Monday, April 2, 2012

3D Characters

What is a character in a fiction piece? To me, it's an anchor, the thing/being/person that connects a reader to a book. Without a heavy anchor (character), a reader can easily float away to another book that is sturdier, more interesting, better. So, how does an author make a 3D character?


Creating a 3D character is an easy enough premise, but many authors find it very hard to do. I have found that the easiest way to make a 3D character is to give it a backstory. This story can be revealed to the reader up front, can be told throughout a scene, chapter or the entire book. It can also be seen only through their actions and reactions. However, it’s very important to give a character a reason they act the way they act. 

For example, if I have a book about carnies in a freak show and the main character is Esmeralda, her back story may be: She was born with the gift of being able to see into the future and often had times where she blacked out because of her visions or became extremely depressed. Her parents, devout Christian's, tried to hide their child's gift, calling it an affliction. They sent her to Catholic schools were she was constantly persecuted and called a witch or demon until she ran away when she was sixteen. She drifted from place to place until she finally settled in Las Vegas. The title, "Where sinners are winners," enticed her because she believed she was a sinner who was tired of being a failure and a disappointment to the people she loved. She wanted to be a winner. Her lack of self-esteem led her to become a part of a freak show, which leads up to her present situation. 


After giving a character a backstory, decide how they should act. Give personality. How would your character act in different situations? If they were yelled at, what would they do? If they were locked in a closet would they yell? Scream? Take a flashlight out of their pocket and draw? If they saw a butterfly would they try to catch it and count the spots or cower away? Remember that all of these reactions and actions should stem from their backstory. 

Based on Esmeralda’s back story, she believes that she isn't worth much, has low self-esteem and is very naive. All of her action and reactions are going to be based on this. If there was a scene in my book where the carnies lit a fire and danced around naked, it would be out of character for Esmeralda to dance with them. It would be very in character of her to sit and watch others from the shadows. 


For the main character, make sure that readers know what they think and feel towards subjects that are present in the scene. At any given time, people are constantly internally commenting on everything we see. We do it so often; we barely realize that we do it. Characters should do the same. While writing, make sure to give them opinions, thoughts, feelings and reactions to things. This will help readers to connect to characters and will also make them more likeable. 

For Esmeralda, if she is watching the carnie’s dance, then, as the author, I would write how she reacts to the dancing. Perhaps she wants to get up and dance too, but is afraid that they wouldn’t like her body or the fact she couldn’t keep a beat. Maybe she thought they weren’t good people because they were naked and it was everything against what she was taught in Catholic school. Whatever her internal monologue is, it should reflect the personality that she acquired from her backstory. 

So, now we know what a 3D character is, how to write one? I advise the SEE-I method. It's a great method mentioned in Gerald Nosich's book, Learning to Think Things Through: A Guide to Critical Thinking Across the Curriculum. This is a great tool to keep in mind when describing characters, introducing them into a scene or simply describing a conflict. It’s a great way to stay organized and to remain clear about the purpose.

SEE-I means
State- state the character/conflict/scene/problem
Elaborate-clarify what the character/conflict is. This is where you state the character's purpose for being in the scene
Exemplify-write examples on the character or their role in the scene
Illustrate-remember to use imagery.

For Example:

Mom[character is stated] was clanging around in the kitchen dressed in her nurse’s scrubs as she put raw chicken breast in our countertop grill and allowed it to sizzle[her purpose of being in the scene is elaborated]. She was a short thin woman, with long, thick, dirty-blonde hair she always kept tied in a low ponytail at the base of her neck [Here is an example of Mom]. As she cooked, it swished from side-to-side. She always said she hated her hair—it was too long, it was too blonde, but she never changed it [here is her illustration].

Post some character descriptions using the SEE-I method and let me know how it works out for you!