Everybody talks about developing a three dimensional character. What are those three dimensions? Writers can give you a variety of descriptions for these. They might be: physical, mental, emotional. Or Maryann Dioro calls them: surface, soul, and spirit. However you want to describe it, the end result is a well-rounded character, where the reader can know what the character looks like, how the character acts, where the character came from, what the character really thinks, and what the character really feels.
There’s a lot to be said for that. But, I’m going to ask you to develop four-dimensional characters. Take all that is said about three dimensional characters and then add in a fourth dimension: the time factor. Your character needs to change over time. Many writers and books refer to this as the character arc. I call it the fourth dimension.
How do you accomplish this? You develop your three dimensional character, much as you’ve read about many times already. Then you add on top of that – change. This can be gradual across the entire book. This is perhaps the more usual approach. The character slowly moves from point A (some belief or behavior) to point B. This may, in fact, be the major conflict in the book. The character resists this change. But slowly, the change occurs. This provides a classic character arc, or fourth dimension. The final scene will often consist of the character thinking about how he or his life has changed. And he can be happy about it, or disappointed, or simply accepting.
Scarlett O’Hara, in Gone With the Wind, desperately wants Ashley. It is only at the end of the book that she realizes Ashley is not what she wanted at all. What about the change in Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol? He definitely changes with time.
The change can be a bit more compressed, perhaps even sudden. An event or situation is sufficiently traumatizing that a significant change in the character occurs. This can affect the character, someone the character feels strongly about (loves, hates, or admires), or some cause or entity the character cares about.
Example. A person is killed as a direct or indirect result of the position your character holds onto stubbornly. Your character sees that his previous stance was not worth the cost. Never again will he let such a belief become a serious problem for others.
Regardless of the approach you take, some of your characters need to change during the course of the book. Major changes, minor changes, slowly, suddenly, you have choices. But change must occur.
Example. In my book A Ton of Gold (Oak Tree Press, 2013) the protagonist is a very bright young woman who has been psychologically brutalized by a university professor. Now, the mere mention of his name causes her immediately to lose all self-confidence. But other things happen to her during the course of the story and by the end of the book, she is able to see him for what he is, and has gained the strength to stand up to him even as he tries to emotionally abuse her again. She has changed over time. She can now fight back. She is a four dimensional character.
Example. In the children’s book Sarah, Plain and Tall, author Patricia MacLachlan develops a great character in Sarah who comes to the Midwest as a mail-order bride to help raise two motherless children. She grows homesick for the Maine sea shore and finds the dust storms intolerable. But over time, Sarah comes to love the children, and the father, and in the end even the Midwest farm life. She changes slowly over time. She is a four-dimensional character.
Some of your characters should change over the course of your book. It is possible that all the characters change. More often, it is the protagonist and sidekick. It could even be the antagonist. Maybe it is the select group central to the plot. But change should occur in some of your characters. Some should be true four dimensional characters.
Brief Bio of James R. Callan
After a successful career in mathematics and computer science, receiving grants from the National Science Foundation and NASA, and being listed in Who’s Who in Computer Science and Two Thousand Notable Americans, James R. Callan turned to his first love—writing. He wrote a monthly column for a national magazine for two years, and published several non-fiction books. He now concentrates on his favorite genre, mystery/suspense, with his fifth book released in 2013.
Character: The Heartbeat of the Novel is an easy, enjoyable read with examples and suggested practice exercises. Assembled between the covers of this book are proven ways of bringing the protagonist and antagonist to life as real people the reader will love or despise and remember long after the novel has been returned to the shelf.
This book is a gem that will fit nicely in every author’s reference library to be read and reread helping each of us to write that memorable novel we all dream and work toward creating.—Galand Nuchols, author of Dragons for Kris and other young adult and middle grade reader books.
“I am impressed, because it’s absolutely the best book I’ve read so far on character development.” —Ginnie Sienna Bivona, former Acquisition Editor for The Republic of Texas Press, Publisher at Atriad Press, and author of the Hallmark movie “Bound by a Secret.”
Buy Character: The Heartbeat of the Novel HERE
Visit James Callan’s website here: http://www.jamesrcallan.com/
“A Ton Of Gold” is one of those riveting novels that grabs the reader’s total attention from beginning to end. A deftly woven story populated with memorable characters,A Ton Of Gold is a superbly crafted and entertaining mystery and documents author James R. Callan as a gifted writer of the first rank. A Ton Of Gold is highly recommended for personal reading lists and community library Mystery/Suspense collections.”
A Ton of Gold looks at how an old folk tale can affect the lives of innocent people today. Crystal Moore stands on the brink of losing everything-her only family, her self esteem and her career.
Because of a long-forgotten folktale, murders, arson, kidnapping, and firebombs besiege Crystal. And while she struggles to sort out the mystery, the man who nearly destroyed her emotionally reappears. This time, he can end her career.
Crystal will need all the help she can get from a former bull rider, her street-wise housemate and Crystal’s feisty grandmother.
A Ton of Gold is available at bookstores, and on Amazon in both print and Kindle editions.