Characters: Flat or Multi-Dimensional

Courtesy of Pixabay
I'm disappointed in one of the authors I enjoy reading.


I started reading one of her books this week, and I can't keep the characters straight. I've read Game of Thrones and The Wheel of Time and managed to keep most of those series' characters straight. This is one book, not a series. Characters should be recognizable.

Yet, one-third of the way through the book, I'm scratching my head over:

  • Who is Terrence and where did he come from? Why does he have a point of view chapter here?
  • Does this character (pick any of them for this one) sound like they did in the previous chapter?
  • Who is Justine, again?
  • Why can't I tell the three sisters apart?

The questions go on and on. The story intrigues me, and I usually love this author's storytelling, so I'm sticking with it. But seriously? What's happened to her writing?

I've run into this problem before...more times than I care to admit. Writers need to develop individual characters, even the small, short-blip-in-the story characters need to be distinguishable from the rest. Granted the smaller parts don't need as much work, but please give them something to distinguish them from each other.

How Can You Develop Individual Characters?

There are a variety of techniques you can use for developing a multi-dimensional character. Below are some of the areas you might want to consider as you seek to create something other than a cardboard cutout.

Make sure they talk differently than the others:

  • Do they have favorite words or slang terms?
  • Do they speak like a college professor, a cop, or a redneck?
  • Do they speak in short, clipped sentences or are they long-winded?
  • How do people react to them when they speak?
  • How does their voice sound?

Give them specific mannerisms:

  • Do they open doors for everyone when entering or exiting a building?
  • Do they stroke their beard or chew their nails?
  • Do they fidget or sit up straight or ...?

Develop how they respond to others:

  • Do they wait for others to finish speaking or interrupt them?
  • Do they crowd a person or keep a respectful distance?
  • Are they touchy-feel-y or hands-off?
  • Do certain people annoy them?

Don't forget the internal thoughts for your point of view characters:

  • What do they notice about people?
  • Do they see their surroundings or blaze through a room unaware of what's around them?
  • How do they interpret what they see?
  • What do they notice?
  • What do they think about while listening to others?

These questions provide a starting point, but you can find other ways to create multi-dimensional characters.  What are some of the techniques you use?


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