To all the writers who have ever been told “Your characters have to be three dimensional!” or “They should be well-rounded!” and just felt like saying: “What does that even MEAN?! What goes into a 3-dimensional character? Specifically? And how do you go about creating one?!”
Good news. There’s a way.
Great main characters – heroes, protagonists, deuteragonist, whatever you want to call them – have ten things in common. Ten things that are easily developed, once you know what to create within your character. So no one will ever be able to tell you “needs to be more three dimensional!” ever again. Ha.
1) Weaknesses: Main characters should be flawed, but I’m not saying this because it will make them more realistic (though it will) – I’m saying they need to be flawed because if they’re not, they shouldn’t be a main character. Story is another word for change, or more accurately, character growth. Not character as in “fictional person”, character meaning “heart and soul”. Story is someone’s character changing, for better or worse. Main characters at the beginning of the story are lacking something vital, some knowledge of themselves, some knowledge of how to live a better life, and this void is ruining their lives. They must overcome these weaknesses, if they’re going to become complete, and reach a happy ending. There are two types of weaknesses: Psychological and Moral. Psychological ones only hurt the main character. Moral ones cause the main character to hurt other people. Easy.
2) Goal: Characters exist because they want something. Desiring something, and the fight against opposition for that desire, is the lifeblood of story; and because character is story, it’s also desire that can breathe life into words on a page, and begin the process of creating a real person in a reader’s mind. It’s this ‘desire for something’ that sparks that first connection between reader and character. It makes us think “Well, now I have to find out if this person gets what they want.” This is a powerful link. (How many mediocre movies do we suffer through, when we could easily stop watching, because we’re still trapped by that question of “what happens?”) So if this is powerful enough to keep people watching an annoying movie, imagine how powerful it can be in an excellent story.
Like in Up, the goal is to get the house to Paradise Falls.
3) Want: If the main character wants something, they want it for a darn good reason. Usually, they think that attaining the goal will fill the void they can sense in their lives, the deficiency they can feel, but don’t know how to fix. And they’re almost always wrong. Getting the goal doesn’t help anything; which is why, while pursuing that goal, they discover a deeper need that will heal them. Which brings us to …
4) Need/Elixir: Main characters are missing something, a weakness in their innermost selves is causing them to live a less-than-wonderful life. Through story, these main characters can be healed. Once they discover what’s missing, and accept it, and change the way they live to include this truth they’ve uncovered … they’re healed. Learning this truth, whatever it is, forms the purpose of the story for the main character. The reader, and the character, think the story is about achieving that big tangible goal the premise talks about; really, underneath it all, the story is about someone achieving a big intangible truth, that will ultimately save their life and future. Often, this need is exactly what the character fears or professes to hate.
Like Finding Nemo, where Dory states exactly what Marlin needs to learn.
Not this kind of ghosts.
Ghosts are events in your character’s past which mark the source of their weaknesses and strengths. Because these happened, the character became who they are. All we need to know about backstory are these moments, because who the character became is all we care about. There’s really only one ghost you absolutely need: the source of their moral and psychological weakness. Something happened that knocked the character’s world off kilter, and everything from that moment onward has been tainted by what happened. This moment haunts them (hence the name), and holds them back from uncovering that need that will heal their weaknesses. Pixar are masters of this: the source of Carl being stuck in the past, curmudgeonly, unable of loving anyone new? Ellie dying; his ghost. In Finding Nemo, the source of Marlin being suffocating, protective to the point of being harmful, possessive, and fearful? His wife and 99% of his children being eaten in front of him; his ghost.
6) True Character: These are the strengths, values, convictions, fears, faults, beliefs, worldview, and outlook on life that make the main character who they truly are.
7) Characterization: This is everything on the surface of a main character. The way they look, talk, act, etc. All of this originates from those deeper elements of their being, the strengths, values, ghosts, weaknesses, needs, that make them who they truly are. So often, you can think of this as a facade they’re projecting, a way to shield the the truth about themselves, how they wish to be perceived. The story, and the other characters, are slowly going to see deeper than this characterization, revealing more and more of the reasons it is the way it is.
8) Arc: If the character is going to change from “Incomplete Person” to “Complete Person” there’s going to be a journey they go on to make that possible. The external story, the pursuit of that big tangible goal the premise is about, is causing an inner journey to take place. What they have to do in pursuit of that external goal will apply pressure to those weaknesses, and pressure causes change. This process has seven steps, but if I write it all here this post is going to be obscenely long. So I might wait and give this its own post.
9) Changed Person: Who is the character going to be at the end of this story? They better be different, or else the story didn’t work. How do they show how different they’ve become? What is the moral choice they make, that spins their trajectory from “the future doesn’t look so great” to “happily ever after”? This should be known right away, maybe even before anything else is settled about the character. This gives a distinct end goal, a way to work backwards, a destination in mind that you can navigate towards.
10) Fascination and Illumination: The surface characterization, and the brief glimpses of the true character underneath create curiosity in the reader/audience. What the character says, and the implied subtext beneath the dialogue, creates a puzzle the audience wants to solve. Actions they take work the same way; if the writer indicates there’s deeper motivation behind why a character behaves in the way they do, we buy into solving that mystery right away. We can’t help it. “Who are you really? Why are you the way you are? And how is that going to effect the story?” These are all the unspoken, almost not consciously acknowledged, questions that fascinating characters provoke. Searching out meaning, connecting the dots to find the truth – we can’t resist this. We’re not fascinated by tons of backstory and exposition about a character; we’re fascinated by story, by mystery, by the technique of withholding information and having to interpret and hunt out the truth on our own. So gradually, the story and the characters will force that character to reveal a little more, and a little more, until we have a complete picture of who this person is. Crucial that this information isn’t told up front. Gradually illuminate it. It’s just like getting to know a real person.
So how does this work in a real character? Let’s take a look at Flynn Rider/Eugene Fitzherbert, because almost everybody has seen that movie.
Moral Weaknesses: He’s selfish. He’s a little greedy. He’s a little rude. He uses his charisma and bravado to keep people at a distance from the real him.
Psychological Weaknesses: Insecurity, fear of vulnerability, feels like the real him (Eugene) would be unwanted, unlovable, and have nothing – just like when he was an orphaned kid. Also, he doesn’t know who he wants to be, what he wants to live for.
Goal: Flynn wants to get that crown. So he has to get Blondie to see the floating lights, so she’ll give it back to him, and then they can part ways as unlikely friends.
Want: Why does he want the crown? What does it mean for him? He actually states it (reluctantly) in song: “I have dreams like you, no really. Just much less touchy feely. They mainly happen somewhere warm and sunny. On an island that I own, tanned and rested and alone. Surrounded by enormous piles of money.” He senses there’s something off in his life, something is missing. But he mistakenly believes this missing piece is money, which will allow him to buy a lonely island, where he can live out his days as Flynn and no one will ever know Eugene.
Need: “All those days chasing down a daydream. All those years living in a blur. All that time never truly seeing, things the way they were. Now she’s here, shining in the starlight. Now she’s here, suddenly I know. If she’s here, it’s crystal clear, I’m where I’m meant to go.” He wants a crown … he needs to fall in love with Rapunzel. He needs to love something more than himself, and find out that love isn’t something to fear and push away. He needs to abandon the 'Tales of Flynnagin Rider’ ambition, and get a more worthwhile, new dream.
Ghost: The source of all of his weaknesses can be linked to his “little bit of a downer” childhood as an orphan. Interestingly, he isn’t aware of another facet of that ghost, and Rapunzel points it out to him. “Was he a thief too?” she asks. He looks taken aback, before answering “Uh, no.” Something’s gone wrong. The choices he’s making are not living up to that original role model.
Characterization: Flynn’s charming, funny, smart, charismatic, and arrogant (in a somehow charming sort of way). He’s also rude, contemptuous, and sarcastic. All traits that help him keep up that 'swashbuckling rogue’ facade, and push people away from the real him.
True Character: Underneath all that, he’s a Disney prince. That pretty much sums it up.
Changed Person: “Started going by Eugene again, stopped thieving, and basically turned it all around.” He started the story as the guarded and evasive Flynn, he ends as the selfless and thoroughly-in-love Eugene.
Fascination and Illumination: Imagine if everything about Flynn had been told, right up front. We know he’s an orphan, we know he’s upheld a fake reputation, we know he’s a kind and loving guy underneath it all, we even know about his “tales of Flynnagin” childhood dream. You know what happens? We like him … but we’re not interested in him. There’s nothing we need to find out. There’s no curiosity. And if there’s no curiosity, and nothing being illuminated, your story’s not going anywhere. So instead, we find out – alongside Rapunzel – more about Flynn as the story progresses. And that is how it should be.
Developing characters in this way, I’ve found, really reduces worries about how “well-rounded” and three dimensional I’ve made them. They feel real to me. And besides helping me create characters, this ten element technique has also let me analyze characters I like, which is strangely fun. It’s a great way to figure out why a character works, what causes them to be so effective, and how you can go about creating them yourself.
Yeah, I’m a bit of a nerd.
But if you want, try it out. Develop a character. Analyze a character. You might find it as useful/fun as I do.
He’s just so natural you don’t even realize he’s been playing the fucking system this whole time. I feel like he’s the only one that really knew what he was getting into when he joined the show. He’s the only one that watched season 1 for real. He knows this shit is just a popularity contest and he knows that he can’t just bank off of his good looks and talents (unfortunately) to keep the people interested. After he said he wouldn’t want to meet Hyunbin again for the position evaluations, Ha Sungwoon makes a comment (it goes by almost so quickly, if you blink you’ll probably miss it) saying something along the lines of “Seongwoo knows how to get screen time.” And he’s right. Seongwoo is very attractive but there are boys who are just as good looking as he is and just as talented yet they get little to no screen time. And why is that?? It’s because Seongwoo knows what he’s doing. He’s funny and arrogant to a point where he’s almost teetering on the line of being offensive before pulling it back in and making you smile. That’s how he gets the screen time. He knows the right words to say at the right time and right joke to make when the camera is on him. I’m not trying to say that this is all just some elaborate act. I think for the most part he’s very genuine. Especially in the last episode where he says he like to make people laugh, that’s very much just a part of who he is. I just think mostly everything he does or says is not without thought… Now I could be very very wrong about this. At this point this is just some conspiracy theory I made up but this is just how I think. If I was put on a show like this, having seen the first season and how it worked, I’d behave the same way.
Aries- Arya/Ygriette- She’s firery, direct, determined, and innocent but has a violent, temperamental streak.
Taurus- Jon/Eddard- He’s the eye of the hurricane, keeps his cool no matter what happens, and adheres to a strict code of honor.
Gemini- Tyrion/Littlefinger- Intelligent, quick-witted, able to read and play people on both sides of the fence, a master of deception who uses humor to mask his pain
Cancer- Catelyn- Family, duty, and honor, the Tully words, and the core of cancer’s values, guide all of her decisions. She will do anything for her children.
Leo- Jamie- Arrogant but likable, thrives on love and attention, has a strong sense of pride, along with a heroic streak, although he puts himself first.
Virgo- Sansa- Used to be pure, naive, innocent, and underestimated. Now, she’s intelligent, analytical, and will prove to be a formidable force. (Virgos, once they realize their power, tend to be dangerous and unstoppable.)
Libra- Danerys- A fair leader who seeks balance and justice at any cost. Used to depend on a partner (like underdeveloped libras) but is now fiercely independent (the mark of a self-realized libra).
Scorpio- Varys- The Lord of Whispers who pulls strings from the shadows, intelligent, has hidden motives, and suffered great trauma in the past.
Sagittarius- Oberyn- Arrogant, reckless, funny, free, and very likable. He is impulsive, quick-witted, loyal, and shouldn’t have fucking died.
Capricorn- Cersei- Cold, ruthless, has serious daddy issues, is manipulative, and values power above almost everything. Cynical, suspicious, classic (unevolved) cap.
Aquarius- Brienne- An outcast because she doesn’t adhere to society’s values; with determination, she forged her own path. A true rebel. Evolved aquarius.
Pisces- Bran- Lost his ego/sense of identity with his legs, can literally walk in someone else’s shoes (evolved pisces is intensely empathetic) and is primed to become the most spiritual character.
Let him mine the dragonglass. If he’s wrong, it’s worthless. You didn’t even know it was here. It’s nothing to you. Give him something by giving him nothing. Take a step toward a more productive relationship with a possible ally.
Do you have any posts on what you don't like about Movie Bellatrix, or could you explain why? I thought movie bellatrix was ok. Love the blog by the way xx
Thanks so much!
Apologies for the amount of time this response took. I couldn’t actually find many posts on the topic (besides this HPC - if anyone knows of other book!Bellatrix vs movie!Bellatrix posts, I would love to be linked to them) so I slapped one together myself.
This post is not about Helena Bonham Carter not being a good actress
(she is) or about which version of Bellatrix people personally liked
more. This is a mixture of book-vs-movie fact comparisons and personal opinion.
In the movies, Bellatrix is ‘crazy’ in a hammy sort of way. A kooky woman with floofy hair who ran around on tabletops - silly,
out of control, and with an occasional childlike insolence. She literally says “Blech!” when Voldemort mentions Wizard-Muggle intermarriage, and shouts, “Somebody needs to do the washing!”
when Voldemort invites Neville to be a Death Eater. Not only does it
seem like she’s trying to be the comic relief, she’s also practically
interrupting Voldemort mid-speech.
Helena Bonham Carter falls into a small group of actors
on the Potter films who looked perfect for the role on paper, but
Something Happened and they ended up quite different from their initial
book incarnation, despite the actor’s likely capability to portray the
character to perfection if properly scripted and directed. (I’m looking
at Ralph Fiennes, and possibly Emma Thompson, Timothy Spall, and Natalia
Tena. Tena should have been let loose a little; Carter perhaps reined in a bit more. Helen McCrory, who was originally meant to play Bellatrix and ended up as Narcissa Malfoy, recently took a literal blood bath in Penny Dreadful. It makes one wonder how she would have done in the role.) As with a
lot of characters in the movie
adaption, the subtlety in Bellatrix was lost.
Or to put it another way, Carter
basically ended up playing a version of herself, as occasionally tends to happen in her movies….
wasn’t styled well either - the books never mention a rat’s nest of
hair or any tooth problems, which could likely have been fixed by magic
and don’t suit her background as a proud aristocrat. Those problems
are on the makeup team, though.
A lot of this is how she was scripted, of course, which gave her much less gravity than she had in the books:
Movies: ‘Cissy, put the boys in the cellar! I’m going to have a conversation with this one, girl to girl.’
Books: ‘You need more persuasion?’ she said, her chest rising and
falling rapidly. ‘Very well - take the smallest one. Let him watch while we torture the little
girl. I’ll do it.’
Movies: ‘Neville Longbottom, isn’t it? How’s mum and dad? ‘
Books: ‘Longbottom?’ repeated Bellatrix, and a truly evil smile lit her
gaunt face. ‘Why, I have had the pleasure of meeting your parents, boy. [….] No,
let’s see how long Longbottom lasts before he cracks like his parents….”
Movies: ‘How dare you speak his name! YOU FILTHY HALF BLOOD!’
Books: ‘You dare speak his name?’ whispered Bellatrix.
[….] ‘Shut your mouth! You dare speak his name
with your unworthy lips, you dare besmirch it with your half-blood’s
tongue, you dare - ’
in the books -
- as shrieking and prone to baby-talk as she was - wasn’t so funny. She had an arrogance that oozed her
blue-blood upbringing (a woman with thick, shining dark hair and heavily hooded eyes, who was sitting in the chained chair as though it were a throne). She spoke in a grandiose fashion at times (”You dare speak his name
with your unworthy lips, you dare besmirch it with your half-blood’s
tongue…“) and before her imprisonment was calm and self-assured in her fervor (“The Dark Lord will rise again, Crouch! Throw us into Azkaban; we will
There’s only a few times we really see her lose composure - when someone has insulted Voldemort (“He dares - he dares - ’ shrieked Bellatrix incoherently, ‘he stands there - filthy half-blood - “) and when she thinks Voldemort is going to be angry (‘LIAR!’ she shrieked, but he could hear the terror behind the
anger now. ‘YOU’VE GOT IT, POTTER, AND YOU WILL GIVE IT TO ME! Accio
prophecy! ACCIO PROPHECY!’‘).
Bellatrix should been more weighty character; she should have been terrifying rather than campy; she should have commanded a sense of real power as Voldemort’s
second-in-command. And I didn’t get any of that from her movie adaption. :)
Hi. I really like how you write two padawans and I was wondering if you could make something where obi thinks anakin is kinda getting bored in their relationship or worse getting bored of him. PS: I love all your content
“…Do you think I’m boring Bant?”
Obi-Wan frowned at the ground beneath his feet, picking at the grass.
“Huh, what? No, what brought this
“I just…I was helping a junior
padawan class and just…someone…said something.”
“Someone said something. Really
Obi-Wan.” The other raised her brows at him.
Obi-Wan just flopped his hand at her
then sighed. “…Do you think Anakin thinks I’m boring?”
Suddenly it made a lot more sense to
Bant, the Mon Calamari pulling herself out of the water to sit beside
her friend and wrap him in a wet hug. “Of course he doesn’t! He
Obi-Wan sighed. “I just…I really
like him Bant. Like…REALLY and I don’t…I don’t want him to
get bored of me.”
“Where is this even coming from?
Skywalker adores you, he has puppy eyes on you every time you’re
not looking.” Bant rubbed his back and shoulders, frowning.
“I don’t know.” He curled against
her, frowning a bit. “I just want to make him as happy as he makes
me. And I want to stay with him…”
“You’re really smitten with him
huh.” She smiled a bit then sighed. “Look if you really think
he’s getting tired of you, something I hardly believe, then do
something to spice things up somehow?” She offered, tilting her
head while looking at her fellow senior padawan as Obi-Wan thought
that over. “Or, and this is me being sensible, you could TALK to
him. Master Tahl says that good relationships are built on
“…Master Tahl is smart.” Obi-Wan
hesitated. “I could talk to her about it.”
“Why not your own master?”
“Because Master Qui-Gon somehow ended
up on the couch last night about something he said to Master Mace.”
The two shared bemused looks.
“Alright, lets go talk to Master
“I can hear your brain.” Anakin
mumbled against the others shoulder, nuzzling slowly as he tried not
to drowse off.
“Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean
to…sorry.” Obi-Wan continued rubbing the others spine slowly and
steadily, tracing it slowly with his fingertips. “I just…you know
I assisted in the junior padawan class, golden words of negotiation
class?” He offered the blond straddling his lap.
“Uhu.” Anakin yawned, sitting up a
bit to grasp the others braid, coiling it around his fingers while
“Well there was, I mean…” Obi-Wan
shifted and Anakin sat back further on the others knees, watching his
boyfriend with curious and slightly concerned eyes as he continued
teasing the coil of hair between his fingers.
“Yes?” He encouraged.
‘Let him know how you feel, the keys
to a healthy relationship is that you can be open, respect each other
and encourage good communication.’ Master Tahl’s strong voice
spoke up in Obi-Wan’s mind just like when he had tea with her
Obi-Wan took a deep breath. “They
said I was boring and couldn’t see how you, exciting and strong
almost knight Skywalker, could handle being with a stuffy uptight
‘perfect’ padawan like me.” He swallowed nervously.
The other stared at him, eyes growing
slightly wide before narrowing and leaning in. “Boring? Uptight?
Stuffy? Who said that!?”
“Well you used to?” Obi-Wan offered
Anakin snorted at that. “I was…I
was immature! I mean…really.” He ran the back of his hand along
Obi-Wan’s cheek. “Have you SEEN yourself in the field? Boring? No
one boring comes flying through a window to rescue hostages,
showering the kidnappers with glass. No one stuffy can make me laugh
until I feel sick. I will agree with the uptight part but that’s
out in public, if you were uptight, I wouldn’t be sitting on your
damn lap.” Anakin ended passionately.
“…Well there is that.” Obi-Wan
felt himself relax, smiling up at the other. “You really…I
“Obi-Wan.” Anakin leaned forward
and rested his forehead against the other padawans, smiling at him.
“I like you exactly as you are, the private, irreverent humored,
slightly uptight guy you are.” He slid his arms back around his
shoulders, resting his hand on the nape of his neck and settling his
face back in his shoulder. “Just exactly as you are.”
“…Oh…thank you.” Obi-Wan hugged
The two settled for a while.
“…So why do you like me?”
“Oh no, I’m not stroking your ego
Anakin Skywalker, you know perfectly well that I find you handsome,
smart, funny and a bit arrogant.” Obi-Wan laughed against the
others shoulder, feeling his boyfriends lips curve into a smile.
The two looked up when the door opened,
a repentant Qui-Gon following Mace in and the Korun allowed the door
to shut before turning to the older man. “Well?”
“I’m sorry I said your butt was big
in front of Yoda.”
Both padawans felt their eyes bug a
bit. Was THAT why Qui-Gon had to sleep on the couch!?
“And…insinuating that I liked
it…a lot… in front of him.”
Anakin let out a choked noise.
“Yes well my big butt and I are going
to drag our padawans for dinner at Dex and you will…?” Mace
raised his brows at him.
“Come with and pay for everything?”
Qui-Gon smiled hopefully.
Mace snorted and turned to the
padawans, smirking a bit. “Alright kids, time for Dex.”
“…Technically we’re considered
adults, we’re seventeen.”
you needn't fight me just because I'm right, very head strong, I need Advil when I'm around you.
baby duckling, you're not as tough as you think you are. Very chill. love you.
depends, there's two types of geminis: the passive aggressive, annoying little bitch or funny, endearing, and your laugh is adorable.
you're pretty entertaining, you tell the craziest stories on dares you've done and strange things, but you're a total crybaby. You're my favorite person to listen to rant because you're hysterical.
depending on the day, you either make me laugh or irritate me. kinda odd how you think glaring at you with an unamused look is funny, and I think I'm more outgoing around you.
you're an intelligent genius, you're witty and sarcastic, and you know you're better than everyone else but not the kind to boast. You keep the darkest secrets, people trust you.
you're a sweetheart, you're pretty laid back. You talk a lot though, it's fine, I prefer listening. You're also a huge pervert.
you're awfully quiet and shy, your friends annoy me. We're childhood friends and I'm so happy you've stayed this long. You're way too go-with-the-flow though and you stress me out.
you're beautiful, a problem solver, loving, but you can be a real stubborn bitch. Your mood is contagious and we get in fights way too much, kinda wish we could've stayed friends.
you're the craziest person I know, but it's never a dull moment. You'll solve someone else's problems before your own, and will sacrifice your happiness for anyone.
i love imagining neil and keven shit talking lacrosse together it would be so funny
yoo literally? kevin’s arrogance + neil’s sass is a terrifying and humble combination and i don’t know if anyone could survive it
kevin and neil go on another interview, where the talkshow host asks kevin if he thinks neil’s lacrosse comments are “unprofessional”
“Jerry, i have the utmost respect for lacrosse players ((lie)), but the sport just…lacks something. my mother drew influence from the violence of hockey, so Exy is just more exciting. I can’t help that.”
One memorable Christmas, Kevin’s pissed Neil off enough that he gets him a Tar Heels (North Carolina lax team) shot glass.
Wymack makes Kevin clean up the broken glass the next day