Writing Tip: How to Create Three-dimensional Characters

Research is an integral part of writing. When you sit down to write a novel, or write your memoirs, you need to do a little homework. Of course, you must know about the environment and subject matters discussed in your book, but you also need to research the people involved to create three-dimensional characters. Yes, even if the book is fiction, you still must know each person before you can really write about them. You have to work out who each character will become.

Keep it real

When you are first getting to know someone in life, you sometimes see them in a certain light, one that is a tad rosy. They can appear to be almost perfect in their behavior. They might not show anger or any other negative emotions, because they aren’t comfortable enough to let you know they have a few flaws. They use their best manners around you.

However, if you continue to develop a relationship with them, you’ll start to see a few faults peek out. Buttons pop up. Stephen might be super polite, but when faced with any sort of emergency he falls apart. Georgia might never swear, but when she finds a cockroach in her food, she will curse like a sailor.

You must write as if you’ve known the people in your book for years. That’s truly how they become three-dimensional characters. No one enjoys reading about flat, boring characters. They expect you to write realistically, as if the person really exists in our world. Bad guys aren’t always bad, and good guys aren’t ever saints. People have a lot of gray areas. Give them balance.

Communicate with dialogue

When you read great dialogue, you can almost hear the characters speaking, can’t you? It’s like you’re a fly on the wall, listening in. It’s easy to lose yourself in the story when the words just flow. I love dialogue-driven books.

If you think about it, people tend to speak in a certain way. They have expressions that are unique to them. Some writers refer to them as “verbal tics.” I love creating these for my characters because it’s an excellent way to reveal some aspect of their personalities .

In life, sometimes when two people get together, their exchange can take on a life of its own. Someone on the outside might have trouble translating all the idioms, all the inside jokes, the two friends have created together over the years.

As a writer, it’s your job to create that realistic dialogue between close friends, without losing your readers. They have to be in on the inside jokes and understand your characters well enough to get the snippets of dialogue you provide. Sometimes you’ll need to use slang terms from another country (or from another world if you’re creating a science fiction novel). Those phrases can absolutely help the reader get immersed in your book’s universe.

One of the best examples of this was when Battlestar Galactica used “frak” to communicate a popular swear word. It’s brilliant, because we all understood what they meant, but it helped the viewers know they weren’t in Kansas anymore (not even close). The writers introduced us to a new word that has become popular today.

Draw from life

As you live your life, look around and notice how people behave. Take notes. I mean, literally take notes! Actually carry a notepad (or use an app on your phone) and jot down observations. It’s fascinating how people will put together a phrase or what they do when they think no one is looking.

Also, note how people interact, especially when they know each other well. Often, they will shorten phrases that everyone knows. “I guess I could do that” becomes, “I guess.” Or “Would you like to come with us?” turns into, “Wanna come?” The average person usually doesn’t speak the Queen’s English, so your characters should avoid intense formality, too.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of silent communications as well. “Please pass the salt” is sometimes replaced with a nod of a head toward the saltshaker. And a raise of an eyebrow can speak volumes. Your book’s characters will need to use these in order to appeal to readers. Use the observations you make of the world around you to give your characters more dimension.

Creating characters is one of the most enjoyable aspects of writing for me. It is a bit like getting to know a group of cool people, except you are the one who will give them form and life. I really encourage you to take your time and relish the experience.

If you need help creating three-dimensional characters, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’d love to help!

Laura Sherman (109 Posts)

Laura Sherman, a.k.a. “Laura the Friendly Ghostwriter,” is a professional ghostwriter and author. She enjoys writing fiction and nonfiction and is happiest when juggling multiple projects. She recently authored “Chess Is Child’s Play” to introduce the next generation to the game of kings and queens. As a parent of three, and one of the top 50 women chess players in the United States, Laura wrote this book to teach any parent to teach any child, of any age, to play chess.