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Article - 'The Three Dimensions of a Character' by Xanqui

An item about Plots/Characters posted on Jan 30, 2005

Blurb

This is a follow-up to Xanqui's article "Creating a Person".

Body

Wow! It looks like there is a sequel to my previous article, and this is it! Please refer to this article: Creating a Person if you'd like, since this is the follow-up to that one.

We're going to stick with our friend Rupert, who was mentioned in the previous article.

An in-depth character has three dimensions: his outer self, his inner self, and what he does. As previously stated in the previous article (sorry for being redundant), these dimensions don't necessarily need to conflict with each other, but they can. Sometimes keeping them the same is appropriate for a character while sometimes it's appropriate to make them complete opposites.

The great thing about characters is that they can constantly be changed, but the creator of these characters must be willing to face the limits that the story places on them. For example, you don't want your character to go from good to evil, and then back to good, but then suddenly decide to do something evil. With good and evil, you probably don't want them to switch more than twice. They can convert once, but towards the end, decide to convert back.

Also, you don't want your character to go from having serious issues to being normal, and then throw some crap in near the end to give them even MORE issues. Legend of Dragoon was quite liberal with its characters, making them come to terms with themselves something like three hundred times. God it was annoying.

So as you think of your character, think of the story. Is it necessary for them to switch their personality? If so, you may need to repeat the steps in this article. Keep in mind that these steps are not set in stone, and you can mix and match them any way you want, so long as it works for the story.



The first step:
The Outer Self
This is where you take a fairly familiar stock character that everyone knows, and let the audience realize what kind of character he or she is. Don't worry about being unoriginal, because your character will be original later on in the plot.

Rupert is a snobby rich kid in school. His dad owns a successful factory and owns a large house with eight cars. No one has any doubt that his dad is going to pay his way through college, and it's going to be a pretty good college too, like Ivy League or something. He gets nothing but straight A's and is one of the top students in the school. Some people want to be his friend, but others envy him because he's always buying new clothes and cool stuff.

Did you notice something there? Nothing in there had anything to do with his personality. That paragraph was how others perceive him. We don't see an emotionally struggling guy, we see a prissy rich boy who sucks up to his dad for money. Some might even be suspicious that Rupert's dad is bribing the teachers. The audience here may not even like Rupert for being so rich.

But what really makes Rupert snobby? Is it that he treats others like dirt? Or is it that he's rich and has good grades? We see a lot of these stereotypes and automatically assume that someone is a certain way, but it's the job of the storyteller to relate these characters to the average human being, which we'll discuss in step two.



The Second Step:
The Inner Self
This is what we see while the character is alone, or with people who are very close to the character. At least, those are the times in which this part of a person is the most evident. The inner self is how the character thinks or feels.

Rupert is a struggling student who is constantly being pressured to get good grades. His father is pushing him to become the next owner of the factory, even though Rupert doesn't want that job. He spends night after night, hour after hour working on homework and studying. During school, he's extremely tired and wants little to do with anyone he doesn't know, which is why he's sometimes rude towards people. He hates the way people constantly ask him for money, but he lets people have it to keep the small shred of respect others have towards him.

What I did here was take the same scenario as the previous step, but show his perspective. Obviously no one in school is going to know he's always studying because they don't see him outside of class. He's only rude towards others because he's so tired, which would be a legitimate reason in his perspective.

Would you hate this person if you knew the hell he had to go through? There's nothing wrong with that, since it's perfectly acceptable to have your own opinion of someone based on their actions towards you. There are many people who have the same experiences as Rupert, but are extremely friendly towards others despite that.

Clearly these two dimensions are conflicting, resulting in a fairly in-depth character.



Now, the final step. Remember, these can go in any order, so don't think you need to have your story progress this way:
What the Character Does
Forget what others think of him and how he thinks. This is purely the actions of the character, and nothing else. Some people do completely opposite what they think, and it's often because of peer pressure. Most people would act the way they think, but peer pressure can affect people in many, many ways.

Rupert's father wants nothing more than his son to be the next owner of the factory. He only wanted a son for that reason. He has sacrificed many thing just to get his son ready for management. Rupert, on the other hand, wants to use the skills his father taught him to be a military leader, and maybe some day a general or the President. Unfortunately, his dreams are unrealistic, and even his friends and teachers have been pushing him to take advantage of the opportunity his father has given him.

Rupert wants nothing to do with the factory, but he doesn't want to risk compromising an entire generation of his family just to get what he wants. After all, how bad could a job as a factory manager be? It pays well, it's easy, and it's a secure job. But it's not rewarding in the least.

Pressure has significantly affected Rupert, and his entire choice in his way of life is made by people other than himself. He had very little say in his future.



A depressing end to someone with great dreams, but it's by no means unrealistic. That's not to say that a realistic character MUST be in a realistic story. By changing a few things around, that same story could take place in any setting.

When you combine these dimensions, you've created an individual who thinks, acts, and affects others around him or her.