On Creating Multi-Dimensional Characters



Hello humans. Hope you're not enjoying the warm weather. Hope your memorial day weekend was slightly less than satisfactory. Hope there was lots of mischief.

I'm here to talk about creating round, multi-dimensional characters. None of this advice is utterly proven, but it is simply observations I've had after spending many hours watching human shows like Game of Thrones, Downton Abbey, Doctor Who, etc.

1. Give the character a desire that motivates all their actions

This girl is Danaerys Targaryen. She wants to become queen. Ever since the beginning of season 2, that desire has motivated every single one of her actions, causing her to kill, to conquer, and to befriend.

For main characters, state this desire almost immediately. Within the first three pages, if not on the very first page. 

For minor characters, bonus points if you make their desire a secret.

2. Make a character make a decision that conflicts with that desire.

Danaerys attacked a city for the sole purpose of freeing all of its slaves. In doing so, she risked her dragons, her soldiers, and the wrath of friends of the city. But her disgust at slavery prompted her to do that.

*It's more interesting if a character willingly chooses to do this, rather than being forced into it. Katniss wouldn't have been as interesting if it was just her name drawn, rather than Prim's. 

3. Give the character a past.

Pasts are what define characters, whether or not you choose to reveal their past. For instance, just the thought of revealing the name of the Doctor from Doctor Who prompted several episodes, if not seasons. Part of what makes this character so fascinating is that we know almost nothing about his past at all, yet we're aware that his past haunts him and motivates him all the time.

It's your choice whether or not to reveal a character's past. Only do if it affects the story or allows the reader to understand the character in an essential way. No reader needs excess information.

4. "Every villain is a hero in his own mind."

I love that quote (not just because people apply it to me). Though literature has provided us with a few exceptions, in general, even in Milton's portrayal of Satan in Paradise Lost, the antagonist is the hero of his version of the story. Every person has redeemable qualities.

This lady here on the right was a maid to a character in Downton Abbey and did something unspeakable. I thought I'd hate her forever, but in later episodes, she proves herself to actually have a heart, to be trying to make amends for her action. The harder you make it to hate a character, the more interesting the character becomes. 

5. Give the character a secret.

This can be connected to his/her past, or it can be simply something the character has learned recently.

6. Make the character lie.

Everybody lies. Fact. Characters should, too.

7. Give your character a quirk.

It can be small. Think of Jay Gatsby's 'old sport' phrase. Or the 11th Doctor's obsession with cool style trends. It's nice to have something recognizable about a character that makes him an individual.

8. Make your character care about at least one other character.

His friend, her mom, the secret love of their life. Make them care about one other person as much as/more than/almost as much as they care for themselves. 

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These are my non-human, objective observations on what make the characters of Doctor Who, Downton Abbey, and Game of Thrones so interesting. The more layers they have, the more loves, hates, secrets, pasts, lies, the more interesting the character becomes. And, above all, make every character redeemable. 

3 comments:

  1. Great post, Loki. So Stark shut off your twitter and you reverted to TV shows. Okay. Figures.

    - Hulk

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  2. Wow Loki. Nice observations. I really like observation #4 and what you said about making it harder to hate a character. That's where the best emotional conflict comes in. So true.

    --Hawkeye

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  3. Nice. Post. I've been working on charrie development lately, and I will certainly come back to this as a reference.

    Also, loved that line "The harder you make it to hate a character, the more interesting the character becomes." LOVE.

    Now I'm all motivated to go edit, though sadly dinner must come first. Tomorrow's editing session is going to be fun.

    Thank you for sharing your astute observations.

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