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How to create more "3 dimensional" characters?

I've had a few comments from people I've requested feedback from that some of my characters are a but two dimensional. I need to try to make them more 3 dimensional and feel more real. I'm not sure where I'm going wrong. I don't know if it's in the creation process where I'm missing giving my characters important things that would help make them feel more alive. Or whether I'm doing the brain-storming ok just not translating it to the page. Since my plots do tend to be more simplistic and I focus on character's, this is a bit of a problem because the stories feel boring.

Do you guys have any tips for creating these types of characters?
Or anyway for me to figure out where it's going wrong between creation and the page?
Thanks for your time
Maybe you could post some examples of your writing? It's a bit hard to criticize without having read anything.

Anyhows, here's some brainstorm of whatever character creation tips I can come up with:

—Don't EVER make 3-dimensional characters. You have only very few words to make the character come alive. You cannot recreate the extreme nuances of a true, real-life person. The result would just be all over the place. Instead, aim to make a cardboard figure who has roughly the silhouette of a 3-dimensional character. Or as it is said in HOW TO WRITE A NOVEL: “There is a danger of accepting actuality instead of literary possibility as a measure of value.”

—Whatever your character is, go for it a hundred percent. Sherlock Holmes. The Underground Man. Jeff Lebowski. Phryne Fisher. None of those are exactly subtle. Give your character a solid core, so the reader is sure to get it. You should be able to nail down your character in one sentence.

—Try to employ known archetypes. The trickster. The noble savage. The bodyguard. The gentleman thief. The mad scientist. The reluctant mentor. The nerd.

—Let the very first scene with the character showcase his core. Like this opening line of S. L. Grey's THE MALL: “My first instinct is to grab his hand, snap back his index finger, and floor the fucker.”

—Let there be a cleft between how others see the character, how the character sees himself, and how the reader sees him.

—Try to adjust your scenes so that your characters showcase themselves more.

—Avoid character arcs like the plague. Sure, do it if it fits, but it's an overrated trope and mostly just boring.

—Dialogue matters. Make sure that each character speaks with a unique voice.

—Don't make it easy for the hero. Let him have relations, friends, and family.

—Exploit yourself. Steal from your own life experience. You have access to the thought process of an authentic person. A lifetime of research. Would be crazy not to use it. And don't pull your punches, but face the more uncomfortable and raw incidents, those parts of your life you had safely locked away.

—Try to forget the fantasy genre. you should make your world feel alive, not just juggling tropes around.


I am not sure I agree with the above that you should focus on archetypes and apply them full bore. I think this is often what people mean when they say a character is two dimensional. Often what makes a character interesting and unique is the way in which they subvert the reader's expectations. Sherlock Holmes, Conan the Barbarian, Gandalf - these are classic archetypal fantasy characters, but I think if they were written today they could be wooden and cliche. Most of my favourite fantasy has been about turning these tropes on their heads.

William Faulkner said that the only thing worth writing about is the human heart in conflict with itself. To make a character interesting, they need a conflict. What will make your characters deep and subtle is to make that conflict inwardly not outwardly.
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I have this exact problem.

I'm doing something wrong with all my characters, but I don't know what it is. I also cannot decide if it is in the development, or in the execution, or perhaps both.

I've done just about everything I can think of to address the problem, but haven't hit on anything yet. I've read a bunch of books and articles about it, spent months working on development or details, tried to find some way to side-step it, tried to deal with it head-on. So far, nothing has worked.

It makes me wonder if I have some kind of blind spot in this area. It's about the only thing holding me back, but it's a doozy. If readers aren't interested in my characters, they likely won't be interested in the rest of the story either.

So, I can't help, but I can commiserate.

If you ever figure out a solution, let me know!


Here is a link to some work I posted on this site if anyone needs a taster. Thanks for replying both of you. Pushed for time right now but will back on later

There is nothing wrong with Hannah, but it's really hard to get an idea of character in an excerpt this small. Three dimensional characters are about arcs, and about personal conflict that needs to be fleshed out over a long period.

In my opinion, the most important thing for a character is that they are wrestling with something within themselves. In the story I am working on, the protagonist is a conquering king who needs to be strong and destructive for the good of his people, but inside knows what he is doing is wrong, and its how this conflict plays out that makes the story. You can dress anything up with spaceships and orcs and elves, but the real story will always be the emotional journey your character has got to go on.


I’d like to add that for a 3 dimensional character. They need to have more about them than their archetype. Meaning, when you meet someone, you see the see the 2 dimensional person. You only see the 3 by getting to know them. That is what you are doing. Getting the readers to know the characters and finding out what the person is really like.

Think about your friends or family. You might know some unique people, but even then, they have troubles, they have things that bothers them. Things that set them off angry, things from their past that makes them hurt, you see different sides of the same person over time, especially when conflict occurs. A cheery funny person can show an angry bitter side when confronted with a conflict. Countless examples when you think of people in real life you may know as people usually tend to be complex, even if they are often predictable.


I guess a quick piece of advice I can offer up would be to give them their own thought process. Everyone has their own way of rationalizing things, figuring things out or integrating new information into their understanding of the world.

You don’t want it to seem like you’re dictating what the character thinks and feels and acts. It should be how they personally would go through the story and setting. Like you’re just watching them doing their thing.

This is all probably easier said than done.


This is all probably easier said than done.

That's at least part of my problem, or so it seems. I've learned all these things, and have put them into practice as best I can, but it just doesn't work out. I honestly don't know why. It's the main reason I stopped writing a while ago--I got tired of getting different versions of the same result over and over.

I've been trying something new these days. I'm not bothering to create characters like I used to. I've turned to dark humor to try to poke fun at certain kinds of people and traits and behaviors. I have no idea if its working or not, but I didn't before either, so no biggy.


Article Team
For me it starts with one thing, what the character wants. Then, it splits into two things, what the character wants emotionally and what the character wants physically. Then you find the answers to why they want these things, and you make these things clear and understandable to the reader.

That's the base. It's the basic engine which drives your character.

Then, when you have them interact with the setting, the other characters, as they proceed through the plot, you build on that base, sometimes adding things that are consistent with that base. Other times, adding things that may seem incongruent and at odds with the base, and maybe, if you have time, give good reasons for the these things.

Through these things you set up the character in such a way that they have many different desires, primary and secondary, that tug them in different directions and make it such that when they encounter decisions, there's clearly sever factors tugging them in this direction or that, so that more than one choice is viable, even if it goes against their base character.

Another way to think about it is we're all stereotypes, but within each of us there are many-many stereotypes occupying the same entity, each pulling us in one direction or that. Sometimes the drive of all of those stereotypes align, and we're perfectly consistent and logical. But other times, one or some of those stereotypes go one way, and the others go another. One side will win out, but as person, were not entirely consistent and logical on that choice, but to someone who knows you, it's understandable.

Basic example, let's say you have a base character as your stereotypical money grubbing cheapskate, with the stereotypical hard luck, growing up poor story. So, forms of going after money and success can be their primary drive.

Now on top of that you add a story about the only thing they ever had nice as a kid was an Optimus Prime toy, given to them by a kind neighbor, which got stolen a month after they got it.

Knowing these things, you can have situations where if they saw that exact Optimus Prime toy in a store priced at $1000, you would understand if they blew that kind of money on a toy. But at the same time, you would understand if they didn't. And which choice they made would say something about the character. Or if they're in a situation where they have to evict someone from their home, and they have no reason to be kind or merciful, but then they notice a kid playing with a raggedy Optimus Prime toy, and they have an uncharacteristic change of heart and give the tenant an extension.

One of these things on it's own doesn't make a character 3 dimensional, but when you layer them on, you start to build that.
Thanks for the story! In my opinion, it was all WAY too subtle. It was almost over when I figured out what it was about. I was also unsure about the protagonist's age. I would guess that she's somewhere between 13 and 40. Her main trait is her rebellious nature, but the extreme act of rebellion is simply learning herself to ride a bicycle. This could just as well be used to point out her lack of rebelliousness. Personally, I think I would have her "borrow" her brother's bicycle, after having learned the code to the lock. And maybe starting the story with her being highly conscious of keeping her boots off the opposite seat. The writing itself is good. Nice flow and all that. But it's just so vague. There's this protagonist I can't really figure out, who is in a situation that isn't really clear, and I'm not entirely sure what exactly she feels about it, either.
There's this protagonist I can't really figure out, who is in a situation that isn't really clear, and I'm not entirely sure what exactly she feels about it, either.
Yeah, some people got it quicker than others. But I did want it to have that weird feel, a bit like Limbo. It was just a practice piece. Thank you for the feedback
Yeah, I did sense a purpose behind the vagueness. Problem was, I kept hunting for clues, instead of just accepting it. In some of my writing, I try to aim for some of the same dreamlike feel. I wonder if there's some techniques to make this work right.
Alright DF. I'm going to go right into the short story and try to note how I might have begun to approach it in a way that would have added depth to Hannah. First.

I'm not sure who you saw Hannah as, other than a little girl with a brother who knew the Wizard of Oz movie, but I think this is where you are missing the dimension. So I am taking your draft as if it were my first. I have Hannah. The experience and the story still need her to come through, so I have to drill down on her character. AND the family as well, as small of a part as they play, they need to help bring her to life and to do so by having depth themselves.

So, I gave her a sixty second make-over just to get rolling.

She's on the spectrum. Maybe ADHD, maybe social-phobic. Parents who do not understand, are maybe too busy to always take the time to attend to her. Perhaps in denial. Perhaps all they wanted was a "normal" child. I'm not choosing it randomly. This all suggested itself with some of the details you provided and m own life experiences around families who have children on the spectrum and how varied their response to it can be. .

Lets go. . .

Hannah had been on the train for what seemed like an eternity.

Right out of the gate you missed a chance to get us into Hannah's own experience. Show us something about her or in her life that elicits this on a personal level. I'm not going to spend too much time on each example but I might say something here more like.

Hannah's fingers tapped on the armrest, the rhythm matched that of the train's wheels on the tracks.

In and of itself it's a small detail but we are opening a door to Hannah. The tapping detail will matter later. (well, if I had rewritten the whole story, her being lost in rhythms would have. :) )

By the way, I liked the implication of your first line, but where others felt the story was vague til the end, I actually found the first line TOO on the nose and too much of a give away. At least, it's where my mind went straight away when I read it.


Her mind felt like a whirlpool, she couldn't pin anything down. What was her last memory?

Her thoughts, a veritable whirlpool, were impossible to sort. Not like the spools of thread she kept in perfect chromatic order on her dresser. The outer world often sounded as if every line of dialogue in a movie were all being spoken at the same time.

This line is shape to hint at a condition like OCD combined with a child on the spectrum etc. It also can help to inform us later how her mother's later attempt to just get her to sit still is futile and tragic and not just a willful disobedience on Hannah's part. It sets up the mother's actions, or lack thereof, with a bit of depth/empathy for later as well.


Hannah rested her forehead against the icy window pane and gazed out at the rolling grey, green hillside. The hills seemed so familiar in an otherwise unfamiliar world, so deliberately comforting, like a calculated presentation of her old home.

Another chance to give Hannah a reflection thru her experiences.

Hannah rested her forehead against the train window. The icy chill of the glass reminded her of the car window on winter days when her father drove her to the doctors office, the silence between them louder than any storm in her head.

You can include the visuals of your story with this of course, but make it another chance to expand on Hannah's world.


Hannah rolled her eyes to the old man on the neighbouring seat. He too was staring out the window, a wide smile on his face, tears brimming in pale eyes. What was he seeing? Hannah wondered. What was his comforting image?

Hannah took note of the man across the aisle. How much he resembled Mr Burows! It was his smile, though she'd never seen Mr Burrows cry like this man.

You can elaborate to add more depth to Hannah here as well. . .

Mr. Burrows, all sweat and dishevelment, stopped to say hello whenever he walked his dog, Pugsy. Mr. Burrows spoke slow and loud while Pugsy whined and staked a claim to Mother's prize rose bush. Hannah felt sorry for Mr Burrows each time he offered an exaggerated wave as he and Pugsy ambled along the sidewalk.

The rose bush: Added as simple symbol for the mother's desire to control. It's a prize winning rose, which she has been able to shape into what she wishes/needs. No more needs said and not every reader will get it, but in a short story, if it's in there, it should be meaningful.

Also important: Hannah feels empathy for Mr. Burrows. (depth!) All too often spectrum kids are portrayed or experienced in real life as one dimensional. They're not.


No one else would teach her so she'd taught herself.

The bike had sat unused for more than a year. After a summer being teased by the neighborhood kids who were always pedaling off on new adventures without her, Hannah taught herself. It was all in the rhythm. (
and there's the rhythm again!)


Her Mother had put on The Wizard of Oz for her little brother.
“Stay and watch this,”

Mother put on The Wizard of Oz and patted the couch next to her little brother, who inched himself away from the open seat.

“Sit and watch this,”

A subtle change but an important one. STAY to SIT. Her mother saying "stay" implies that Hannah may go out. I want Hannah to not be allowed out, it only needs to be implied. Her mother is trying to control her instead of giving her what she needs. Hannah disobeys her mother in more ways than one to that end.

Also, the only beat we get from her brother is this, so I have him move himself away from where Mother wants Hannah to sit. That says it all doesn't it?

Then I might go here next:

Hannah did not turn from the window.

“It's near the end.” she said

Outside, the neighborhood kids rode past as Hannah mouthed the words that blared from the TV,

'There's no place like home.'


Anyway, I think that gives you the idea. I want to live this story through Hannah. But to do so I need more of her. It's her mind we are trapped within and, in my expansion, her mind that she is trapped within. It's tricky to pull of, but I think its doable. I think this was a good example to choose DF. Though the story needed some work overall, it definitely is a 2D character. Hannah, as it reads now, could be any girl and any girl does not make me want to read further even in a short story. Every word is crucial. So you have to get us in the character and/or setting right away.

Does that make sense? I'm not saying it's THE way or that I'm right on track in the ten minutes I gave the story, but I do know we need more of the internal Hannah. She can be anything you want her to be, but that depth has to come through in her thoughts and in the small glimpses and actions you offer up of her.

In short what I'm saying is that I don't feel like the story focuses on the character as much you may think. It focuses on what the character is doing/experiencing from a distance without taking us into her actual experience which is unique to her and showing us why and how that is true.

Best of luck DF
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They need to have more about them than their archetype. Meaning, when you meet someone, you see the see the 2 dimensional person. You only see the 3 by getting to know them.

Very good point!

Alright DF. I'm going to go right into the short story and try to note how I might have begun to approach it in a way that would have added depth to Hannah.

This was extremely helpful. Maybe my problem isn't in the planning of the character, but in the writing. I need to practice getting into a characters head.


In regards to characters, I try to flesh them out as much as possible. I not only focus on appearance (physical stature, clothing, eye color, hair color, mannerisms etc.); which is of paramount importance, but I also give them character traits. All of my characters have them, and typically it is between 4-5 traits that serve as a framework for how a character might act within the context of the story. I also don't focus solely on positive traits, but negative ones as well. Humans are flawed, and flawed characters are more interesting than a goodie-two-shoes paladin without a shred of vice or humanity.