View Full Version : Differences between 2D and 3D characters

12-06-2008, 04:04 PM
I'm easily satisfied with characters.

But most people are not. Browsing Amazon quickly reveals people moaning about no character depth etc.. in certain novels.

I'd like to ask: How would you distinguish between a 2 dimensional and a 3 dimensional character? What aspects make them more real? Why do you get attached to them?

Also, what makes characters seem flat?

This might be a really basic discussion, but I really need to grasp this. While I don't look for much in characters, potential readers will. I've paused writing till I get a clearer picture- this is clearly very important.

Thanks for answering.;)

12-06-2008, 04:37 PM
watch "Rocky" and then "Somebody Up There Must Like Me," and "The Champion" and the difference will become as clear as daylight.


12-06-2008, 04:38 PM
Actually, this is an awesome question. And I like the 2D v. 3D distinction, so let me throw a few ideas out there. I"d say a 4D character is someone:

-- who is complex; by that I mean his motivations are not always clear to him, they are not always consistent with each other, and he's not always sure of himself. Characters in thrillers, it seems to me, run the risk of being 2D on this account because the plot is so important and they are always rushing around. They don't have time to doubt themselves or worry about extraneous stuff.

-- who I can relate to. If he is superhuman. super-smart, handsome, funny etc then he moves away from 3D into almost a caricature. Put another way, he/she needs to be flawed, and in a way I can understand.

That's my 6:30 am contribution, I'm sure others will chime in. :)

12-06-2008, 04:38 PM
There are a number of way to bring characters to life.Good dialog is one. Giving your caracters all the senses that people have, sight, hearing ect.Also, even the most reseve person feels pain,sadnes and joy.In a word More human,just like you and me.

12-06-2008, 04:53 PM
I totally agree about the need for a weakness.

Can anyone provide examples of how a character can seem terribly dull and unreal?

I also dislike passive characters who don't do anything.

12-06-2008, 05:16 PM
Good comments so far and all appropriate for catching that extra dimension. In a way, it's kind of hard to define other than to say "you know it when you see it." Sometimes it's the little things that can help give character depth, and I'll use an example that came up in another thread. In the scene presented, a character's cell phone rang and he answered it. No big deal, right? Just a little event in a massive story. But these days, most of us have customized ring tones on our cell phones (even if they are the traditional ring sounds of a 1950s phone), and those ring tones frequently say something about our personality. Just mentioning something like this in passing gives a little depth-producing window into the character--takes him from a character just moving through a scene to more of a person actually being in that scene.

As readers, we don't want to follow a character around in a story, we want to climb into his/her skin and gain some insight into his/her actions, reactions, and overall physical and emotional being (a good example is the sensory involvement mentioned upstread). If we can pull the reader there, the "you'll know it when you see it" will come through for us.

The author's role is to avoid being the string puller for a marionette-like character, or avoid giving actions and reactions that suggest a character is just following stage directions. Of the questions; what, where, when, and who, these approaches leave out the why.

12-06-2008, 05:30 PM
Cutout villains/heros are simple constructs which is why new writers use them so much. It doesn't take a great amount of effort to make a bad guy who croons over the end of the world whilst twirling his mustache and tying the nubile young thing to the railroad tracks. Snidely Whiplash from Underdog comes to mind. Cartoons are full of these, so are many video games and movies.

Then we have a marvelous villain like Dr Hannibal Lector who is erudite, a genius, knowledgable in many fields, and has a soft spot for Clarice to the point of saving her life.

12-06-2008, 06:46 PM
I beg your pardon, but Snidely Whiplash is from Dudley Doright!

Maryn, outraged

12-06-2008, 06:52 PM
To me, some characters exist only to fulfill a function in a novel. I don't need to know much about the waiter, the reporter, the loud neighbor, etc. But my protagonist, his/her love interest, and whoever stands in the way of the protagonist's goal are going to have backgrounds which have shaped who they are, habits, likes and dislikes, dreams, families, friends, bills, weaknesses, opinions and tastes, and everything else.

I've known some people who make a very detailed character sheet assigning all these things to the main players in their novels. Not all of it makes it to the page, but knowing all this about one's characters does give you the opportunity to insert individuality into every one.

It's like one of my favorite moments in my Guilty Pleasures of Yore TV shows, Dallas. A conniving character (Cliff) sees someone to their car and says, "Buckle up, now--it's important." No explanation of why, but it made him so much more multidimensional, knowing there had to be a reason he'd say that.

Maryn, who tries to do that with nearly all her characters

12-06-2008, 08:14 PM
To me, almost any character can be intriguing if the writer really manages to get into their head. Even if they as a character don't do much.

This is a problem I have with many books published nowadays. The mere fact that they must be kept under a certain length means that intimate character development is often minimal. Time and words that could be spent getting the reader to really KNOW the character is sacrificed in favor of plot. While I understand why this must happen, it means that, as a result, I don't tend to empathize much with characters in modern published works, unless that work is very long and involved, and we already know why that's not usually the case.

There was a "Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell" thread a while back and during it I finally realized why I'd enjoyed the story so much. I really got into the characters' heads, which I just can't seem to do in most other published books or other people's stories. Why did this happen with this story and not others, I wondered? I think the massive length of the book is what did it. Not the length itself, but the fact that there was time in the story dedicated to getting into characters' heads and making them three dimensional to me. Most other writers aren't allowed the leisure of putting out such long books, so they can't get into character development as intimately, and I can't empathize as much. The stories may be good but the characters are two dimensional to me.

I realize this offers no SPECIFICS on what makes a 2D versus 3D character, but it's the only common thing I can find when looking at characters that really captured me and ones that didn't. For a long time I figured I was just biased in favor of my own characters, but my stories, too, are lengthy and spend much time getting into characters' heads.

I take a long time to get to know and like people, so it's the same way in writing/reading. Really taking time to get to know a character is what makes them 3D to me.

(Please note that when I say "really taking time to get to know," I mean that getting to know a character fits into the plot and isn't just empty words. I realize some people could misunderstand what I'm saying. Even character development must suit the story.)