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Writing in Three Dimensions

For the month of December, I a reposting a few of my favorite posts. This post was originally published October 28, 2011:

When drawing your characters, there is more to them than where you tell them to go and what you make them say. A well-drawn character is fully fleshed as well as believably motivated. That means understanding that there are three dimensions of your character to consider:

 1) The way Dick really is. What kind of character have you created? What are the facets of Dick’s authentic self? Dick may be patient, kind, and giving but his situation forces him to believe he is otherwise. Decide what kind of person you want your characters to be. This is not limited to your protagonist and antagonist. This encompasses all of your main characters. What are their core traits and personality types? Are they introverted, extraverted, intuitive, sensing, thinking, feeling, judging or perceptive? Are they impatient, funny, wise, silly?

 2) The way Dick sees himself. Characters rarely see themselves clearly. They have their little conceits, their insecurities, and fears. They sometimes act against character when presented with extraordinary circumstances. And that is the point of fiction: to push your character out of their comfort zone. They are sometimes forced to act against character in their encounters with other people to avoid something or gain something. Think about your characters. How do they see themselves in ways that are different from their authentic self? If Dick thinks he is timid, show us in scene that he can be brave. If Dick thinks he is usually right, show us in scene that he is quite wrong. If Dick sees himself as kind, show him being a little rude and have Jane call him on it. When someone calls attention to the fact that Dick is different than he thinks he is, you have sincere conflict.

 3) The way others see Dick. Dick is more than the sum of his fictional parts. He exists in the world. The people in his world may not know the authentic Dick. They may be somewhat aware of the way Dick sees himself. They will take their cues by what he says, what he does, what he supports, and what he protests without knowing the underlying driving force behind them. The fa├žade that Dick shows to the world may vary quite a bit from both his authentic self and his perceived self. If what Dick does or says is contrary to his authentic self, others will view him either positively or negatively based on that encounter. Unless they are an intimate friend or lover, they may never meet the authentic Dick. When other characters have a false impression of Dick, you have multiple layers of conflict. Their treatment of him may strike him at the perceived-self level and the authentic-self level. If Dick feels he is being judged unfairly, it offers an opportunity for him to  prove the error by revealing his true colors.

Peeling back the layers until you reveal Dick's authentic self to the world, and to himself, is a powerful tool to show character growth in your story.

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