Okay, folkses, in case you haven't noticed, I recently hit 300 followers! Thank you all! I'll be doing a giveaway of some kind soon. In the meantime, if you're giveaway-hungry, check out Afterglow Book Reviews for the beginning of summer giveaway!
Today, I want to talk about how to avoid flat characters. It's something we hear a lot, but after attending his master class at LDStorymakers, I recently read Story Engineering by Larry Brooks and he had a great take on it. As a sidenote, READ THIS DANG BOOK!! It is absolutely the most concrete, helpful, insightful craft book I've ever read. It kind of made me go like this:
Three-dimensional characters are complicated and conflicted. Whether we like them or not, we root for them to win. In order to have a three-dimensional character, we must look at three levels of characterization. And we're going to do it with a little help from the Doctor. As in Doctor Who.
And yes, I did include a picture of the previous (tenth) Doctor. Because David Tennant is the TV equivalent of smothering something in chocolate. Mmm.
In Doctor Who, for those who haven't seen this masterpiece of sci-fi television, the Doctor is a time-traveling alien. He is now on his 11th incarnation as a character-- you see, whenever the Doctor is close to death, his alien anatomy allows him to regenerate into a new body with a slightly different personality. When I first learned this, I thought the writers were crazy. That means we have to get used to a WHOLE NEW CHARACTER. Right?
Kind of. The Doctor is a multi-layered character, and we're going to explore how that works well for re-incarnating him. Let's take a look at those three levels I mentioned earlier.
Level 1: The mask- what you see
This is the basic level of characterization-- and for some people, it's the only level they get to. It's made up of all the surface traits, quirks, habits, and personality of a character. It's the level the world sees, and therefore it's very important. This is what we see of almost everybody in the real world, too.
This is the stuff most characterization sheets are made of. What they look like, what are their likes and dislikes, what are their quirks, what are their talents and flaws. In Doctor Who, this is the level of the Doctor that changes with each new incarnation. He has a new favorite outfit, new favorite foods, new quirks, and a new personality. There are some little things that carry over, but it's fun to see what a new Doctor will bring to the show.
Like I said, this level is only the first, but it IS tres importante. Without it, you have nothing to base the rest of your character on! But if you want to take it to the next level, you have to explore...
Level 2: The inner landscape- why you see it
All those first-dimensional characteristics are nothing until you assign MEANING to them. Why does a character portray those first dimension traits? What makes him love one thing and hate another? Why does he act a certain way? What is his backstory and agenda?
This level takes things deeper-- it's what allows readers to empathize with your character. If they just see a character turn away from helping someone who's gotten mugged, they will have no sympathy for the guy. But if they learn that he turned away because he himself was mugged and spent three weeks in the hospital because he fought back, and now he's terrified just to be out on the streets alone...well, now your reader gets it. They understand the why behind the surface reaction to run away.
In Doctor Who, this level doesn't change from Doctor to Doctor. He is the last of the Time Lords. He has lost everything, and in a lot of ways, it's his own fault. There is a reason why the ninth Doctor is so hateful and cruel toward an alien creature that's being held captive-- it's a member of the race that helped destroy his own people. Because this level never changes in each incarnation, we still have the same empathy and connection to the Doctor each time he regenerates.
Level 3: The true character-- who they really are behind the what and the why
A character shows his true self through his choices when there is something at stake. This is the level where your character will really take on life. In fact, it is usually the level where the character arc appears-- a character may take certain actions at the beginning of the book that are weak in some way, due to the demons in his backstory (level 2). But by the end, he must conquer those inner backstory demons to show a stronger self by the end of the story. Who that character is-- the actions he takes when all is at stake-- has changed (or perhaps not, depending on the arc), and that's the making of a truly deep character.
Again, in Doctor Who, this is something that stays consistent. Or at least, consistently changes. It was particularly strong in the growth from the ninth Doctor to the tenth Doctor. His true character-- who he is at the core of his being-- is always the same. Or rather, it stays at the same place as it was when we left off, allowing the next Doctor to grow and change from a familiar place as we watch him.
And that's why, despite the fact that there have been ELEVEN different Doctors, he is still just ONE Doctor to those who have watched. His outside may change, but inside, he is always the same person we love and relate to and empathize with.
So, my friends, are your characters three-dimensional? What are some of your tips for deepening characterization? Who are some of your favorite 3-D characters? Do you love Doctor Who as much as I do?