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How to Create a Three-Dimensional Character in Fiction

Updated on May 31, 2014

Writers are artists with words. They create worlds and fill it with people who do not exist, and the ones who know their salt are so marvelous at it that they can even confuse their readers’ reality. But writing is not an easy business and creating fictional characters is definitely not the easiest bit. So what is it that makes mediocre paper and ink characters become life-like in the reader’s mind? Read on for the breakdown:-

1. The Gender Difference

Is your character a male or a female? Now this might seem like a “duh!” question but in fact it is a question that builds up your character’s skeleton. After all, the male and the female brain acts and reacts in a slightly different manner and knowing this can plan out your character’s actions in the entirety of your novel (and this has nothing to do with stereotypes and everything to do with psychology).

Can you see the different things about their personalities that they are projecting superficially?
Can you see the different things about their personalities that they are projecting superficially?

2. Have an Image in Your Head

How does your character look? Do they have any distinct features that sets them apart from the crowd? Do they have a sense of style that announces their profession? Do they have eyes so intense that they can literally drown a person in them? Knowing how your character looks can help you understand them just like their gender.

3. Name Your Character

In real life when we don't bother to remember someone's name it's either because we don't care about their existence or we have a very poor memory. Whatever the case might be, without a name to go with the face we can never really remember how a person is like. The same goes for your fictional character.

Always make sure that you name your character before you start writing about them. But don't name them Sam or Ben or Amy just because you can't think of a really "EPIC" name right then. Take your time and browse baby names a hundred times if you have to but always make sure your character has a name and the name feels right on them before your pen hits the paper. This will not only anchor your character in your head, but will also help you understand them better.

4. All in the Family

Family defines us. Both the ones we are born into and the ones we choose to be with as life progresses. It’s the same with your fictional character.

How many members are there in their close family? Is he a child of divorced parents? Is she an adopted kid? Do they have siblings? How’s the relationship between your character and his/her family? Know the answers to these as they will determine how your brain child behaves in a given situation. For example, a physically abused child may either be hostile towards authoritarian figures in his adult life or he may become the kind who would do anything to avoid conflicts and to please the people in power.

5. Friends and Foes

Next know your character’s friends. Are they the “good” kind or the “bad”? Are they supportive or are they double-faced selfish backstabbers? The kind of friends your character keeps must be in accordance with their personality and their psyche. For example, an ambitious girl from a poor family may prefer rich and powerful friends over the simple friend she grew up with who would rather marry at eighteen and milk cows for the rest of her life.

And as for enemies, well, the same girl in the example above might feel threatened if a new girl in her school turned up and eclipsed her in everything. So keep in mind one thing when you think about enemies – our enemies speak volumes about our insecurities.

6. Falling in Love

Now that you have a general idea about your fictional character, you can easily think of the kind of people they are likely to fall in love with (or be attracted sexually to). Go from there and think of all the qualities in a mate your character would prefer and always keep in mind why they prefer those particular things. For example, a really strong willed woman from a powerful family may fall in love with a guy who is not very ambitious because she has lived in a family where people care more about their career than about their relationships.

7. The Heart's Desires

Ambition is not just the tremendous will to succeed in life and be better than your fellow humans. Ambition also refers to a person’s secret desires in life. Does your character want to conquer Mount Everest? Does she want to clear the black mark on her family’s reputations? Does he secretly want to drop out of Law school and pursue a life of painting on rocks?

Knowing your character’s desires will ultimately give you your blood-bone-and-breath being. Why? Because desires are borne from the conditions we have lived through in life, the kind of people we have interacted with and the things we consider we need to lead a happy life. Desires determine the choices your fictional character will make in a given scene in your novel and also the path they will take if they faced a forked road.

Things to Remember

  • Don’t oscillate between genders. Choose one and stick to it.
  • Appearances speak volumes.
  • Name them before you pen them.
  • Give the friends and family a lot of thought. But give the enemies more.
  • Our minds are mapped to find a particular kind of mate attractive. The same goes for your character.
  • Desires define a being.

So these were some of the things you need to brainstorm to come up with an epic character. To help you out further, I will make another Hub on a series of questions you can use to play interview with your fictional character to understand them better. But in the end keep in mind one thing – creating characters is no easy task and always requires a lot of homework. And the ones willing to do it are the ones who win in the end.

Which dimension of character building do you like the best?

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© 2014 ria-majumdar


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    • ria-majumdar profile image

      ria-majumdar 3 years ago from Manipal

      Thank you. :D I will definitely check out your hubs.

    • kenneth avery profile image

      Kenneth Avery 3 years ago from Hamilton, Alabama

      This was a great read. Highly-professional and presentation was fantastic. I voted up and away.

      I cordially-invite you to check my hubs and then follow me.

      I would love that.

      Kenneth Avery/Hamilton, Ala.