May 25, 2013

A Quick Guide for Creating Complex Characters

Creating complex/multidimensional/3D characters isn't as tough as it sounds. All you have to do is give birth to someone with a past, traits, relationships, quirks, and a name. Add about three tablespoons of personality, a hint of mystery, and a little time in the over (bake or broil, it's your choice) and you have yourself a damn good character.

And here's the recipe...Well, less of a recipe and more of a guide.

Creating a 3D character is actually really simple as long as you know the answer to three simple questions:

1. How does your story begin and end.

To elaborate, knowing where your character starts out and ends up is key to creating a 3D character. More importantly, keep in mind that just because your character's life changes at a certain point doesn't mean your story starts there. You should start as far after that point as possible. Why? To give that event time to change your character thoroughly. Let's use Batman (Nolan's version) as an example:

Bruce's story starts when his parents are killed when he's roughly 11 years old. He doesn't become Batman until at least a decade later. Bruce needed time to learn and grow. He needed time for his rage to seep into his heart and mind and dictate the course of his life. He needed time to make sure that the rage driving his life wasn't going to lose steam. I think we all can relate to seemingly important events inspiring us to change...yet after a while that inspiration dissipates and all we're left with is 'Dang, I was going to ???. What happened?'

Lucky for Bruce (his character, anyway), that rage never dwindled.

Poor Bruce :(

His story ends with him shedding his alter-ego and vacationing with Catwoman...which is a complete win if you ask me. Catwoman is a fox.


How a character gets from point A to point Z is completely up to you, but it needs to make sense. Your character needs to either resolve or fall victim to the inciting incident. Which brings me question 2:

2. What kind of character do you want to create?

There are three types of characters: ascending, descending, and flat. Ascending characters are those we usually read about. They are people who overcome obstacles to become the hero of a story. Descending characters do the opposite. They fall victim to those obstacles. They become the villain, much like Magneto from X-MEN.

Poor kid

Flat characters are those that don't change despite the obstacles they face. They are pretty much space fillers. These are characters every writer need to avoid, even when creating a secondary character or characters you meet only one time. If something traumatic happens to a character we only meet once, the reader should be left curious as to how that rest of that person's life is changed.

Note: I think the best characters are ascending and descending, simultaneously. Once again, Batman is a great example of that.

3. What does you character want, and how far are they willing to go for it?

Every character must have a goal. If they don't, they will be swept around as your story deems fit. Not only does your character need to have a goal, your character needs to actively take steps to achieving that goal. They must be active. If something is constantly happening to your character (and they never do the happening themselves) you have a weak character.

Limits are also important for every character considering a good conflict pushes your character further than he or she has ever been pushed (though not necessarily to their limit). You need to figure out your character's breaking point (because EVERYONE has one) and decide how your character will respond when pushed to that limit, and whether or not you will push them that far.

As you create your character, you'll come to realize that they soon take on  a life of their own. Your story becomes less about you (the writer) dictating how your character will respond and more about your character responding to a situation because of who they are. Not all characters are strong enough to withstand being pushed to their breaking point. Not all characters will survive it. Hell, breaking your character may transform them from an ascending character to a descending one. Another Batman example:

Harvey Dent AKA Two-Face

Ultimately, knowing where you want to go with your story will definitely help mold stronger characters. To pantsers, that doesn't mean you're hopeless. What it does mean is that your story will play out based upon how your character forms. You may suddenly think of a spectacular ending for your story, but if your character's personality doesn't match your new idea, you're kinda screwed.

Have any other tips for creating strong 3D characters? Share them in the comments below.

1 comment :

  1. I recently wrote a blogpost actually about the different social circles characters run in--

    Using your Batman example:

    Bruce Wayne has a whole bunch of roles. To his company, he's the (irresponsible, lazy) CEO. To the other rich folks of Gotham, he's the life of the party. To the baddies of Gotham, he's the one to beat. To the everyman of Gotham (kids like Robin, police pre-Twoface, etc) he was the hero of the people.

    Bruce did a great job of changing up his posture, language, voice (dear God), etc, when he went between his personas, but you would occasionally see the inner Batman peeking through his partygoing persona... and more rarely, you'd see his partygoer peeking through the Bat. Because the partygoer was a part of him, even if it was a very small part.