Why we need 3 Dimensional Main Characters

Posted on Posted in Story Structure

Have you ever read a piece of fiction and were so incensed by the characters and their actions that you felt like throwing the book at the wall? Or deleting it from your eBook reader at that instant?

I have.

I read a hard back crime novel last year that annoyed me so much that I was actually took the time to post a one star review on the online book store where I purchased it.  

Which believe me, is incredibly unusual. I know how hard it is to write a novel . But I was astonished that the editor at the large publishing house which produced this book did not throw it back as soon as they read the first draft.

This author used to be one of my favourites and I adored two of his previous crime books and have them on my keeper shelf. So when his latest came out in hardback I rushed out and bought it at a silly price.

Why did I feel so annoyed?  Simple.  The author had decided to use this so called crime book as a way of expressing his opinion on a political topic in his part of the world. So the whole book was based on a political theory with a few people thrown in to spout the theory for him.

Massive, massive disappointment.  Flat robotic main characters playing out a flat boring story as a way to demonstrate the political point he was trying to make.

I have no problem with using a topical theme to kick off the idea for a crime novel.

Far from it. Many of the current bestsellers are spin offs from the current world of international terrorism, natural disasters, health tourism and internet identity theft.

Pick up a newspaper and in ten minutes you could have 20 ideas for a crime novel.

So writing about a political obsession is not a problem. 

The problem comes when you sell a book about that issue as a work of fiction and expect readers to have an entertaining experience through the words you have on the page.

But what I want as a reader is to experience the visceral effects of that issue through characters I can identify with and empathise with.

What does it feel like to have your identity stolen for example? Would I be prepared to fly to a strange country to have a life- saving operation cheaper? Or pay a woman in the developing countries to be a surrogate mother?

And that is where this author failed.

Because I did not believe any of the main characters. They really were one dimensional cartoons and so ridiculous it was not funny. And don’t get me started on the dialogue. People do not give lectures on the failings of government policy lasting 4 pages without punctuation over breakfast tables.

Cue HUGE learning point. One dimensional MAIN characters do not serve your story.

Keep the one dimensional characters to walk on extras in crowd scenes who don’t speak but they still have a function. Think of a wedding scene or a party. You may want to refer quickly to cousin Frank with the nose stud and piercings or aunty Phoebe in the pink Dior suit but they do not appear again.

Focus your character development on the main characters and make them as three dimensional, real and flawed as possible within the context of your story.

 And maybe your book won’t be bouncing off the wallpaper. :-)

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