In real life, humans are fascinating creatures filled with contradictions. Nobody (at least nobody I’ve ever met) is ALL kindhearted, or ALL confident, or ALL obnoxious, or ALL positive. So why do writers tend to write one-dimensional characters?
Donald Maas offers this answer:
Many writers create multidimensional characters in their head, but they fail to portray these dimensions on paper.
He suggests going through our manuscript and counting the different sides of our characters we show our readers. His prediction? We don’t show nearly as many dimensions as we think.
I did this exercise with my WIP. And guess what? He was right. While the characters in my head are multidimensional, these same characters on paper don’t measure up.
What does Maas recommend?
Increase the number of dimensions in your characters.
Pinpoint your character’s defining quality. Now think of this quality’s opposite. In what ways can you show your character portraying this opposite? Repeat the exercise again with a secondary quality.
My character’s dominant impression: devoted widow.
She’s devoted to her deceased husband, to her 4-year old son, to her cafe, to her music, to God, to her friends and family. She’s loyal and dedicated to all of these things.
What is the opposite of devotion? indifference or unfaithfulness
In what way can my heroine show this opposite side of herself?
Maybe at some point in the novel, she’s too exhausted and overwhelmed to care anymore. So she lets some of her commitments slide, like her Bible study, business at her cafe, her music at church, etc.
Maybe at some point in the novel, she commits to something with the hero (who is her antagonist) in order to gain the upper hand and she’d deliberately unfaithful with this particular commitment.
I highly recommend this exercise. It sure gets the creative juices percolating and opens up some exciting character possibilities.
Questions to Ponder: What is your defining quality? If you don’t know, ask a spouse, a best friend, a sibling, a parent, etc. What do they say? In what ways do you contradict this quality?removetweetmeme