Monday, March 18, 2013

Be Careful of Creating Two Dimensional Characters

We have mentioned here before that agents and editors (and I am sure readers are included here as well) beg to have the characters in the books we read to be three dimensional. According to David Starkey in his book, Creative Writing: Four Genres In Brief "If we catch glimpses of real human beings in your main characters, we are more likely to connect with them, to understand them and sympathize with them - even if they are engaged in activities that we do not approve of." This is so true, and yet, far too many authors end up missing this point in an attempt to create characters that are so different and so unique from all of those other characters out there. In the end, they create characters that fall into the category of flat and two-dimensional.

Again, according to Starkey, these characters are "caricatures, incapable of surprise or complexity." This happens a lot when authors do as E.M. Forester notes, they are "constructed around a single idea or quality." While this is certainly important to creating a character and finding that great guiding motivation for the character, by building the entire character around that single idea tends to lead toward more of a stereotypical character.

One idea I see frequently in romance submissions is that of the contemporary "bad boy." The author wants to create a character that will need to be reformed some time during the relationship building. So what do they do? They make him a rock star. Now, while this lifestyle certainly might force the author into creating a motivation for the heroine to reform him, as well as a chance for that good girl image be a little wicked by being around him, the problem is pretty simple. Those caricatures are far too predictable. We have lost all sense of suspense and mystery to find those nuggets of the human being in the character.

The other problem with this relates to the comment Starkey made earlier about not being able to "connect" with the characters. They are so cartoon like and so two-dimensional, that we can discount the characteristics in the hero and heroine too quickly. "These people aren't even close to being like us," we say. And, in the end, the theme the author was trying to get across, the message the author wanted us to leave with about who we are as human beings, is completely lost.

Now, please understand that books need our two-dimensional characters inserted among the scenery and other action of the plot. These characters are our secondary characters. They are there as "the straight man" to get our main characters from one point to the next.

As good way to spot if your characters are truly two-dimensional is to look at their necessity in the storyline. In other words, could your characters maybe figure out this issue on their own, or could another character do just the same thing to get your character aimed in the right direction? We can think of these characters as "the secretary", "the bartender", "the neighbor next door". If you think of Wilson from the Tim Allen series "Home Improvement" you will understand what we mean here. We didn't really need to see all of him? He was there as a sounding board for Tim and the other characters when they needed to solve a problem. His insight could have come from any number of other characters. Sure, he was funny and we loved to see what strange thing he was doing behind that fence, but as a character, he was nothing more than the sounding board.

Play around with this during the week. If you find your stories are getting bogged down with a lot of different people in your story, you might simply have far too many two-dimensional characters wandering around. Could another character who is already in the story take care of the issue? Could your own characters figure it out on their own without talking to the friend to make the obvious statement? If so, tighten that story up, eliminate the character and use that space to add more depth to your main characters and their stories.

No comments:

Post a Comment