character want that to be seen as? Is it seen that way, or is the dandruff-covered cardy something that shows us something completely different, maybe opposite of the intention. Is the character trying too hard to be something; can everyone else see this, but they can’t?
That was all 1D (the short version). What we see.
The why we see it? That’s 2D. The bad childhood where the char was beaten up by father, mother, brother; by bullies at school. A general childhood of being a victim, which they now swear in the adult life – it won’t happen again because they present themselves as tough with a swagger and leather and chains and a cocky attitude. You know these things, don’t you? The underlying story of why a character does things this way and not that way come from somewhere. Use any pop psychology book and you can see some of the why’s and wherefores. It’s not all though. There’s other stuff in here: the things they learned from bad relationships; how to get affection/attention regardless of the pain it causes others; how to sneer without the face moving; how to get their own back for the little things they do that annoy your char (revenge issues/response to resentment issues). These are inner elements that come from the things they use as excuses for their outer representation. Just remember, being beaten up as a kid does not always end up with the victim becoming a perpetrator of the same tactics as an adult. The same circumstances can create completely different, and yet realistic, characters.
So now you see the 2D. The excuses or reasons for why people present themselves in the 1D.
The inner person? Somewhat more difficult, and that’s why most character portrayals in story are not fully developed. The third dimension, usually missing, is the inner person, the core. 3D is the world view they’ve developed over the span of their life, so a younger person will be less rigid (usually, depends on 2D) and less cynical than an older, world-weary person. The person who steps in front of moving traffic in an effort to save the life of a child/dog/elder isn’t going to have time to think about it. The mother who lifts a car to get her children out from under the wreck. The ex-soldier who drops to the ground at the first sound of something like gun-fire. The man who cheats on his wife and tells all his dalliances how horrible she is to elicit sympathy – he’s the inner core shit, and he won’t stop because that attention is his drug and he has to have it.
The 3D. It’s the actions, behaviours, and decisions made that are often only visible when made on the spur of the moment in a hot situation.
Now you know what may be missing from your 3D character, so go right ahead and find these elements. Learn these inner core things about your character.
And then use them to show change and growth through the four stages of the structure of story.
Luck has nothing to do with it – just hard work and an understanding of …
Copyright Karel Jaeger/Cage Dunn 2017