Fear not, fellow authors. This post is going to help you understand what you may or may not be doing correctly and give you techniques that will allow your characters to soar.
I am a huge fan of The Vampire Diaries, and I can't get enough of Damon Salvatore even though he was originally cast as a fairly straightforward villain in both the books and the TV series. It would be easy to see him as merely a bloodthirsty vampire bent on destroying everyone in his path simply because he is evil. That would have been a very one-dimensional take on a villain whose scare tactics might have become boring and predictable in time. However, there is much more to this evil vampire than we realize.
As his history is slowly revealed we see that Damon holds a grudge against his brother due to Stephen's contribution to their current immortal predicament. As a human, Damon is revealed to be kind, caring and compassionate. We soon learn that all of his vile deeds as a vampire are fueled by good intentions and a desire to reunite himself with his beloved Katherine.
So now Damon is not just an evil vampire, but an individual who wants to love and be loved by the woman he lost over a century ago. Though his actions are twisted, his goals and intentions are admirable and one hundred percent human. He possesses despicable flaws that are tempered with his humanity and one can't help but feel sympathy for him despite his evil actions.
When a writer can illustrate the good, the bad, and the ugly in a character's make-up they have succeeded in creating an interesting multidimensional character. It's even better when a writer can coax his or her audience into sympathizing and relating to these villains because it leaves the reader torn, compelling them to continue on with your story to see what this unpredictable character's next move might be.
Will Damon ever reform his sadistic ways? Can his humanity win against the vampire within through Elena Gilbert's love and affections? Will he ever be able to choose good on his own?
Compelling possibilities and plot twists, am I right?
Now when we take a look at Stephen Salvatore he appears to be just another troubled vampire who sacrifices everything, including his addiction to human blood, in order to live a pure life. If his only motivation for drinking animal blood came from a desire to respect human life, that might get old after a while. There's not much of a story there, really, but we discover that there is a more sinister consequence for Stephen if he allows himself the luxury of human blood.
Apparently, Stephen is a ripper. Gasp! With one taste of human blood he turns into a crazed serial killer and loses his self-control, giving in to the monster within. A hero with villainous tendencies. Someone who could easily revert back to his ripper ways if he doesn't keep himself under tight control. This layer to his character is engrossing because it affects every aspect of his life, including the relationship he develops with Elena Gilbert.
This is a classic Jeckyl and Hyde scenario, one that many authors use because it works.
Characters don't have to have all of these different dimensions established at once. Obstacles like losing a loved one, getting dumped, experiencing health issues, and any other internal or external force that prods your character to grow is going to naturally lead to the development of another aspect or dimension of that person's character.
Perhaps your protagonist has been the type to allow others to walk all over her and one singular moment forces the protagonist to recognize this undesirable attribute, forcing her to grow a backbone and courageously stand up for herself. This is going to affect everyone who knows, loves and abuses her which makes for a great story line, and the beginnings of an intriguing multidimensional character.
So how can you create multidimensional characters?
- Determine how many sides of your character you have revealed in your story. If you've counted just one then you need to add more. If you've counted two or three you should still consider adding more.
- What is your character's defining quality?
- What is the opposite of that quality? You should be writing all of this down, by the way. Yes, I'm talking to you.
- Now write a whole paragraph where your character actively demonstrates the opposite quality you just came up with.
- Now open up a third and a fourth dimension for your protagonist using this same method.
- Do this with all of your characters, secondary or otherwise. It may seem time consuming, but you folks are writers so suck it up sillies!
- Bottom line is this: if your character is one-dimensional then you are limiting them and their involvement in your plot.
The Fundamentals of Character Development
Part 1: Heroic Qualities
Part 2: Character Flaws
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