Four Dimensions: Character Analysis Beyond 3d Characters

Four dimensions like four eyes give 3d characters added depth.Fleshing out characters (giving 3d characters four dimensions) is one of my favorite aspects of writing a story, perhaps more than weaving the plot. The human mind is complex, and in a story, every character is an outstanding individual, with their own story, dreams, hopes and fears. The possibilities are limitless, and I could spend all day uncovering the characters’ motivations, ideals, and inner workings.

Once the plot gets going, even complex 3d characters get busy with what’s going on around them, and are in danger of losing their personality quirks. When I’m writing through an exciting scene, I often forget that the characters wouldn’t act the way I would act. I have to go back and evaluate the scene, and whether they are acting true to character.

When that happens, I look over four dimensions of a character’s personality, to see if they are acting consistently throughout the story. These four dimensions can be determined at the beginning of a story, or infused at any point in time thereafter to bring out the best in your heroes.

Thoughts: The Hero’s Conscious Awareness

Discover through character analysis the four dimensions of your characters.Your characters each have their own perspective on the world. Their upbringing, education level, and current situation shape their thoughts and consequently their actions. A well-to-do, college-educated attorney will think about the world far differently than an abused high school dropout. They will be concerned about different things, have a particular sense of right and wrong, and analyze problems in unique ways. They will also hold themselves and their companions to separate standards, praising and criticizing under various circumstances.

The most common way we look at an individual’s thoughts today is through left brain, right brain analysis. In general, characters who are left brained think logically and rationally, working through a situation step-by-step to its conclusion. Right brained folks look at life on a grander scale, working holistically and creatively to solve problems. You can really flesh out a character’s thought patterns by figuring out if she’s left or right brained, and how she approaches critical thinking.

Feelings: What His Heart Wants

In direct opposition at times to the hero’s thought processes are his emotional reactions to the world. Before his brain gets a chance to analyze, his heart will express his initial reaction to external stimuli. Your protagonist will obviously have feelings about all the other characters he meets, whether they are good, bad, or indifferent feelings. This will color his actions in how much he interacts with others, and in what ways.

However, people have feelings about everything in their lives, not just other humans. She may feel that she is on the wrong course of action, even when she cannot think of a reason why this is so. Known as gut reactions, following your intuition, or even psychic awareness, these feelings crop up consistently throughout our lives. Your character may feel like wearing a red shirt today, even though her blue shirt is clean too. She may despise her best friend’s brother, even though she just met him and knows nothing about him. These are all human feelings that can take your story and characters down exciting new paths.

Actions: How He Presents Himself to the World

Your protagonist shapes his world and his story via his actions, how he interacts with other people and his environment. Actions reveal a lot about a person’s character, illuminating his thoughts and feelings with a tip of his hat. If your character doesn’t act, he doesn’t progress through the story, and will have to be helped along by his companions.

Actions are the home of “show, don’t tell”, where your heroine can really stand out from the crowd. If she pulls over to help an injured animal along the side of the road, she will come across as compassionate and nurturing, even if no one else in the story recognizes that fact. If she stands firmly against every obstacle in her path, readers will come to the conclusion that she is headstrong, determined, and perhaps a little ruthless. Actions really do speak louder than words, amongst your characters and to your readers as well.

Relations: How He Interacts with Others

Your hero does not live in a vacuum. He has to deal with other people, and all of the things that we do in our daily lives. Work, home, school, society, religion, health, goals, and values shape your character continuously. He has to relate to and react to all of these environmental influences on a daily basis, with certain aspects taking precedence depending on the day’s events.

How your character relates to her environment can provide new insights you may not have considered. If your protagonist is a diligent worker, yet lives in a messy home, she obviously has different values about what is acceptable in different settings. At the beginning of the story, she may be a self-proclaimed atheist, yet is presented with many challenges to her faith throughout the story arc. Whether she lets herself relate to those challenges, or remains unchanged, will give readers a new perspective on her personality.

These four dimensions of a character’s personality will give you unlimited characterization ideas and plot possibilities. Your readers will easily relate when the characters think, feel, act, and relate to the world in ways that we all do each day. When your heroine seems dull, go over these four dimensions and see if she has the opportunity to show of her amazing self!

How do you ensure that your characters are fleshed out and believable? To what standard do you hold them accountable? What tricks do you use to bring out the best in your heroes?

Photo Credit: Four Eyes by Carulmare
Photo Credit: Mask by Cliff1066tm

Talent Casting: Audition Your Fiction Character

Selecting the talent. Casting the fiction characters of your story.Writing fiction is sometimes about finding the right talent, casting the right fiction character for the role, or creating a cast of rich and multi-dimensional personalities. There are a number of character creation methods and each writer learns their most effective character development tools through research and experience. My own process continues to grow and develop as my writing grows up.

Click here to get your copy of James Chartrand and Taylor Lindstrom's How to Create Believable CharactersA few months ago I bought myself a clever e-book called “How to Create Believable Characters” by James Chartrand and Taylor Lindstrom. It’s packed with practical information on how to build your very own fiction character, or role-playing alter-ego, from scratch. I read it eagerly, already fascinated with character development and creation.

As I read, I drank in every piece of advice it offered. I gained a better understanding of why I write the way I write and I improved my character creation skills. I learned how to choose and create talent; casting the “right” protagonist for each fiction story.

There are two “schools” when writing fiction. One is a “plot-driven” story where you develop an intense plot, a situation into which you place characters. I am in the other “school”, a writer who discovers a protagonist first and then writes a plot that gives that star her life and purpose. This is a ‘character-driven’ story. Can you think of any “character-driven stories” you’ve read recently?

Who is she?

When I first decide to write a new story, I visualize my heroine. Most of the time it’s a ‘she’, simply because I’m used to thinking like a girl. I do know female writers who prefer to write male characters (and do a fantastic job of it too) but for some reason I prefer writing women.

My heroine may be young or old, clever, stupid, pretty, dull… I spend some time trying to get to know her. I don’t decide ‘how she is’ instead, I get a feel for ‘who she is’.

Who is your protagonist?There are some elements I decide up front. Is she stubborn, or reckless, or depressed? I follow my instincts and she becomes whatever most sparks my interest at that time.

Other aspects come naturally as I continue to think about her. It might fit her to be afraid of dogs; maybe she is a school teacher. Does she have any particular talent casting her into the spotlight? Is she likely to go for the bad boy type, or does she prefer the office underdog. (Oh, perhaps she would usually go for the bad boy type but falls for the office underdog!)

Becoming Herself

After developing my protagonist’s traits and personality, I give my fiction character a life. Some of her past was determined earlier in the character creation process. Now it is time to explore her history and to decide what has happened to shape her into the person she is. Plot elements begin to emerge as her life takes form.

Here’s where it gets tricky. After the fun of writing, planning, and mapping out my heroine’s intriguing story, I notice aspects of her that no longer “fit”. As I focus on plot development I sometimes find that, this protagonist isn’t right for this plot.

Why not add that lacking ‘something’ to my original character? That would be the obvious and easy way to fix my dilemma, wouldn’t it? Couldn’t we force her to be what we want, gift her with that particular skill or talent? Casting her into a role that doesn’t suit her, however, is not a simple solution.

My characters become “real” the minute I start developing them, which means they have their own faults, traits, and personality. They are imperfect in a carefully balanced way – each and every one is unique.

Giving my heroine a new flaw or quality, just because the plot calls for it and not because it feels a part of her, causes her to lose that sense of being “real”. It makes her thin, stiff, two-dimensional; the organic creation process has been broken.

(There is of course another side to this. The needed flaw or quality could be a part of her in-story development or personal development goals… But that is for another post.)

It’s Talent Casting Time!

Now, I have this great story, all lined up for exploring and turning into a masterpiece, but my protagonist just isn’t right for the part. Do I scratch it and start over? No way!

I do a talent casting call.

I have tons of talent on hold that got dumped from other stories because they didn’t fit. Are any of them perfect for this role? If none of those characters are suitable, I think about which traits this protagonist needs and make that aspect a starting point for a new rising star.

By now I’ve changed the story several times and every time I do another call. I change the story a little for every character. After auditioning many people for the job they have all influenced the final story and add to it’s richness and depth.

Once I’ve my found leading lady, I can begin talent casting the supporting roles.

While this method can be time consuming in the early planning stages of fiction writing, the outcome is a full cast of strong characters I know and understand like old friends. They are the “right” characters for their specific role and are a good fit for the story. The writing process becomes easier because I’m no longer struggling with uncooperative, pigeon-holed characters. Now, when I’m writing fiction, I don´t “decide” my character likes or does things, I “know” she does.

The Final Curtain Call

In the end, my story becomes both plot-driven and character-driven. It is packed with a powerful selection of multi-dimensional, realistic personalities. The cast of characters live their own lives and I record it rather than control it.

Have you tried talent casting your characters? What other methods have you used to develop the star of your story?

Click here to get your copy of James Chartrand and Taylor Lindstrom's How to Create Believable Characters

Photo Credit: 01-12-10 © John-Francis Bourke
Photo Credit: 04-10-07 © Sean Locke

Win Prizes! Celebrate Our 3rd Birthday Bash!

Win great prizes at The Craft of Writing Fiction - 3rd Birthday Bash!

Guess who’s turning 3?

That’s right!
The Craft of Writing Fiction is celebrating it’s third birthday this month. We’re giving away some awesome prizes. So keep reading to find out how you can win!

Wow, can you believe it’s been three years already? Around this time each year, The Craft of Writing Fiction grows and changes. We reflect on what worked, and what didn’t. We consider you, our readers, what you’ve loved, what you’ve hated, where you’d like to see us go from here, and how you can win prizes. If you have any ideas, suggestions or feedback, we’d love to hear from you.

After a strong three years support from freelancers, I’d like to focus our thoughts this year toward Fiction and the Craft of Writing.

Last year we opened the floor to writer’s from around the world and became a true “collaborative blogging project”. The contributions so far have been fantastic. As we look forward to the year ahead I’d like to extend a special invitation to fiction writers, especially those who are interested in promoting their books. There are so many fantastic reasons to get involved and it goes beyond the opportunity to win prizes. Find out exactly “Why YOU Should Write For The Craft of Writing Fiction“.

Becoming a contributing author isn’t the only way you can promote your books here either. Ask me about our blog tours, author interviews, and book review opportunities.

So, want to know what you can win?

To kick off another year with style we’re giving you fantastic win prizes. Writers will absolutely LOVE these goodies. Trust me, I know, because I’ve loved them all myself and recommend them any chance I get. There are three prize packs and lots of ways to enter so there is no excuse not to get involved and spread the word.

1st Place [valued over $100]

Win Anthemion's Writer's Cafe Software with Storylines

2nd Place [valued over $40]

3rd Place [valued over $19]

How do you get your hands on this booty?

Because I like to give as many people as many chances to win prizes as possible there are lots of ways you can enter. Some methods are worth more than others based on the effort required but it’s worth making a little extra effort to increase your odds.

  1. Leave a comment listing your top 5 all-time favorite CF posts. (5 entries)
  2. Write a blog post on your own blog: (10 entries)
    • Fiction Writers: a fiction story about a birthday
    • Non-Fiction Writers: interesting non-fiction birthday facts

    You must include a link back announcing this contest to your readers.

  3. Stumble this contest with StumbleUpon (2 entries)
  4. Share this contest via Twitter. (max 1 entry in 12 hours totaling 2 entries per day)
  5. Share this contest with Plurk. (max 1 entry in 12 hours totaling 2 entries per day)
  6. Share this contest on Facebook. (max 1 entry in 12 hours totaling 2 entries per day)
  7. Add @laffarsmith on Twitter, Plurk, or Facebook. (1 entry per network)
    • leave a comment if you were already my friend on any of those networks for a free entry.

Remember to come back here and leave a comment to let me know you’ve done any of the above. If you forget you can’t win prizes!

What about rules? Any of those?

Actually, not a whole lot. I’m going to reserve the right to disqualify for unsportsmanlike behavior. But anyone can enter and anyone can win. There are no limits on age, gender, or location. You can tell all your friends and talk them into entering even if they don’t want the prizes so that you can score them. You can bribe people to help you win. You can shamelessly promote the contest. So long as you’re keeping it fun and lively then you rock!

I guess the only really important rule is the deadline. We’re going to rock up those entries for three party-hard weeks! So you still have a chance to win prizes but only if you hurry! Entries close Friday June 25th 2010.

And YOU MUST LEAVE A COMMENT when you complete any of the above ways to enter so that I know you’re entered and can track all of your entries.

One final note before you go.

I’m sponsoring this contest myself but I’m hoping to offer more contests in the future and want to invite prize donations and competition sponsors to step up and help me out. If you’re an author would you consider giving away a copy of your book? Do you make cool pens? Do you ship wicked gadgets and gizmos? I’d love to plug your stuff and your business in exchange for the opportunity to give some goodies to the thousands of CF readers eager to win prizes.

Win great prizes at The Craft of Writing Fiction - 3rd Birthday Bash!

Ok, now bring on those entries!

Let’s get this party started!

Don’t forget to leave your comments below when you enter!